Why PlaceSpeak Requires Verification
One of the most common questions we get at PlaceSpeak is “Why do I have to use my real name and address? The short answer is so that we can be sure you are not a dog. 🙂
More seriously, the PlaceSpeak team believes that requiring people use their real names and include their residential addresses promotes more civil interactions online. A similar argument was recently made by online-community pioneer Derek Powazek.
Depending on the nature of the consultation, proponents want to know that the people that they are talking to are the ones that are affected. If it’s a real-estate development that is going to affect people in the immediate vicinity, the developer will want to know if they are hearing from residents in the immediate vicinity, rather than those not directly impacted by the development.
The wild west days of the Internet are over. We are now realizing that there isn’t a separation of our online and offline lives. Rather, the Internet is increasingly being seen as an extension of our physical presence that allows us to share our ideas in a different manner. For this to work, however, people need to know that they are, in fact, your ideas. This is why personal verification is so important.
Anonymity can lead to contempt
We feel that knowing that our community is made of real people with direct ties to their neighborhood leads to more authentic discussion and holds people accountable to the views they express. Too often anonymity leads to contempt and can be taken advantage of by spammers and trolls who are more interested in disrupting conversations than constructively contributing to them. This acts as a disincentive for legitimate well-intentioned people to participate and can lead to skewed outcomes with only a brave minority participating.
Conducting consultations with unverified identities can also create problems if people don’t act responsibly or authentically. Assumed identities can the clarity and coherence of any data or ideas gathered during consultation. In a world where evidence based decision-making is more important than ever, even “pseudonymity” can be counter-productive. If you have an important point to make, even if it is controversial, but are unwilling to stand behind it openly, it is difficult for decision makers give it serious consideration
The notion of providing real names and addresses is not a new one, particular in the realm of public consultations. Indeed, verifying who you are is a hallmark of consultation processes. One first things you are asked to do at many open houses is to put on a name tag and introduce your self before speaking. Most focus group sessions start with a round table introduction where you introduce yourself and your interests. And perhaps most pertinently, city halls require you provide your name and residential address before being added to the speakers list at public hearings.
New Online Norms
What is new, however, is bringing offline engagement norms online. The internet is not a second life anymore, it’s your first one. As Powarek mentions in his argument “you don’t slip into a pseudonym when you use the phone, why should you be someone else online?”
PlaceSpeak understands that our geo-verification requirement may exclude potentially valuable and legitimate viewpoints expressed by residents who prefer to remain anonymous for whatever reason (including fearing reprisal from neighbors, landlords or employers). That being said, we stand by this requirement. While we understand and appreciate the need or anonymous or pseudonymous conversation on the Internet, there are other forums residents can engage in anonymously or with a pseudonym. We strongly encourage proponents use PlaceSpeak as only one tool for engaging residents.
Privacy Remains Paramount
This does not mean that privacy is not important; quite the opposite. It is essential for individuals to control how their personal information is shared online. This is why we provides preferences for users to control how their personal information, including residential addresses is shared on the site and who can see it. We are not funded by advertising and will never sell or disclose your personal information to third parties.