Pseudonymity and ethics (with a few more thoughts on Google+).

In a comment on my last post, Larry Moran takes issue with my defense of pseudonymity:

Janet says,

But Larry, other than my say-so (and that of those with whom I've cultivated online ties), how do you know "Janet D. Stemwedel" is really my "real" (by which I assume you mean "legal") name? You didn't peek at my driver's license, so maybe the government here knows me my some other name.

That's not a very good argument from someone who specializes in ethics! :-)

The issue is whether I prefer dealing with people who identify themselves or with people who use fake names to disguise their real identity. What you're saying is that there will always be unethical people who will get around any rules designed to avoid false identities, therefore we shouldn't even try to enforce a policy requiring real names.

I doubt very much that you use an argument like that when you discuss other issues like plagiarism, or preparing a CV. Let's drop that argument, okay? We all know that there will be unethical people who will lie and cheat to get around any rules. That's not an argument against having rules.

The issue before us is whether we want to live in an internet society where people identify themselves and stand behind what they say and do, just as they do in the real face-to-face world, or whether we want an internet society with different rules. I try to teach my students that it is important to take a stand on certain issues but they have to be prepared to suffer the consequences (both good and bad).

Larry is right that the part of my comment he's quoted isn't a very good argument. Indeed, I meant it mostly as a suggestion that Larry's comfort dealing with me as a person-attached-to-her-real-name is based on a certain amount of trust that I really am properly attached to that legal name (since Larry has yet to demand to see my papers).

Neither, of course, would I want to say that the existence of people who get around a rule is a good reason to abandon the rule or attempts to enforce it. Instead, my support for the rule would turn on what the rule was meant to accomplish, what it actually accomplished, and whether the intended and/or actual effects were worth pursuing.*

However, Larry seems also to be suggesting that something stronger than his own personal preference against the use of pseudonyms.

As I read what he's written, it seems like he's suggesting that there's something inherently unethical about using a pseudonym -- that being pseudonymous online is somewhere on a spectrum of deeds that includes plagiarism and C.V.-padding. Let the record reflect that I'm not convinced this is actually what Larry is saying. But given that it might be read that way, I want to examine the suggestion.

Is pseudonymity always deceptive?

At the heart of the matter, I think we need to look at the question of how pseudonyms are used.

The suggestion in Larry's comment is that a pseudonym is a fake name intended to disguise one's identity. However, it strikes me that "disguise" might be a loaded term, one that has an additional connotation of "mislead" here.

Misleading is a variety of lying, and I'm happy to grant that lying is generally unethical (although, unlike Kant, I'm prepared to accept the possibility of a case where lying is less unethical than the existing alternatives).

But, my sense from the pseudonymous people I have encountered online (and from my own brief experience as a pseudonymous blogger) is that not all people using pseudonyms are aiming to deceive. Instead, I think it's more accurate to say that they are choosing how much of their personal information to disclose.

And, I'm inclined to think that non-disclosure of personal information is only unethical in specific instances. I don't think we have a positive right to total information about everyone with whom we engage.

Indeed, I don't think we actually want total information about all of our contacts, whether online or in real life. My students have no interest in the current state of my digestive health, nor in what's in my record collection (let alone what a "record" is). My children have no need to know whether the user interface for grade entry at my university is well-designed or clunky. Readers of my blog probably care less about my opinion of baseball teams than about my opinions on recent news stories about scientific misconduct.

Even being on the receiving end of an accidental overshare can feel like a violation of a relationship, as I had occasion to note a few years ago:

There was an academic blog I used to read that I enjoyed quite a lot. I had to stop, though, when it became apparent that the (anonymous) blogger was married to someone that I knew. (What clinched it was a post about a social occasion that I attended.) To keep reading the blog would have felt, to me, like a violation of the blogger's trust -- from real life, I knew certain details about the blogger that had not been revealed to the blog's readers, and from the blog, I knew certain details about the blogger's life that had not been revealed to the blogger's real-life friends and acquaintances. Caring about the blogger (and the real-life person) meant I had to respect the walls of separation the blogger had erected.

