What’s in a name

On the Internet, nobody knows your a dog

Cartoon from The New Yorker | Published July 5, 1993

A now famous cartoon from July 5, 1993 proclaimed “On the Internet, nobody knows your a dog.”  Eighteen years later that mentality of anonymity is being challenged as social media platforms adopt and enforce real name policies, often to the dismay of users.When Google+ launched it required real identities for real people mirroring how Facebook operate spurring a renewed conversation of the appropriateness of mandating online identities both in the name of convenience and privacy.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote “A Case for Pseudonyms” arguing both that users benefit from pseudonyms online since they protect the identity of a user, and add convenience since users might have usernames (or handles) dating back to the Web’s launch. EFF’s argument focuses on how handles protect users, especially as social media extends into political dissidents attempting to overthrow governments who fear for their identity.

When getting started with a new social medium, it is important to determine which network best fits a user’s needs which includes balancing the need to use a handle against the rules of a network. Nobody is forced to use Facebook or Google+ and if the interests of anonymity outweigh real identification then the user can choose another network, set up their own network, or stay offline.

All arguments against real name policies fail on this same point, they all assume that everybody needs to be on existing social networks. Read Write Web wrote a piece similar to EFF’s saying:

There are lots of reasons why people may opt to utilize other names online: you’re changing your real world name and identity, using your real world name puts you at risk at work or at home, or simply that people know you by your pseudonym, not by your real name.

Newspapers have long relied on anonymous sources, Deep Throat being one of the more famous, and when sources move online it might be harder to connect initially, and then trust an avatar with a handle than a real person, in the real world. This stems in part not knowing if @MSSPARKLE31 or @Awesomenezz are real people who can be trusted.

Since launching this site I have allowed comments and had a corresponding comment policy that is only 72 words long, in its entirety it reads:

Comments are welcome but please remain civil and respectful. We reserve the right to moderate and delete any comment which is in our opinion spam, hateful, vulgar, or otherwise disrespectful; as John Boehner says “disagree without being disagreeable”

We also ask that you use your real name when commenting, if a real name is not used the comment will be deleted. (Emphasis added)

This policy is subject to change at any time without notice.

I value real names, I am willing to attach my real name to every piece of content on this site, and ask the anyone wishing to participate do the same thing. I do not find this an outrageous request and apply the same logic to comments as to any social network: if you do not want to play by the rules don’t play.

While it is possible to fake information under a real name as well as a fake, signing content with your real name is a signal that you, the user, sign off on the content and stand by it as a legitimate online, and real world entity.


- Joshua I. Altman

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