Sophie - On 'real' names, and why it's not a good idea to be forced to use them.
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Date: 2011-03-15 16:52
Security: Public
xposthttp://soph.livejournal.com/217771.html
Tags:big posts, facebook, names
Subject: On 'real' names, and why it's not a good idea to be forced to use them.

As many of you know, I'm 28. I grew up during the development of the Internet, and by the time the Internet hit for home users around about 1995, I was 13.

One if the things I was told emphatically not to do back then was to give out any personal details on the Net. No real name, no address, nothing. I didn't quite stick to that - I did use my name sometimes - but I did learn the importance of why it's not a good idea to use offline identities all the time. And in the early days of the era of home users using the Internet, doubtless many people learned the same thing.

Fast forward to today. Facebook is easily the largest social network, and it requires you to use your full name; if you don't, you're violating their Terms of Service and they reserve the right to make your acccount go poof.

"But Sophie," you say, "Just don't use Facebook if you don't like their policies!"

Great idea... except for two things:

a) More sites are now using Facebook's Comments Box 'social plugin' to enable commenting on their site.
b) There are some people (for example, Scoble of scobleizer.com) who think that people should be forced to use their 'real' names, or else they don't regard their comments/opinions as valid.

It should be noted here that when people like the above refer to 'real' names, they invariably mean 'offline' names, but word it that way because they feel that any other names are not 'real' and are thus 'fake'. The only real name you have is the one that legally applies to you, apparently.

(Okay, so I guess they have a point in that names are how we identify people, and if we didn't have names we'd all be numbers instead. But although I'm sure some people probably would prefer being known as such if it stopped people using their 'real' name, those same people will probably find it infinitely preferable if other people used whatever name that they *wanted* other people to use. Names have meanings, whether they're given by the origin language itself or simply by emotional attachment.)

What I'm trying to say is that not every deviation from a 'real' name is done to make us anonymous. In fact, it's quite the opposite - people can still be identified by whatever name they choose in a particular environment; that's what names are for, and that goes against the very definition of 'anonymous'.(*) Instead, most individual people I know (that is to say, even individual members of a plural system can do this) who are using a different name are doing it in order to separate various identities. Note that this isn't always the same as trying to *hide* the other identities. For example, in some religions, people can have completely different names from how people might know them outside of their religion, but they don't go out of their way to hide their legal name from people.(**)

Then comes the question - if you're not trying to hide your other identities, why not just use the other identity's name in the first place? Hopefully that question has been answered for you by way of the example I gave, but in case it hasn't - it very much depends on context. If someone has a different name on the Internet than they do in real life(***), then they're probably going to want to use that name, because it's part of their identity, and it's only polite to use whatever name they're going by in that context, not least because it may cause offense (or even danger) otherwise.

Of course, there are people who don't mind, or whose choice of name is restricted by availability - which is a particularly common problem with usernames on the Internet. Some of those people might like their username better; some may prefer another name. In both cases you should refer to them with whatever name they *want* to be called. (And if you don't know, you should ask.)

Hopefully I've made my point clear; when it comes to names, there is no single 'real name' for a lot of people. And this is why I don't like the Facebook Comments Box, since it would force you to use a real name even on sites which otherwise have nothing to do with Facebook. Like, say, TechCrunch. (See also this response to the rollout.)

One more thing. The 'danger' I referred to above may have got some of you thinking that's a bit overdramatic and not common at all, certainly not in an environment like I'm journalling this entry from.

But the truth is, as much as it might sound overdramatic, it's really not. People are in danger all the time from people who think that if they know someone's 'real' identity, that they're allowed to enter that side of their life. This is particularly true when the person whose 'real' identity was revealed is a member of an unprivileged group, because often the prevailing attitude is that unprivileged groups are inferior or subordinate to privileged ones. (If you're not aware what I mean by "unprivileged groups", you may want to take a look at [livejournal.com profile] brown_betty's post A primer on privilege: what it is and what it isn't, as it gives a good introduction to it.)

I actually use Facebook occasionally. However, Facebook is not the Web, and it shouldn't try to become so. I hope this entry has made clear why I believe that.

