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Opt-ions One

There are seven more posts about the book.  I’m not sure if I’m going to write them all back-to-back, or pause sometimes to talk about something else, but they all relate to the blogosphere and social media.  In other words, by being online, you can participate in the discussion.  The book itself is irrelevant in that regard.

All the posts are labeled “Opt-ions.”  The reason I divided the word as I have will make sense with the last post, which is the only other one I’ve written at this point.  So… uh… that’s how I know that it will make sense.


Image: Ali T via Flickr

So we’ll start with the concept of accountability.

When you sign up for Facebook, you agree to use your real name:

Facebook is a community where people use their real identities. We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you’re connecting with. This helps keep our community safe … The name you use should be your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver’s license or student ID.

A bunch of people on my Friends list aren’t using their real names, and they’re clearly not using their real names, unless they’ve legally changed their name to match their blog’s title.  Some people are less clearly not using their real name.  I had someone send me a friend request, and I had no clue who it was until I saw the picture.  She was using her middle name as her last name since it was the sort of name that sounded a little last-name-ish.

I’m not sure how/if Facebook enforces their name rule; if people who aren’t using their real name as it appears on their credit card or driver’s license will have their name automatically changed on the site once the algorithm can link you to your real name based on an online purchase, since Facebook tracks you on non-Facebook sites.  If they’ll bump you from the site entirely, which I don’t think will happen because they need users.  Or if they’ll let it slide, figuring what harm does it do if people can’t identify you.

Except that they claim that using your real name keeps “our community safe.”  Well, that isn’t a small thing.  Safety.  I mean, if they believe this really comes down to safety, then shouldn’t they enforce that rule?

The Verge had a post a few years back about just that: the enforcement of Facebook’s rules and why they need you to be using your real name.  It’s an interesting read.

Facebook depends on its users to be honest. With 239,000 users for every Facebook employee, it’s logistically impossible to verify all the information that is submitted. Fake names, fake ages, fake interests — all these inaccuracies interfere with the company’s ability to accurately target advertisements. Facebook wants to build the world’s most comprehensive database of people. If the information is current and correct, Facebook could eventually become a place where people bank or vote or even file taxes. If it’s filled with errors, it nears uselessness — at least, as far as advertisers are concerned.

So, yeah, real names matter to Facebook.  Instead of focusing on the financial benefits for the company, one of the arguments made is that if we are all operating under our real name, accountable for our behaviour, it will help us make better choices.  We’ll think before we speak.  We’ll own our words and actions.

And that good behaviour could travel offline, ensuring that we won’t commit tiny crimes like stealing toilet paper from work, or larger crimes knowing that our actions will be tied to our names in a huge, transparent way.  How many people would have an affair or purchase porn knowing that in the interest of full transparency, everyone they know and love would know about their actions?  If all your activities were listed on your Facebook profile, and your profile was linked to your name, then it would follow that it would be a deterrent — at least with smaller, embarrassing-if-discovered actions.

But here’s the thing: if we know that idea is possible, even if it’s not in effect, why do we still continue to make bad choices?  Why don’t we live our lives as if everyone can know everything we say and do, in the same way that people drive slower through areas that could be policed by speed cameras, even when speed cameras aren’t there?

The Verge article sums up an interesting idea: “The real-name resistance could be significantly reduced, however, if real names benefited users as much as they benefit Facebook.”  And in the case I listed above, knowing how much you can trust the people around you, would go a long way in being beneficial to users.  You’d no longer need to guess whether someone is trustworthy.  You could look at their profile and know.

Do you think people should have to use their full, real name online — to comment, to use social media, to make purchases — and do you think in doing so, would it curb behaviour and make us into better versions of ourselves?  Do you think the comment section of certain posts would be filled with the same kind of bile if people were forced to be accountable for what they say under their real name?  Do you think anonymity brings out the worst in us?  Do you think you act differently when you think you’re being watched and monitored?


1 nicoleandmaggie { 06.17.14 at 9:02 am }

I have seen that it is dangerous to be female online. Whether or not it would be as dangerous if the bad guys had to use their real names too is unknown. I suspect it would still be pretty bad, at least until law enforcement starts taking online threats seriously.

2 MissingNoah { 06.17.14 at 10:20 am }

I use my blog name for comments, and for most of my Facebook interactions with loss pages for one simple reason. There is still a huge stigma against TFMR. I wish it wasn’t the case, but the comments on still standing’s post prove that it is. And as a teacher, I worry that the wrong person having that information could effect my job one day.

