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No ID Required 22 May 2010

Posted by schmeslie in Privacy, Reflection.
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In our modern lives opportunities to be anonymous are rare. Even when I gave my character/alter-ego, Sondra Finchley, a Twitter account a few months back and told no one that it existed, my identity was still discovered through a Google Alert.  While I may as well have opened the account under my real name there is still something liberating about using a pseudonym, even if everyone knows who it is.

Some online publications wish anonymity wasn’t rampant, as it can bring out the worst in people – a crowd mentality of sorts – but anonymity can also bring out a creative side that may otherwise be concealed.  For example, I haven’t kept my website a secret (like I originally did with Sondra’s Twitter account) and I’m not using a character name because I don’t like the subject matter. I’m doing it because using a false name allows me to be less picky about what I write and who gets to see it. Basically it enables me to just enjoy the process of self-publishing my random thoughts – like a diary only public.

I recently read a Publicola article challenging the anonymous to use real names, suggesting commenters “wordsmith” what they’re saying more carefully so that they can be comfortable using their real names. I can see this guy’s point but at the same time I fear it would ultimately slow down participation and interest. The liberation of quickly commenting, without struggling over every word and thought is what keeps people coming back to the web – even people that aren’t joiners are participating in society more so than they would have if they’d needed to identify themselves.

To me, the problem isn’t that people are acting anonymously – it is that they aren’t thinking things through before they speak. This is a societal more than a web issue. In all aspects of life people need to consider the world around them and how they impact others before they act, or in this case comment or post. I say feel free to act anonymously but do it in a way that is respectful of others’ privacy and feelings, not just because you can get away with it. And if it is an issue the author feels strongly about muster the nerve to do it under your real name – it’ll lend credibility to your point.

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