(a big thanks to [personal profile] marahmarie for her posts prompting me to write this epic entry. It's not often I agree with her, but on this point I do.)

[edit: [personal profile] vampwillow points out in the comments that Etsy has recently exposed people's legal names to the world without telling anyone, and people can now connect your purchases to your legal name simply by searching on your legal name, something which was previously impossible. If you use Etsy, you may want to follow the instructions in the linked article to prevent this.]



(*) According to answers.com, the three definitions of 'anonymous' are:
  1. Having an unknown or unacknowledged name: an anonymous author.
  2. Having an unknown or withheld authorship or agency: an anonymous letter; an anonymous phone call.
  3. Having no distinctive character or recognition factor: "a very great, almost anonymous center of people who just want peace" (Alan Paton).
(**) I am aware that a religious name might not actually be chosen by the person who receives it, so the implications probably are going to be a bit different. I would definitely appreciate input on this from people who might have more insight into this than I do!

(***) Discussion on exactly how "real" 'real life' is is outside of the scope of this journal post, but may prove to be an interesting exercise for the reader.

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pixel-stained technopeasant wench: ev
User: [personal profile] vampwillow
Date: 2011-03-15 17:18 (UTC)
Userpic:ev
Subject: (no subject)

A couple of years ago I went to a wedding; both people involved I'd first "met" online (on LJ, in fact) years before but known offline for ages. The week before there was a sortof hen party (groom was there too, hence sortof) and we were all standing in the waiting area of the venue when a member of the staff called out "party of Miss xxxxx xxxxx please". I had no idea who that was so ignored the call (there were clearly other groups also waiting) when I realised that other people I *did* know where moving. So I asked "but who is Miss xxxxx xxxxx?" only to be told that it was the "real" name of my friend I'd known irl all that time.

I have another friend who became so continuously known by her online handle that she changed her 'real' name to the online handle legally.

"Real" is in the eye of the beholder, not of facebook imho.

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Aisling
User: [personal profile] charcoalfeathers
Date: 2011-03-15 18:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

That's pretty interesting :) I know I'm probably the same way on here.. I've told most people on my f-list my first name nickname at least, but most of them would probably still call me Aisling... I kind of like that because it puts me in the right mindset for the conversation.

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Sophie
User: [personal profile] sophie
Date: 2011-03-15 18:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

Oh, erp. I'm going to edit the post to include this link, because I think it's important; many of my friends on here are Etsy users. Thanks!

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Cody B.: contemplation
User: [personal profile] codeman38
Date: 2011-03-15 18:14 (UTC)
Userpic:contemplation
Subject: (no subject)

This one really struck home for me, because it's a lot like my experience.

In the professional and academic world I use my full name, William Cody $surname. On Facebook, and among friends and family, I'm Cody $surname. (And I'm not specifying the surname here because I'm the only person with that combination of names that I've found anywhere-- but it's not hard to find, as there are places it's linked with my real name. It's not like it's a huge secret or anything.) I don't generally go by my first name because I'm a third-generation William-- and besides, "Cody" is much more suited to a programmer, don'tcha think? ^_~

However, I'd say that there are probably far more people who know me by my online pseudonym, codeman38. I've been using it since 1997, which wasn't very long after I first got online. I've quite literally been using it for nearly half my life. For all intents and purposes, that's as much my identity as my offline name.

People recognize me when I comment on blogs as codeman38. Even people I've known in person, like high-school classmates, recognized me by the pseudonym, because I was using it even back then.

When I comment with my real name? It might take people a while to put two and two together, at best... and it might go completely unrecognized, at worst.

And of course, I'm...uh...privileged? to have an uncommon name. Where it really becomes useful to have pseudonyms is for common names. How else are you going to tell the fifteen James Smiths that have all decided to comment on a particular thread apart?

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MM Writes
User: [personal profile] marahmarie
Date: 2011-03-17 04:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

I have the same problem. My real name is nearly as common as the John Smiths and Jane Does. It's also the name of an Olympian swimmer and someone who sells one very, very famous item with her name on it so the confusion would be at best, hilarious ("No, I'm not the swimmer, nor the saleswoman") and at worst would bury my name in search results forever.

