Per-post anonymization?

It’s a semi-BB, semi-Discourse question. I see that users are sometimes “anonymized” - except they get a string which is always the same, basically they are still one user with just a different name. As a collectivist, I have trouble telling people apart and am a bit skeptical about individual personal identity anyway. Is the concept of “individual user account” deep-baked into Discourse? How about a setup where the account is associated with a network node instead of an organism? Like if a married group function as one person, or one human runs several distinct personalities. Sure, the computer is a network node, but the users are also networks themselves, and most modern computer UI does not take this into account at all. Maybe the account is an IP address which gets tagged, but each post gets a distinct user name?

I enjoy here, and Elsewhere, and have been on a few other sites that use Discourse. But in thoughts about how I would try to structure a community with a focus upon avoiding tribalism/cliquishness/interpersonal problems/etc, I am leaning towards basing the structure upon process/function rather than identity/role.

Any thoughts, from a technical, usage, or administration perspective?

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You can configure Discourse to always be anonymous I believe, but I don’t think that works per post - hard to have a continuous conversation when you can only speak once.


From a usage perspective, I’ve had some similar thoughts while pondering the Community Guidelines, in terms of the guideline to “criticize ideas, not people.”

I’ve often wondered if there could be anonymization, not per post necessarily, but per topic. Because, people have strengths in various areas. Sometimes a user here makes strong, good contributions in some topics, but really stumbles in other topics. But other users have made up their minds that they don’t like that user, and seem to try to challenge or block anything that that user posts, or try to get that user banned altogether. I’ve seen some very good (IMO) ideas/contributions here be ignored or shot down seemingly because of which user posted them. So some kind of anonymization might encourage us to consider the merits of comments/ideas without the prejudices that may come along with knowing who posted it.

Of course, it’s often possible to identify familiar users simply by their writing/posting style. (There have been users here who requested anonymization, where I’ve found it easy to figure out it’s them when they registered with a new user name and avatar.)

And, of course, a person could just have multiple accounts, and use them for different categories of topics (though probably most people wouldn’t want to bother signing in under different names, and remembering to keep it all straight).

But I’m thinking more of, what if everyone got a new identity with each new topic/thread? After all, we are no longer the exact same person we were yesterday, or even an hour ago. It might encourage us to be more open-minded to others (i.e., not box others in, in our own minds), as well as encourage us to adopt new ideas and viewpoints ourselves (i.e., provide some freedom from the identities we’ve built up here).

It would be interesting to hear from anyone here who has closed an account and opened another—What made you do that? Did it change the way you participate? Did people here treat you differently under a new identity?

I also wonder about when people change their avatar—Do you find that people respond to you differently depending on your avatar?


I suppose it isn’t easy, but this is not so much an ideal as the reality we currently deal with. People assume this feeling of continuity because it seems easier, even if it isn’t in any way accurate. Wherever I draw the lines for what constitutes an instance of “me” are just as arbitrary in time as they are in where I draw boundaries of personal identity. It is always a group effort.

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I will comment on only this part for now, because I am busy at the moment. I have remarked in topics here before about how I think that the faux-social-media notion of “avatar as little photo” is kind of regressive. Compared to 90s ideas of avatar as POV, one’s sense extension and representation in telepresence environments. In a video game, for instance, one’s player model is the avatar, and actually serves a function. You act through it, and other participants interact with you through it. That is what a pragmatic avatar is to me, and I never persuaded myself to downgrade the concept into what is basically a little sticker.

So, my Discourse avatar has tended to be rather arbitrary. If it is an image which already fits nicely into that round crop tends to work. IIRC my first avatar was from an anime, and my second a manga - and I was surprised to find that this did indeed have certain connotations with people here, more or less separate from the actual media they were copied from. There was a chain of reasoning that anime=4chan=reactionary trolls which I am not on-board with for numerous reasons. Some people went as far as to state that they refuse to interact with people who have anime avatars. That’s far too glibly stereotypical for real communication.

For a long time, my avatar was of Motoko Aramaki, from the cover of Man-Machine Interface:
Cropped to the network portal circles. What I likes about the choice of this character is that even though they have agency and autonomy, they are a construct, and artificial algorithmic life form with no actual physical body, apart from what they chose to project. A few people did take the time to complain about that avatar but (as is all too typical) not have much patience to discuss it, what it might mean to either of us.

My current avatar is a stock image which was very popular years ago.
Many sites used to use it as a sort of “404” placeholder for missing content and pages. It’s also pretty random in this context - who are they, and what do they have to do with the missing web page? Are they the admin? Are they a passer-by who stuffed the .html into their backpack and walked away? But I liked the meta-aspect of it. I was debating myself about not having an avatar image anymore, so it seemed like an appropriate compromise to instead use what is essentially a 404 placeholder image. Nothing to see here!

My experience has been that people do often sort posts visually using these images, and do need to take some time to re-process things when these images are changed, because they associate them with a personal identity. I suspect that how different the response is would depend upon how well users feel they “know” the poster. If they are new, then that image corresponds to an identity which is less defined in their minds. But since many feel compelled to construct a personal identity for you, eventually this becomes deeply entrenched in their thinking and associations, which makes responses - for better or worse - more consistent.

This. Quite exactly.

Sidenote: I sometimes see someone else with the same “avatar” in discussions being replied to, and sometimes have the very strange feeling the telly would be addressed to me.

Given my handle, this is very funny indeed.

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Relevant: SoylentNews, a slashdot fork, has a “post anonymously” checkbox so that you don’t need to log out to post a comment as an anonymous coward.

People are all anonymous anyway, and I think it takes a lot more courage to see how personal identity is an artefact. Pretending to be an individual does not give one’s ideas any more validity, they either work or they don’t, quite apart from whoever you think you are. Suggesting that individualism is the bedrock of human experience and interaction would rely upon lots of millennia-old philosophical baggage. If you elect to it is fine for you, but it doesn’t indicate that those who are skeptical of individuality or static identity are “cowering” from anything.

What I was asking about is from an implementation perspective. How the code of an online forum works is going to include lots of assumptions of what constitutes a “member”. And these can yield different kinds of “anonymity”. Going beyond this, an awful lot of concepts in computer engineering and IT are built upon the same ancient philosophies of identity, trust, agency, etc. without much intersectionality from microbiology, cognitive science, ecology, etc where a lot of progress has been made over the past few years with regards to interactivity.

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