We are always making judgments about what pieces of our experiences and ourselves it's relevant to share. And we make those judgments differently depending on with whom we're interacting, in what kind of context, how that will affect our comfort level (and theirs), and what kinds of consequences (deserved or undeserved) sharing what we share may bring.

I'm happy to be accountable for my views on research with animals, for example, but voicing them publicly can make me (and my family members) targets of people who think it's OK to use threats of violence to silence me. I can fully understand why people actually conducting research with animals might not want to attach their real names (which are attached to addresses and phone numbers and license plate numbers of cars under which someone might put incendiary devices) to their candid views online -- and, I think that our public conversation about research with animals would be greatly impoverished without their participation in it.

Courage, as Aristotle would remind us, is the right balance of confidence and fear for the circumstances at hand. Too little confidence makes us cowardly, but too little fear makes us foolhardy.

I should also note that many of the notable users of pseudonyms in the blogosphere choose pseudonyms that are extremely unlikely to be mistaken for legal names -- which is to say, in withholding certain personal details they are not also trying to deceive others into believing that their "real" names in the three-dimensional world are "SciCurious" or "GrrlScientist" or "DrugMonkey" or "Prof-like Substance". That's not to say that such a clear 'nym can't be intentionally deceptive -- for example, if GrrlScientist were male, or if PhysioProf were a certified public accountant, or if SciCurious had not a whit of curiosity about matters scientific. But either way, you'd have no expectations that a Social Security search on the surname Curious would help you locate Sci.

Perhaps ironically, it is the people with obviously assumed names like these, not people with "real-looking"** assumed names that might actually fool others into thinking they're real, who have had their access to Google+ accounts revoked.

I won't claim that no one uses an assumed name to mislead -- obviously, there are people who do so. But this doesn't make it the case that everyone using a 'nym is using it to deceive. Indeed, pseudonymity can create conditions in which people disclose more honest information about themselves, where people share opinions or experiences that they could not comfortably (or safely) share using their real names.

I understand that not everyone is comfortable dealing with online persons who could, in an instant, dismantle their pseudonymous online identities and vanish. Especially if you've dealt with troll-y exemplars of pseudonymity, your patience for this may be limited. That's fine. I'm happy to live in a world where people get to choose with whom they engage in their own online spaces, as well as which online spaces maintained by others they will frequent.

Indeed, I even noted that Google is free to make its own rules for Google+. That Google establishes a real-name rule for Google+ doesn't raise it to the level of a moral precept ("Thou shalt use only thy full legal name"). If the rule is clearly explain in the Terms of Service, it probably imposes an obligation on the person who agrees to the ToS to follow the rule ... but it probably also imposes an obligation on Google to enforce the rule consistently (which so far it has not).

And, Google setting its own rules does not preclude our discussing whether these are reasonable rules, ones with well thought out aims that have a reasonable chance of achieving those aims or some close approximation of them.

I think Larry is right that the names policy (and/or who will want to sign up for Google+) is going to come down to people's comfort levels. Opting for one set of rules may make some groups of potential users very comfortable and others so uncomfortable that it effectively bars their participation. Google needs to think about it in those terms -- who do they want in, and who are they happy to cede to their competition.

Right now, to me, Google+ feels a little like a country club to which I was admitted before I knew what kind of people the membership rules were going to exclude (because they're "not our kind, dear"). Personally, this particular sort of "exclusivity" makes me less comfortable, not more. Depending on Google's next move, I may be removing myself from the spiffy new clubhouse and spending a lot more time on the internet's public beaches.

______
*Of course, I don't need to tell you that rules are not always completely congruent with what's ethical. There are plenty of rules that are unjust, loads of rules that we use to encode our ethical commitments, and a plethora of rules that seem to have no ethical content to speak of. (How would a utilitarian, a Kantian, and a virtue ethicist come down on "No white shoes after Labor Day"?)

