When the internet got its start I guess if was fashionable for people to use “handles” to protect their identity. When this wide web thing was in its infancy and people were unsure of where things were headed, that was an understandable concern. Now, years later, the internet has become just an extension of our everyday lives and hiding who you are does not help the discourse at all. I know many people disagree with me; I see their comments in forums all the time. I have never been persuaded by any of their arguments however.
I believed 6 years ago when I first jumped onto the internet as a writer that people who used a fake identity online were doing it in order to misbehave in ways they could not in their flesh and blood lives. This was because most of the trolls, flamers, and just plain idiots I saw in the forums were the ones using obvious made up identities. I have expanded this understanding over the years to include people who are genuinely afraid to let people know who they are and to people who are selling something they do not want their real identities associated with. I am not alone in this thinking by any means but people who think the opposite are still the loudest voices in the debate.
This is interesting because of a trend I have noticed among spammers and forum trolls over the past couple of years. Rather than use an obviously created identity, they will pretend to be someone very boring, just not themselves. In other words, often “Stephanie” is not really Stephanie at all but rather Randy, Richard, or Judy, assuming the character of Stephanie. Usually they want to behave controversially, fraudulently, or just anonymously, in order to feel protected from the consequences of their behavior.
I think the fact that Google with their Google+ product and Facebook’s earlier effort to make their users transparent is the future of the internet. I think this is a very good thing. Not everyone agrees, of course, as this post titled Google Plus’s “Real Name” policy is abusive clearly shows. I really don’t agree with much of that post, but there are others, like this article by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic that make me stop and wonder if I am just being old fashioned or naive in my thinking.
What do you think? Maybe it boils down to those of us that use our real names online will think as I do. And those that use a false identity will think like the author of that first link. Maybe running this website and seeing all the spam that comes in with obviously fake names has jaded me a bit? Or maybe, as that Atlantic article hints, there are real risks involved with letting people know who you are? Maybe though, those risks are mainly present if your intent is to misbehave or abuse?