Social Engineering Trolls Out of Forums, Real ID Style
Blizzard recently announced that they are bringing Real ID to the main forums, first to the Starcraft 2 forums, then the Cataclysm forums (once they are out). Older forums would not be touched and would be archived off. However before where Real ID was only in game with friends you knew, now it will widen its reach onto blizzard public forums. This has created a much larger uproar than the previous implementation of Real ID.
There are pros and cons to it, but this time around I think the cons definitely outweigh the positives. Blizzard has said that this is partially due to the forums becoming an unsavory place where people hide behind anonymity. But is this taking a rocket launcher to a fly?
Blizzard came out and has said:
The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players — however, the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before. With this change, you’ll see blue posters (i.e. Blizzard employees) posting by their real first and last names on our forums as well.
This change has sparked one of the largest outcries from the Blizzard gaming community I have ever seen. As of writing this the forum pages were 1032, over 20600 posts, and growing.
An online poll was created. At the time of writing this article it had just under 1000 people voting, and 93% voted against this change. WoW.com also put up a poll to ask the question if this was a good idea, and the majority has voted against the decision. Even an online petition was started with at present 516 signatures against these forum changes. I cannot remember any other time in the history of World of Warcraft, or really any Blizzard game that such a change sparked this kind of response. The only thing I can even think of in recent memory was the Facebook privacy changes.
So first off let me say that I am a fan of Real ID, in game. In game the information is private and only shared with my friends. Similar to how I have my facebook settings, no one outside my circle of friends can see what I do. This change to the forums would make anyone who posts on the new Real ID enabled forums show their first AND last names. This data would be available publicly, searchable by any search engine.
So before I get too much further, I want to say that I do feel that removing the veil of anonymity would prevent some folks from trolling, it may not deter everyone. But I certainly think some people would be inclined to be a bit more civil when they can’t hide. I do believe it would make the forums a better place for those who would utilize it.
Blizzard’s other reason for doing this they have said is:
With the launch of the new Battle.net, it’s important to us to create a new and different kind of online gaming environment — one that’s highly social, and which provides an ideal place for gamers to form long-lasting, meaningful relationships. All of our design decisions surrounding Real ID — including these forum changes — have been made with this goal in mind.
I tend to think they have already done this. Guilds, fan sites, twitter friends, facebook friends and groups have all sprung up because of Blizzard games, most notably World of Warcraft. However if you read carefully, it would seem that Blizzard is working to essentially create the next social networking platform aimed specifically at gamers, more specifically their customers.
However even social networking sites today provide ways to hide your personal information from public consumption, via the use of alias, or even to hide what you say from public consumption. There appears to be no plans for this as of yet.
So why do I take issue with this change vs Real ID in game? Well the later is just that, in-game its in a privately secure setting, within the game world, and only to my friends I have shared this with. Making my gaming posts next to my real name in a public fashion I have a bit more of a concern around from a privacy standpoint.
People with common names may be mistaken for someone else. One person on the WoW forums mentioned that they don’t want some John Smith who owes back child support to get searched for by some agency, and they come looking for him instead of the real John Smith. Granted this is a smaller concern, but those with common names could be mistaken for other people.
People with unique names could pose a bit more troublesome. As with unique names it may be easier to identify certain people which could lead to out of game issues like stalking, granted this is an extreme case. However unique names would be easier to also search up additional information for potential identify theft. People would still need to get more information, but there are sites out there that will be able to get your home address, phone numbers, etc. At the lowest level it could lead harassment.
Also with making your name publicly available, your gaming habits (if you post on the forums) would be open to public searches. Who is to say that a potential employer may not try to look up what your extracurricular activities are? Maybe they are anti-gamers, this could hurt future job prospects and earning potential (potentially).
There are parents who signed up their teenager to use the account, the parent probably have their real name tied to the account, unless they are actively aware of these changes, may not set the parental controls properly. Their child could start a flame war on the forums in their parent’s name. Also could be back regarding being publicly available.
One of the other things I question is female gamers. Lets be honest, female gamers are a coveted resource by basement dwellers. Most female gamers I know don’t want people to know they are a girl, because they don’t want to be harassed or annoyed by horny young boys or immature men thinking they are going to get a shot at them. I think you will see many female gamers decide not to post on the forums once (if) this goes live.
So with some of these concerns, what can Blizzard do? Well some first naysayers of the Real Id system were asking for an alias or use of a nickname. This shouldn’t be difficult to implement letting people give a nickname instead of their full name. The other thing is just use someone’s first name. Leaving the last name off still allows some privacy to remain. I will use my first name all day long (its Dave by the way). Another option is to force players to use one character as their posting character, and use nothing else.
Beefing up moderation of the forums is another option if they want to get rid of the trolls, several websites (specifically fan-sites) heavily moderate their forums to remove trolling, harassing and flaming posts, I see no reason why Blizzard couldn’t do the same. Finally make the forums private, don’t let anyone without being logged in access them. I have no problem showing my name off to the gaming community, I don’t want it accessible to the outside public.
Now I know some say the forums are optional, and you are right they are. Technically you do pay to have an account which provides you the ability to use the forums, so not doing this anymore (posting that is) because you don’t want your name out there is just one less feature you are using.
I agree that forum trolls are a problem. However displaying everyone who posts their first and last names I think is an extreme measure in a social engineering experiment to get rid of a small population of trouble makers.
Edit: Had to add this comic from CAD