**Naturally, which names look "real" and which look "made-up" is tied up in lots of cultural assumptions.

23 responses so far

  • Slybrarian says:

    Every time I see someone make an argument about how using real names will prevent trolling and abuse, I immediately know that they have never worked a service job. I can't count the number of times I've been screamed in person, and I don't even work in a position where I have to deal with money. At least online I can hit 'block' regardless of what type of name someone is using. In real life, I have to hope a coworker will show up to investigate the yelling, and that the irate customer won't pull out a state-legislature-sanctioned firearm. (It's illegal here for public facilities to ban the possession of guns on the property.)

  • I have a real-names-only policy on the Skeptalk email list. For Meir has nothing to do with ethics. For me it's like having a bunch of people over to my home. If someone wanted to join us but refused to identify himself, I'd throw him out. I prefer a more personal relationship with those with whom I engage.

    • And you can't develop one with someone over time? For some of us its about easing into the waters.

    • scicurious says:

      For the record, I have been in the homes of several people who did not know my "real" name, but knew me well as Scicurious and had developed a relationship with me that way. I realize that this is a matter of personal opinion, but you can have a personal relationship without having stared at someone's passport.

  • BMEGradStudent says:

    One of the things I've always felt must be said in any discussion of pseudonymity is the degree to which a policy that requires 'real' names has a disparate impact on people based on the type of name that they have. If you have a name that is highly popular, the modern day equivalent of John Smith, then questions of things you said being publicly indexable, searchable, and linked with your off-line persona are less pressing. You don't need to be concerned that that one screed against anti-vaxxers that you wrote late at night suddenly becomes the number one link when people search for your name. You can essentially hide in the crowds.

    On the other hand, if you have a name like mine, you know that if you comment anywhere under that name, it is going to show up very highly on a search, and, in all likelihood, if it is a comment on a well regarded website, probably displace other, more academically relevant links that you might have. A comment policy that prohibits pseudonymity places me, and others like me, at a significant disadvantage in terms of the views that I feel comfortable expressing.

  • Let the record reflect that I'm not convinced this is actually what Larry is saying.

    I am 100% convinced that's actually what he's saying.

  • Zebee says:

    BMEGradStudent I'm with you.

    You feed my name into an Anglophone search engine, you will almost certainly get me. (You'll get other results in a Francophone one I think.)

    But how many Larry Morans are there?

    Larry, when you comment here, will you add your address? So you can be distinguished from all other Larry Morans? Would you do the same if, for example, you were an abortion clinic doctor?

    My address is trivially available. I can probably stop it being so if I pay to remove myself from my country's White Pages, there are a number of L Morans in that database.

    So I dunno Larry is risking that much.

    I don't have particularly strong politcal views, nor do I work in something like animal research. If I did, why should I risk real world consequences that John Smith (or Larry Moran) does not risk when expressing them?

    I think there is something in the idea that you should be responsible for what you say. But if so then everyone should be equally responsible. Clearly requiring the name on your driver's licence doesn't do that.

    There's also the problem that not everyone is running equal risk. A friend of mine going through a very nasty divorce had violent real world problems when Google Buzz exposed her new email and other details to her ex-husband via a 3rd party. The ex was not risking the same violence from her as she was from him. An animal researcher is risking more than a homeopathist, if both are behaving legally why should one be exposed to danger and the other not merely for stating their jobs? More importantly, why should one be not allowed the freedom of speech of the other?

    Seems to me that if what is wanted is a unique identifier for a particular space so that only that identifier can be used there, there are ways to manage that.

    If what is wanted is for people to bear consequences for their speech, what consequences match which speech and how is that managed? How does Larry plan to protect my divorced friend except by saying "so don't speak, because silence is your only option, you may not ask for help, or speak of your problems, or help others, because through no fault of your own the consequences of your speech are horrible. " If her speech is not dangerous but her enemies are, why force her to be silent?