I knew that at the outset (2006) so I chose a different online name to stand out. At the time I was the only Marah Marie you could find in Google (it's the name of a poem I wrote in 2002). Now it's a fairly common name to see, so much so that I'm afraid people get it mixed up with at least a dozen others (who apparently use it as their "real name" on Facebook). But it's too late to do anything about it.

On Facebook I use just my first initial and last name (and my account is private - not searchable or indexable). There are so many other women with my real name that there's no point in adding to the confusion, and it keeps things more private - just the way I like it.

"When I comment with my real name? It might take people a while to put two and two together, at best... and it might go completely unrecognized, at worst."

That's such a good point - one I never thought of...that your online name can carry more weight in the minds of others than your real name does in the same forums. But sometimes it's true. If I were to start using my real name wherever I hang out, almost no one would know who I was so it would never be connected to what people already know of me thanks to my use of this name.

Edited (clarity) 2011-03-18 04:09 pm (UTC)

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Cody B.: absent-minded
User: [personal profile] codeman38
Date: 2011-03-15 18:22 (UTC)
Userpic:absent-minded
Subject: (no subject)

Oh, yeah, and another reason I don't like Facebook-based commenting? Because I'm never sure what's actually being shared, to whom.

If I post a comment on a regular blog comment script, even under my real name, it usually stays within the confines of that particular site. There are some exceptions, like Disqus, which keep a log of all comments by a particular user-- but even then, you have to actively go looking for the user's trail of comments; it's not just right out there in the open.

If I post a comment using a Facebook comment widget, there's a chance that it might get posted to my Facebook wall for all to see. (And not just a hypothetical chance, at that-- one time, I posted a comment that I thought was staying internal to a particular government-affiliated Facebook page, and it ended up getting posted on my wall as well.) Given that I've got family members following me on Facebook who...erm...don't exactly agree with me on everything, to put it mildly? Yeah, I'm going to be looking for privacy policies before I post anything on a Facebook-based comment form.

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Aisling
User: [personal profile] charcoalfeathers
Date: 2011-03-15 18:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

Yeah, I love how there's no indication at all what filtering is happening on a post. It could be visible to only friends, friends of friends (basically all of Facebook) or the whole world. No way to tell.

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Cody B.: think different
User: [personal profile] codeman38
Date: 2011-03-15 18:28 (UTC)
Userpic:think different
Subject: (no subject)

And I just discovered something really fail about Facebook's comment form on TechCrunch.

It allows you to log in with an AIM account. Of course, it doesn't show 'codeman38'-- it shows 'cody', and I can't figure out where in the world to change the display name.

However, it doesn't allow you to log out of an AIM account. There's no 'log out' link anywhere in the commenting system, and Facebook doesn't identify you as being logged in. Even if you log out on AOL's web site, the Facebook form still has your AIM account cached.

This is bad.

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MM Writes
User: [personal profile] marahmarie
Date: 2011-03-17 04:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

Yeah, that's not good. I'm wondering which part of that can be used by hackers to [fill in the blank] (and now I'll have to look into it because that's really not good at all). Thanks for bringing it up.

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Aisling: gender
User: [personal profile] charcoalfeathers
Date: 2011-03-15 18:29 (UTC)
Userpic:gender
Subject: (no subject)

Hahah, I have to make the official oldie-but-goodie post. :D

I started my "online" world somewhere in the neighborhood of the late 80s. It was BBSes then. Pretty much everyone used their full legal names, just like Facebook today. I don't think most people thought much of it. Over time I started seeing more and more use of "handles", and it sort of perplexed me. I moved onto the internet in '93 or so, and continued using my full legal name there. I kept that up all the way until my transition, and then it hit me.

Oh.

So yeah, I have all this "net space" out there I can no longer claim, because it entails me outing myself to anyone who is watching. And if no one is watching, there's no point to reclaiming it. I could've at least tried to wave my hands and make a "haha, I was a girl all along" statement. Not many people had met me, it might've worked overall. But now I can't.

