Quora, a crowdsourced Q&A site that’s generally smarter than Yahoo Answers, is making a big change to how anonymity works on its service. Most notably, it will begin cracking down on spam and harassment by reviewing all anonymous content before it’s distributed on its network, the company says. Anonymous users will also no longer be able to unduly influence other aspects of the Q&A process, as anonymity will now only be supported for asking questions or sharing answers, not things like voting or commenting.
Specifically, anonymous users will no longer upvote, comment, merge questions, suggest edits, send thanks, edit answer wikis, revert edit log operations, or send answer requests. Going forward, these actions will always have a name associated with them, says Quora.
The changes were made in an effort to make anonymity work better on the site. Many people have found that being able to remain anonymous allowed them to seek out or share more personal or sensitive experiences in their questions and answers. But, the company acknowledged, “anonymity on Quora is not without its faults.”
“We have also seen the potential for anonymity to be a vector for spam and abuse,” a post on Quora’s website explains.
Another significant change is that anonymous content will now be untraceable. Before the changes, Quora’s internal system would associate user accounts with the anonymous content they would produce. That would leave a record of some kind, though not one that’s publicly exposed. This could also have hindered sharing, in some cases.
Following the changes, Quora says it will remove those existing connections in its systems, which will require users who have previously posted anonymous content to use an anonymous edit link instead. Quora also notes it’s not removing any existing anonymous content from the site as a result of the changes.
Many social services have struggled with how to handle anonymity over the years. There is some value in being able to share without having to attach your name, of course. On Twitter, for example, users under authoritarian regimes or those afraid of government censorship could share their thoughts more freely, or even coordinate protests. Anonymous accounts can also serve as ground zero for whistleblower-style leaks, at times.
But anonymity can also lead to online abuse, as posters emboldened by the lack of culpability can attack others with dissenting opinions, make threats, harass, and otherwise disrupt more productive conversations. Twitter has seen this, too – and it’s so bad that it may have impacted a potential Disney acquisition.
Anonymous users can be a source of spam, as well.
On a site like Quora, a site filled with crowd-sourced knowledge about things that aren’t as easily google-able, spam and abuse could mar the experience considerably. More importantly, perhaps, it could impact Quora’s ability to monetize.
The company, which has 100 million monthly visitors as March 2016, introduced advertising to its site last year. The ads, which are displayed on question pages, are meant to be relevant to the question’s content. If online abuse was permitted on the site, then advertisers may be hesitant to participate. No one wants their ad sitting alongside hate speech – just ask the over 900 advertisers who have now blocked their content from appearing on Breitbart, for example.
Quora says that the changes will go into effect on March 20, 2017.
Users who have posted anonymous content will receive an email with more details about the transition in the next few days. The site has also published a FAQ about the changes to address specific points of concern over how content is being handled.