  • Larry Moran says:

    Janet says,

    As I read what he's written, it seems like he's suggesting that there's something inherently unethical about using a pseudonym -- that being pseudonymous online is somewhere on a spectrum of deeds that includes plagiarism and C.V.-padding. Let the record reflect that I'm not convinced this is actually what Larry is saying. But given that it might be read that way, I want to examine the suggestion.

    The examples of padding your CV and plagiarism were meamt to illustrate another point; namely, that just because clever people can get away with it doesn't make it right.

    I'm not very comfortable with the position you have attributed to me. I think the issue is much more complicated than you make out. There's no question in my mind that unethical people use anonymity to get away with things they would never do in the face-to-face real world. Hence, people who choose to be anonymous on the internet will always fall under suspicion—at least initially.

    On the other hand, there are anonymous internet personalities who appear to be completely ethical and above board. They do not intend to deceive by being anonymous. They may have very good, honest, reasons for shielding us from their true identity.

    So, it is not correct that I think there's something inherently unethical about anonymity. What I believe is that encouraging anonymity provides far more benefits and opportunities to unethical people than to honest people. I'm not convinced that the trade-off is worth it.

    • Zuska says:

      Because you are blinded by and shielded by your privilege. You don't NEED pseudonymity, and you don't seem capable of adequately measuring the cost/benefit ratio.

  • Alchemystress says:

    I use a pseudo-name for exactly the purpose stated above, I am freer to say what I want have less fear of repercussions etc. My job could be at stake and also somethings I reveal about myself I would rather that people who knew me didn't know. Some people so know who I am in real life but its my choice and my control. I am NOT being deceptive but a pseudo-name gives me freedom and safety so I find it upsetting that people would find it to be something I do out of ill-will.

  • Larry Moran says:

    Janet says,

    Right now, to me, Google+ feels a little like a country club to which I was admitted before I knew what kind of people the membership rules were going to exclude (because they're "not our kind, dear"). Personally, this particular sort of "exclusivity" makes me less comfortable, not more. Depending on Google's next move, I may be removing myself from the spiffy new clubhouse and spending a lot more time on the internet's public beaches.

    That's a bit over-the-top, Janet. Linking me with racists, sexists, and other intolerant assholes isn't going to keep this discussion civil.

    You are in one of my Google+ circles, and I'm in one of yours. I know you, we've met, and I've followed your blog for years. Google+ isn't excluding anyone because of race, religion, sexual preferences, citizenship, or anything else other than whether they identify themselves by their real names. Those are exactly the same criteria we use in the real world whether it be at the workplace, school, your local playgroup, doctor's office, or skeptics meetings. And yes, it's the same criteria used at the local country club—you can't join if you're anonymous. You can't even sign in as "anonymous" at your exercise class in the local community center and nobody accuses them of acting like an exclusive country club.

    I love the rough and tumble of the public beaches, as you well know. I love the banter and bickering that characterizes internet discussion—that's why I've been addicted to it for 23 years. I recognize that anonymity has become a part of the culture and that makes it different from the real world.

    However, I would like to live in a society that was open, free, and tolerant of all points of view. I would like to live in a society with no crime. In such an ideal society many of the "good" reasons for anonymity would disappear. What does that mean? It means that most defenses of anonymity are based on conditions in a less-than-ideal society. It means that people living in one part of one country might have more of a need for anonymity than people living in one part of another country (e.g., rural Texas vs Copenhagan). It means that anonymity isn't necessarily desirable in principle—it's a necessary evil in a less-than-perfect society. I understand that.

    But if our goal is to change real-world society then we may not be proceeding in the right direction if we create a virtual, anonymous, internet society that enables the bigots and idiots of this world. Not only do we give them the means to express their hatred anonymously but we also give their opponents (the "good" guys) a place where they can avoid real-world confrontation.

