So here we go again. People whining about not being able to pretend they are someone else, or no one else online, by using pseudonyms. I should be clear right from the start. I believe that misrepresenting your “identity” (yes a philosophical minefield) is not only disingenuous, but disrespectful to any other sentient being also possessing an “identity”. And really! give me a break people! You want to connect to the rest of the world in some sort of global community, yet you don’t want anyone to know who you are, or your freaked out over getting your “identity” stolen! Cry me a river why don’t you! And all this talk about stalking, well DON’T GO ONLINE if this is something that keeps you up at night. You wouldn’t walk down that dark alley in the middle of the night out of fear of what may be lurking in the shadows. If you believe stalking or identity theft are real concerns and these perceived risks are keep you up at night, then once again, DON’T GO ONLINE or use social networking! And don’t try to convince me of the need for pseudonyms because of all those horror stories of what can, and often does happen when someone is stalked, threatened or has their “identity” stolen. People die from crossing the street every day but this does not prevent us from doing it. Just being born is the precursor for all the potential risks we face in life, every single day. These POTENTIAL risks to life, safety, happiness, abuse, stalking, identity theft and anything else one can think of are inescapable no matter what precautions you think you can implement. But we do take reasonable precautions and most of us do just fine. The same can be said about exposing your REAL identity online where the benefits of everyone being represented as their “true” selves (at least the name part), far, far outweighs the PERCEIVED protection afforded by using pseudonyms.
“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” (Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google)
I realize I am in the minority, but I continue to believe that all this fear over things like “identity theft” and privacy are misplaced and in many cases just a red herring. I don’t disagree that there are risks to being online, and identify theft is real and it can be harmful. But so is walking across the street and yet we still find a way to do that. This perceived need/desire/right to somehow be “hidden” online, while simultaneously wanting to be part of some growing global “community” is forever going to be in conflict. We cannot have it both ways. I also believe the real “value” in global communities and social networks is lost when people are permitted to use pseudonyms. Sure, the providers of social networking like Facebook and Google both (likely) see great financial “value” by ensuring people use their real names. I don’t have a problem with that – advertising is another inescapable reality of our economically driven and self-interested “western” culture. In my own ignorant opinion, any form of global community will not be (successfully) built around fear, paranoia, suspicion and subterfuge. It will be built around trust, transparency, shared ideals, collaboration and respect. Even if there is a small portion of online users who don’t share in these ideals and see these technologies, and vulnerable people, as tools for exploitation.
Does going online with your “real” name introduce the possibility of being vulnerable, exposed or harmed? Sure, but so what – so does being born and walking across the street. I mean really! Who meets other people in the bar, applies for jobs, fills out credit card applications or introduces themselves anywhere with a pseudonym! Yes, some do, but I am referring to the MAJORITY. I also believe that misrepresenting your “identity” (yes a philosophical minefield) is not only disingenuous, but disrespectful to any other sentient being also possessing an “identity”. If we are truly going to evolve into a “global community”, at least partially facilitated by technology, then we need to consider social networking as an extension of an actual community and built around those same behaviors, expectations and shared interests or ideals. I believe that 20-30 years from now we will look back at this infantile period of social networking and giggle in embarrassment at how we started off. Personally, and once they iron out problems like identifying people with unusual names, I applaud Google’s efforts to prevent pseudonyms in Google+. Just don’t cave in to the whiners Google and hold your stance!