3 Mrs T (missohkay) { 06.17.14 at 11:28 am }

I think there is value in anonymity (as the author of an anonymous-ish blog). In the world of commenting, however — and especially commenting in places like news sites — I prefer the trade-off of losing some good anonymous comments for making people use their names. Not everyone stops doing things like using the N-word and threatening to kill politicians when their names are involved, but it helps. On my blog, the troll I addressed in a recent post came back and trolled me again using a different fake name/email address this weekend (same IP though!) – she obviously felt protected by her anonymity… whereas the author of a blog linked to by the troll emailed me and made some civil points in agreement with the troll and used her real name. I obviously preferred the latter.

4 loribeth { 06.17.14 at 11:32 am }

I use my real name on FB but I’m loribeth or some variation most other places online. I do have friends who use pseudonyms on FB. In a couple of cases, the people are involved in law enforcement/justice system work… they deal with some pretty nasty people & while they like being in touch with family & friends on FB, they are understandably leery about being too easily identifiable. (I got a friend request from a cousin & almost deleted it — it was such a ridiculous name & I had no idea who it was — then I noticed another cousin was a mutual friend so I contacted him. I suspected it was the cousin it turned out to be, or his brother, & I was right, lol.)

Having everyone use their real names online to make people more accountable is a noble idea, but I’m not sure it’s enforceable. There will always be people looking to game the system and get away with bad behaviour (and that goes for offline as well as on).

5 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 06.17.14 at 12:39 pm }

I like the option of anonymity as well. Obviously! I do think online places work better with names but I’m not sure if real names are a lot better than pseudonyms – it’s still an identifier. If you want to remain part of a community, whether under your real name or a pseudonym, you still have to behave. You still need to build reputation around an identifier.

So I’m fine with pseudonyms. I’ve seen sites where you don’t have to log in to comment/can comment anonymously and some of those sites did contain particularly vicious comments, but I’m not sure whether to blame the lack of log in or the lack of moderation. That said, moderation does also get easier if you’re moderating a specific person (however identified) that moderating each comment separately, so.

I’m reluctant to get rid of anonymity on the internet altogether.

I have two Facebook accounts at the moment, one using my middle name, because Facebook keeps messing with their algorithm and a friend was complaining about not getting my (auto-generated) page updates. If Facebook are upset about this they can stop messing with personal blog page update settings for non-profit hobbyists any time.

6 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 06.17.14 at 12:41 pm }

Oh, and that would be good because it’s confusing people. A lot of people have suddenly friended my alternative profile and are trying to interact with me on that. I keep telling them I don’t use it and it’s just for automatic updates for the benefit of this one friend….

7 Working mom of 2 { 06.17.14 at 12:52 pm }

Well, I have an extremely unique name. Only one of me in the world. First name is foreign word not usually used as a name. Last name is fairly rare foreign name. Do having to use my real name at all times would suck because there’s no doubt who I am as opposed to most names where there are usually at least several others with that name. Plus my job is such that I need to be careful what I say, since you know, rare name easy to Google.

8 deathstar { 06.17.14 at 1:07 pm }

While I don’t make comments online that I wouldn’t say to your face I realize that many others use anonymity to be cruel, sadistic and generally assholey-ish. Which is why I can barely read an article on Yahoo because the comment sections are so full of ridiculous bile from people not using their real names. I use my real name on FB and if I know my FB identity will be linked to a comment, then I would certainly think twice about what I would say. People who go to the trouble of concealing their identity so that they can attack you with bile are called trolls for a reason. Just KKK on the internet, that’s all.

9 andy { 06.17.14 at 2:50 pm }

It’s interesting, When I started out online, I used a pseudonym, but have slowly switched to using my real name everywhere. I use to have to keep an excel chart of peoples online names and who they were in real life! I still have people that I only know by their online names and if I were to ever meet them in person, I don’t know what I would call them! I do think that people feel more empowered to be idiots when they can do so anonymously though.

10 Mel { 06.17.14 at 2:57 pm }

I will admit, mostly because Deathstar commented above, that I was telling Josh a story recently, and I said, “my friend, Deathstar…” because that’s how I know you. And he turned and looked at me and said, “her name is Deathstar?” He was teasing, knowing it had to be a pseudonym, but it does make the conversation sound a little odd when it comes out of my mouth. Not inside my head. In my head, it makes total sense.

To piggyback onto what Andy just said about keeping a spreadsheet!