    We should be encouraging people to be rational, skeptical, tolerant etc. in the real world. We should be encouraging them to identify themselves and speak out publicly against injustice. And we should be supporting those who have the courage to do so.

    I don't know if I would have that courage but I greatly admire those who do. And I despise those who hide behind anonymity to launch vicious personal attacks on me, my family, and my friends. I'm grateful that I won't have to deal with them on Google+.

  • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

    Larry, the non-virtual world I live in every day seems to have plenty of room to accommodate racists, sexists, and bigots of all stripes. They have no qualms about shouting down real-world attempts to encourage rationality, skepticism, tolerance, fairness, and compassion. (Exhibit A: political discourse in the U.S. of A.)

    It would be awesome to have more support for non-virtual stands I and others take. But you know what? There's just not enough of it to balance out the face-to-face vitriol, the 3-D world harassment and threats of violence. There's too damn many people (even those who think they're being rational and tolerant and on one's side) who will deny to your face that you could possibly have experienced what you say you've experienced.

    In short, at least for some of us, trying to participate meaningfully in the "real world" is a lot more work than it seems to be for some of the rest of you.

    This is part of what shapes my comfort level (which is mine, and needn't be yours) with insistence on real names. I've been in situations where speaking out under my real name would be dangerous to myself and to others, but where shutting up seemed like a worse option.

    Doesn't mean anyone needed to listen to pseudonymous me. But it does mean, because of where I'm coming from -- and because of pseudonymous voices from whom I've learned a great deal -- I place the burden of proof in a different place than you do.

  • Larry Moran says:

    Zeebee says,

    You feed my name into an Anglophone search engine, you will almost certainly get me. (You'll get other results in a Francophone one I think.)

    But how many Larry Morans are there?

    Larry, when you comment here, will you add your address? So you can be distinguished from all other Larry Morans? Would you do the same if, for example, you were an abortion clinic doctor?

    Why don't you try a Google search on "Larry Moran" and see how lost-in-the-crowd I really am? :-)

    If I were an abortion clinic doctor in Western Europe I wouldn't have a problem identifying myself. If I were an abortion clinic doctor in some parts of the USA I would keep a very low profile, not only on the internet but everywhere else as well.

    My address is trivially available. I can probably stop it being so if I pay to remove myself from my country's White Pages, there are a number of L Morans in that database.

    This doesn't really have anything to do with the issue we are debating. However, it's typical of the kinds of diversions that often ruin the debate.

    So I dunno Larry is risking that much.

    What does that mean? I'm not risking nearly as much as a lesbian, socialist, atheist working for a private company in rural Alabama. I'm a tenured professor at a big university in Canada. What's your point?

    I don't have particularly strong politcal views, nor do I work in something like animal research. If I did, why should I risk real world consequences that John Smith (or Larry Moran) does not risk when expressing them?

    Every single one of us understands why some people don't want to risk exposing themselves by openly expounding unpopular ideas. Those people have to be careful, just as they have for hundreds of years. The question before us is whether giving them an anonymous voice on the internet is really going to help change society.

    Before someone else brings it up, let's get one more thing off the table. Using a pseudonym is not a guarantee of anonymity. If someone is determined to expose your real identity you will be outed, no matter how careful you are. Canadian Cynic is a good example.

  • Larry Moran says:

    Janet says,

    This is part of what shapes my comfort level (which is mine, and needn't be yours) with insistence on real names. I've been in situations where speaking out under my real name would be dangerous to myself and to others, but where shutting up seemed like a worse option.

    Doesn't mean anyone needed to listen to pseudonymous me. But it does mean, because of where I'm coming from -- and because of pseudonymous voices from whom I've learned a great deal -- I place the burden of proof in a different place than you do.

    We've been over this ground before. Let's stipulate, once and for all, that there are some people who can't identify themselves for very good reasons but who, nevertheless, want a public forum to express themselves. We all agree on that point.

