Why is the new Quora ‘anonymity’ policy so useless?

Let me sidestep the substance of the question, which has been addressed well under:

And let me go to the underlying question: how can Quora make decisions that users disagree with?

Anonymity has been complained about for years.

  • It has been complained about, with suggestions for improvement, on Quora, a forum which Quora staff as far as I can tell don’t accept any feedback from. (And please. Evidence to the contrary welcome. Being yelled at in comments by current or former leads does not count.)
  • It has been complained about, with suggestions for improvement, on the Facebook and IRL top writer groups, some of which putatively Quora staff do accept feedback from.

What we get is… not necessarily addressing the core concerns around anonymity, such as being able to mute anonymous questions. In fact, I’d like to highlight this exchange:


Robert Maxwell : My favorite part of all of this is how Quora’s solution to anonymity abuse was to make anonymous questions and answers even more anonymous.

John Gragson : Supposedly it was to be balanced by more aggressive moderation (“pre-review”, they called it).

Viola Yee : All we really wanted was to block a particular anon.

So why would the changes to anonymity not meet our expectations as a community? And why would they have been delayed for five years?

Here’s some possible explanations, and I think they’re all in play:

Why did it take so long?

  • There may be a leadership vacuum in Quora; it’s been rumoured here, and it’s hard to discern, with the secrecy Quora maintains about itself. (I’ve just started reading Sun Tzu; that’s one bit they seem to have learned from him.) I suspect that there is no advocate to push user concerns around anonymity to the forefront, and that there may not be a lot of strategic thinking going on anyway. In that case, anonymity instead degenerates into a technical puzzle, a computer engineering rather than a social engineering issue. Which would also account for the chasing-one’s-tail activity around Quora UX.
  • Quora has an on-going slowburn PR disaster on its hand with anon abuse, which it has publicly blithely dismissed until it couldn’t any more. The more users, the more abuse; Violet Blue had plenty to report on in 2014, and I’m sure it’s exponentially worse now, because there are exponentially more users now.
  • Quora’s primary responsibility is not user well-being, but whatever its leadership deems a strategic or tactical priority. That is a good thing: Quora isn’t a non-profit that exists to make its users happy, it exists to turn a profit by commodifying its users. That is also a bad thing: it does not mean that Quora is immune from making bad decisions, just because its users think it’s making bad decisions.
    As a result, user discomfort around anonymous trolling has not been a priority to do something about until now.

Why don’t we like it?

  • Quora has limited resources—understandably, as it’s still burning through venture capital six years after launch, and has only started to do something visible about monetisation (ads) within the past year. Anything it does will be on the cheap. Bots, and eliminating as much workflow as possible (hence blanket removal of comments). That maximises the scale of the solution, but of course not its quality.
    • Which of course is why they should never have undertaken to review all anon questions before publishing them. And have a Quora staff member put his name to that statement. It was never going to happen, it hasn’t happened, and bots don’t count as review. Good to know we have the most well-spelled trolls in the business though. (I’d just found an answer saying that a troll question got through with QCR fixing a spelling mistake. No I can’t find it; I was convinced it was by Heather Jedrus, but that’s not turning up anything.)
  • Mountain View, and Silicon Valley in general, seems prone to Not-Invented-Here, which lends them a certain arrogance and lack of consultation in dealing with these kinds of concern. I think it’s been compounded by the insistence that We-are-not-social-media (so we don’t need to learn from social media on how to do moderation), and Shiny Toys (bots will solve everything! And they’re cheap!)
  • If anonymity leaks (and there’s been a few answers suggesting it): lack of QA, lack of real user engagement, reactive implementation, possibly distracted by Shiny Objects rather than security holes.
    • I am privy to an security hole unrelated to anonymity that a friend discovered, which I am not publicising (and which has been reported). I am aghast at it. Things like it are getting through into production, and they should not be. That also points to failure in management: the buck does have to stop somewhere.
  • I think Anonymous’ answer to What’s your view regarding Quora’s new anonymity policy changes (March 2017)? nails it. We have been utterly puzzled about the insistence on true untraceable anonymity, the Wikileaks or Bunker In Syria scenario, whereas overwhelmingly anonymity here is cultural (“don’t feel comfortable putting my real name to this” is a real cultural norm on the internet, and I wouldn’t be sneering about it if I was you). Anon delivers, and I think this theory makes much more sense, as something that would stir Quora leadership into action.

This reminds me of the Apple iPhone case. These new anonymity changes are basically Quora’s way of distancing itself from the responsibility if any law enforcement agency asks about it.

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