I started a new identity then, and have very strongly stuck to "handles" ever since then. I see it not so much as a privacy issue (though I do very strongly appreciate that too) but as a programmer-esque mode of identity abstraction that lets me expose different parts of myself to different people. (For example I doubt most of my normal DW crowd cares much about the merits of MVC vs inline-PHP style web development. ;)

FB's "real name" policy is completely asinine. It makes sense in some ways because they're ostensibly there to reconnect people, but if you didn't know that person by their legal name, what's the point? I finally said screw it a while back and made a new account to match the DW piece of my online identity. It's been really nice to have that segregated, and I've been able to return my legal-name account to a fairly hidden, "clean" state that lets me add co-workers or whatever... (not that even that one is particularly open, but whatever). And I can determine on a onesies basis who would want to or can move over to the other one.

If they delete it on me, in some ways, they will have done me a favor.. hehe.

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Cody B.: contemplation
User: [personal profile] codeman38
Date: 2011-03-15 18:36 (UTC)
Userpic:contemplation
Subject: (no subject)

a programmer-esque mode of identity abstraction that lets me expose different parts of myself to different people

That is a wonderful description. I don't know why I didn't think of it!

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Aisling: geek
User: [personal profile] charcoalfeathers
Date: 2011-03-15 18:41 (UTC)
Userpic:geek
Subject: (no subject)

Thanks :)

Hey, it took me a while to realize what I was doing with it, even, but it makes a lot of sense now.

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きつね
User: [personal profile] disastrously
Date: 2011-03-15 20:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

We very rarely use Facebook.. VERY rarely.

And we violated their ToS but it would be no great loss if they killed our account. It's gotten stupid anyhow.

But I want to thank you for this post. I'm not (legal identity) I don't go by (legal identity) We're a plural system for people who might see this comment and didn't know, and I'd much prefer my own name as opposed to (legal name) as (legal name) is kind of feminine and I am male... And our use of various names is because they are our names. There is no anonymity involved.

Which brings up another point. I can imagine that being called (legal name) to trans people who haven't/can't afford to get their name changed to what they want to be called would be really offensive and invalidating and just terrible.

And your sentiment about danger is not overdramatic. It happens all the time. I mean, a practical example would be a person in an abusive situation whose partner is looking for them. Using their legal identity could seriously put their life or livelihood in jeopardy.

Preaching to the choir, sorry.
But I love the post.
-Axel

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Sophie
User: [personal profile] sophie
Date: 2011-03-15 20:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

*nods* I didn't bring up multiple systems in the context of each person using their preferred name mostly because I was referring to individual people, which to me included different people in the same multiple system anyway.

Where I did mention multiple systems, it was referring to the fact that even individual people in a multiple system can use different names for the same person. For example, in your system I know of someone who goes by one name when talking to me, but also has a username that's completely different, which I mentioned to him recently during a discussion about an error he was getting on Dreamwidth.

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echan
User: [personal profile] echan
Date: 2011-03-16 06:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

You're not alone in this idea: "At South by Southwest Interactive 2011 in Austin, Texas this week, 4chan founder Christopher Poole (also known as “moot”) took the stage to talk about [...] how important anonymity is on the Internet and how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t get it." [from this article]

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M. / huimin: Ginger!
User: [personal profile] mercredigirl
Date: 2011-03-22 03:57 (UTC)
Userpic:Ginger!
Subject: (no subject)

I grew up on the Internet in the late 90s and early 2000s. Definitely a 'Keep your legal name off the Net' atmosphere. Coupled with several minority identities and a tendency to be loud about my issues online, I would really say that pseudonymity keeps me feeling safe. (It's not even anon,for crying out -- pseuds are involved!)

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Sophie
User: [personal profile] sophie
Date: 2011-03-22 10:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

Yeah, I hate it when people use the word "anonymous" when they mean "pseudonymous". :/

(BTW, hi! I don't recall seeing your name around my journal before. How did you find me? :))

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M. / huimin: Wicked friendship
User: [personal profile] mercredigirl
Date: 2011-03-22 10:52 (UTC)
Userpic:Wicked friendship
Subject: (no subject)

([personal profile] azuire's love meme, heh. Which was truly anon. xD)

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