    And let's stipulate further that the reason they can't identify themselves is because we live in a society that won't tolerate minority opinions. We need to fix that society.

    The question that interests me is whether, on balance, giving voice to anonymous people on the internet is helping, hurting, or neutral with respect to radical society reform (for the better).

    I know that major changes in society took place long before the internet came into existence. I'm thinking mostly about the 1960s and 1970s but you can go back much earlier if you wish. Back in the olden days, people did not (usually) have the option of expressing minority opinions anonymously.

    It seems to me that the burden of proof is on those who claim that anonymity is, on balance, a good thing for a healthy society.

    • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

      Larry wrote:

      It seems to me that the burden of proof is on those who claim that anonymity is, on balance, a good thing for a healthy society.

      I think this is the precise locus of our disagreement.

      And, given that burden-of-proof is one of those things (e.g., there's not an obvious way to settle where it should be placed that doesn't come down to one set of subjective preferences over another), we may have to agree to disagree until enough time has passed and/or enough empirical evidence has been gathered to provide a clear result.

  • Zuska says:

    It seems to me that the question is whether or not pseudonymity is good for the *individual*. Does it offer threatened individuals some modicum of protection for exercising their right to speak? The thugs and oppressors will make themselves heard, anonymously or under their real names, they don't care. Providing a pseudonymous forum doesn't give birth to those kinds of people or that kind of discourse. (c.f. segregation, racism, USA, prior to Internet). It does increase speech opportunities for threatened individuals. That's good for those individuals. Whether, in the long run, that makes society better is a side issue. Maybe threatened individuals just need to be able to speak freely to each other, for solidarity. You know, so that they have the courage to carry on the work they do IRL aimed at changing the world.

    • Zuska says:

      I don't write TSZ primarily to change the world. I do for many reasons, one main one being to let other women scientists who might read it know they aren't alone, aren't crazy, and their experiences are actually, sadly common. It doesn't dismantle the patriarchy. But it gives some women courage to keep operating within it. If I were still employed, and wanted to write as I do now, I'd do it under a pseudonym - whether I let my employer know I was blogging or not. Kind of like William Pannypacker did in the Chronicle of Higher Education when he wrote all those acclaimed essays, for years, under the nom de plume Thomas H. Benton. I guess that's completely different, tho, since it was in print. And the Chronicle said he was okay. You know, like they now say Female Science Professor is okay, you should read & listen to her. Go figure.

  • Larry Moran says:

    Janet says,

    And, given that burden-of-proof is one of those things (e.g., there's not an obvious way to settle where it should be placed that doesn't come down to one set of subjective preferences over another), we may have to agree to disagree until enough time has passed and/or enough empirical evidence has been gathered to provide a clear result.

    That sounds like a good position to take.

    Here's how I would put my position.

    I don't know whether the net effect of encouraging anonymity on the internet is beneficial, neutral, or detrimental. Because the data isn't in, I'll refrain from condemning or insulting Google+ or any of my colleagues who disagree with me.

    I'll also make sure to state clearly that my view on this subject is based largely of personal opinion/preference and not on facts and data.

    Does that sound like something you can agree to?

  • Alicia says:

    I and others I know use a 'pseudonym' on the internet for several reasons:

    - My birth name is not the name I identify for several reasons
    - In the multiplicity spectrum, body name is one thing, real name is another
    - Privacy, some aspects of my life can be judge by less informed people
    - Online bullying, I don't need this again
    - Security, internet is a good way to meet criminals, I don't share information that can be used to find me
    -Transgenders use their gender name, not body birth gender name

    I use my real name, not my legal name, yet I take responsability by the things I do online.

    Privacy is sacred and everyday there is less privacy.

    Internet is dangerous, that is the reality.

  • Kaz says:

    Thank you for defending us.

