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Deliberation and Identity Rules: The Effect of Anonymity, Pseudonyms, and Real-name Requirements on the Cognitive Complexity of Online News Comments

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JournalPolitical Studies
DateAccepted/In press - 6 Nov 2019
Original languageEnglish


How do identity rules influence online deliberation? We address this question by drawing on a data set of 45m comments on news articles on the Huffington Post from January 2013 to May 2015. At the beginning of this period, the site allowed commenting under what we call non-durable pseudonyms. In December 2013 HuffPo moved to regulate its forum by requiring users to authenticate their accounts. And in June 2014 HuffPo outsourced commenting to Facebook altogether, approximating a ‘real name’ environment. We find a significant increase in the cognitive complexity of comments (a proxy for one aspect of deliberative quality) during the middle phase, followed by a decrease following the shift to real-name commenting through Facebook. Our findings challenge the terms of the apparently simple trade-off between the goods and bads of anonymous and real-name environments, and point to the potential value of durable pseudonymity in the context of online discussion.

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    Research areas

  • Deliberation, Anonymity, Cognitive Complexity, public sphere, online comments, Online discussion

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