11 A. { 06.17.14 at 5:34 pm }

Well, I think the problem I have with real-name transparency is that I often don’t agree with the prevailing sensibilities of the mob. IRL we have these concentric spheres of intimacy that enable us to put on a PC face for broader audiences, like work, but the internet (especially the one you’re proposing) doesn’t distinguish–exposing all levels of disclosure to mass consumption. What’s more is that I think there’s value in stripping away the bullsh*t and finding our how people really think because it forces us to confront truth in all its ugliness, not to mention creating space for valid dissent even if it enrages the (often passionate yet under-informed) majority. Here’s a thought-provoking TED talk to serve as devil’s advocate: http://www.ted.com/talks/christopher_m00t_poole_the_case_for_anonymity_online

12 Tracie { 06.17.14 at 6:27 pm }

I use my real name online. I always think about what I type – and don’t type things I wouldn’t say to someone in person. Maybe that comes from knowing that anything I type can be traced back to me, because I use my real name, or maybe it is a bigger symptom of not believing that anything is completely secure or private online.

I can see both sides of this. There are very real reasons people want to have anonymity online, and I would be sad to lose some of those people in my online life because they no longer felt safe being in this space. But I do feel like it might make a difference on some level in comment sections for people to have to attach their words to their real identity.

13 Mali { 06.17.14 at 8:18 pm }

Interesting question, Mel. I’ve been thinking about posting about this for a while. You might motivate me to do so.

Mali is a pseudonym, a name I was given when I lived in Thailand. (My real name is not nearly so exotic). I was very nervous when I began to blog, and I didn’t want just anyone finding what I had written. This is especially the case with my No Kidding blog. I don’t want a recruitment consultant or fellow Board member googling me and then reading about my hysterectomy or ectopic pregnancies or most particularly the thoughts and emotions surrounding these events (which I consider are mine, and mine alone to share). Of course, that said, it is now possible to google my real name, and – by clicking several different links via my Huff Post article – to find my blogs. I’m not so concerned with that – it at least gives a hint that I did not want this to be public, and hope that would be respected.

On FB though, I use my real name. I only have FB friends who know me in real life (or who I want to know in real life, just haven’t met yet). I am very careful about who I link to as a friend, and have no wish to win the “greatest number of friends” competition some (mostly younger people I think?) enter into. I link to my Separate Life blog on Facebook, and most of my real life family and friends know this exists now. But I don’t link to my No Kidding blog. That’s given out on a “need to know” basis.

I have one or two friends who use pseudonyms on FB, but I know them by their real names. I would never link to someone on FB if I did not know their real name.

14 a { 06.17.14 at 10:48 pm }

People have to work to find out everything about me. Although, strangely, there are a couple people from the internet who probably know a little bit more about me than most people I know in real life. I’m not a big sharer.

Plenty of people on Facebook use fake names. I joined to connect with people I knew, so I didn’t use a fake name (plus I didn’t feel like making one up, and it wouldn’t let me use my initials). I even added my maiden name, so more people would recognize me.

There are some things I wouldn’t necessarily do if I knew I were going to get caught (i.e. speeding). But for the most part, I am a “what you see is what you get” kind of person. I think anonymity is very attractive to some people – they have lots of bile to spew, but don’t have the courage to do it under their own names. I don’t know if this is a new phenomenon, or if it is comparable to spreading untrue gossip before the internet came along, and is, thus, human nature. Either way, I’m not a fan.

15 Megan { 06.21.14 at 1:28 pm }

I am definitely a fan of using my real name online, but I think that’s because I’m generally a pretty open person and I’m not the kind of person who would ever say something to someone that I wouldn’t tell them in person. But I’ve seen online forums where people (ostensibly) use their real names and STILL act like jerks. So I’m not sure that “being found out” is necessarily a great deterrent.

16 Justine { 06.21.14 at 10:20 pm }

I wondered about this a while ago when I wrote about blogging anonymously, but I hadn’t, in that post, considered the “using social media anonymously” question. And I still think that it matters, that people who use their real names have to stand behind their opinions and criticisms, etc. But why should we be able to blog anonymously but use our real identities for commenting or using FB? Can we really draw such a neat line between who we are when we express an opinion and when we are in conversation?

I understand that blogging as a female, or as an infertile, or as so many other identities, has its drawbacks … and that doing so can in some cases even be dangerous. But I look at women who blog as advocates for better education for women in some less-forward-thinking countries, and who risk their lives doing so, and wonder, is whatever we imagine really as bad?

17 Battynurse { 06.25.14 at 3:23 am }

I definitely think that people behave worse knowing that it likely won’t come back on them. Like horrid comments from anonymous. If you had to leave your phone number to leave a comment on sites, there would be a lot less comments. My blog identity isn’t linked to my FB although I’m sure someone really determined could find it, it’s not difficult since the email matches the blog etc. There are a few people IRL I would rather not have access to my blog as they may find things that hurt their feelings. However if those people did find my blog and confront me I would truthfully acknowledge that was how I felt in that moment in time. Also if they are out trying to find me then they get all of it.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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