    I'm one of those persons pseudonymous (not anonymous - I have a ten year online history with what may be hundreds of thousands of words in posts) partially because of minority issues. I'm disabled, and I'm not out about all my disabilities or what all they entail offline. If I were forced to write under my legal name (not real - Kaz is just as much my real name as my RL first name is, and in many ways I'm more comfortable being Kaz), I would be forced to censor myself a great deal - because just imagine I start applying for jobs and my potential employer googles me and runs across a post where I talk about my worries about whether I'm actually capable of holding a full-time job? I'm sure that interview will go *swimmingly*. I'm also queer sexual-orientation-wise and on the trans* spectrum (nonbinaries represent!) and not really out about either of those things offline. Writing about those things under my legal name is not an option, because if I did I'd have to know for sure that not only now but for the rest of my life I would be able to be out about these things to anyone who googled me (like Zeebee, I have a name that isn't uncommon in my native country but is very uncommon in Anglophone areas, so I'm easily googleable.)

    I don't actually do that much reading in the science and/or skeptical blogosphere. The spaces I frequent tend to be geared at minority issues or sometimes fannish, or a combination, and they're almost wholely pseudonymous. They are also furnished with some fabulously interesting people. I have made friends - I have made best friends - I have made life partners there. I have participated in amazing communities. I have spoken to people of very different backgrounds, people who don't often get heard in the mainstream, people who had been persecuted or harrassed, all of whose stories were incredibly important and valuable. I would honestly be *lesser* if I had not had these experiences. A lot of these people I would have never met if we were forced to participate under our legal names because they couldn't have been there and I might not have been able to be there either, a lot of these conversations I could not have had because none of the participants - me included - could have had them under their legal names. For the past few weeks I've been staring at an invitation I've received to participate in a podcast, which AFAIK introduces the participants by legal first name at least, and work out how I need to word the choice they have - have me as Kaz, or force me to use my legal first name and thereby forcefully limit what I can talk about and maybe leave me unable to participate at all.

    I don't see legal-name-requiring spaces being any safer or less prone to harrassment, because that's an issue to do with moderation. I do seem them predominantly frequented by straight cis nondisabled Anglo white men, and being correspondingly less rich for it.

  • chris y says:

    If I encounter one more rich white western man banging on about the evils of pseudonymity, I will blow my stack, and then I swear I will devote the rest of my life to setting up an alternative internet for people with a clue.

  • JPop says:

    http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2011/08/04/real-names.html

    Some nice arguments for pseudonymity in this article, including the excellent point that even on, say, facebook, where real names are in vogue, lots of trolling/death threats/bullying occurs, which kind of puts a pin in the whole real name=civility idea. Haters gonna hate, innit.

  • Hap says:

    Larry Moran: "It seems to me that the burden of proof is on those who claim that anonymity is, on balance, a good thing for a healthy society."

    This seems to me to be the functional equivalent of "there is no right to privacy". Since the right to determine our identities and how we show ourselves to others is pretty fundamental to the operation of a free society, and to our existence as human beings (why we exist), it seems wrong to me, sort of like having to justify our existence based on benefit to others. In addition, considering the use of anonymity in creating our society in the first place (Federalist Papers), I might have thought that had already proved its value.

    Forcing people to use "real" names either requires some form of registration (requiring that a lot of power be placed in someone's hands) or does not ensure that the names people use are real (and also implies that when they aren't used, that the people who hold them have the opportunity to do more damage, either by being trusted when they shouldn't be or by damaging the reputation of others). Neither of these seems like a good thing.

    The Internet is a big wide place, and in any large portion of it, there are people I would prefer not to interact with. Eventually, I might find that those people are different than I thought, that I misjudged who to trust, who knows useful things. With my pseudo, people have an idea whether anything I say is useful and ignore or deal with me accordingly based on past experience, and I have control over who knows me and who does not.

    Google has the right to make rules for their community that they think will make it a good community. I don't have to play there by those rules (and can't anyway).