YouTube comments are a notorious cesspool of sexism, racism and vitriol, and the fact that the vast majority of users go by anonymous handles probably doesn’t help mitigate the problem. Google appears to know this all too well–its obsession with keeping Google+ free of pseudonyms is a good indication that the company isn’t a big fan of anonymity.
Now, the search giant is taking its distaste for anonymity to a whole new level, instituting a pop-up dialogue box urging YouTube users to employ their real names.
When you try to comment on a YouTube video, a box will pop up that displays your username as it’s currently seen, along with a side-by-side comparison to what it will look like if you let YouTube pull your name from Google+. You can choose “I don’t want to use my real name,” but that will lead to another dialogue box that basically guilts you into agreeing. If you still insist on remaining anonymous, you have to tell Google why: “My channel is for a show or character” or “My channel name is well-known for other reasons” are two options. “I want to remain anonymous,” is–unsurprisingly–not one.
As noble as it may be, this whole concept–first brought to our attention by designer Jim Younkin–kind of misses the point: If people wanted to use their real names on YouTube, they’d just make their names visible on their YouTube channel. Most people don’t do this, and it’s probably because they’d like to remain anonymous.
Of course, forcing people to own their identities can help to elevate the discourse on YouTube videos, which is definitely in dire need of a makeover. But can a community that has relied on anonymity for so long really be convinced otherwise?
We reached out to YouTube to ask when and why they implemented this measure. We’ll update when we hear back.
UPDATE: A YouTube representative got back to us and said they began adding that option to existing users on June 29th, adding, “Note that it is not only for commenting — YouTube users with existing Google+ profiles see this option when they comment or upload a video.”
This post on YouTube’s blog does stress that you can still stay anonymous:
We realize that using your full name isn’t for everyone. Maybe people know you by your YouTube username. Perhaps you don’t want your name publicly associated with your channel. To continue using your YouTube username, just click “I don’t want to use my full name” when you see the prompt.”