5x5 bingo card with anti-pseudonymity arguments

Anti-pseudonym bingo

People testing the Google+ social network are discussing increasing evidence that, terms of service requirement or not, Google+ wants people to use their legal names much as Facebook does. Skud shares a heads-up from a user banned for using his initials. Then, for example, see discussion around it on Mark Cuban’s stream, Skud’s stream and Sarah Stokely’s blog.

Let’s recap really quickly: wanting to and being able to use your legal name everywhere is associated with privilege. Non-exhaustive list of reasons you might not want to use it on social networks: everyone knows you by a nickname; you want everyone to know you by a nickname; you’re experimenting with changing some aspect of your identity online before you do it elsewhere; online circles are the only place it’s safe to express some aspect of your identity, ever; your legal name marks you as a member of a group disproportionately targeted for harassment; you want to say things or make connections that you don’t want to share with colleagues, family or bosses; you hate your legal name because it is shared with an abusive family member; your legal name doesn’t match your gender identity; you want to participate in a social network as a fictional character; the mere thought of your stalker seeing even your locked down profile makes you sick; you want to create a special-purpose account; you’re an activist wanting to share information but will be in danger if identified; your legal name is imposed by a legal system that doesn’t match your culture… you know, stuff that only affects a really teeny minority numerically, and only a little bit, you know? (For more on the issue in general, see On refusing to tell you my name and previous posts on this site.)

Anyway, in honour of round one million of forgetting about all of this totally, I bring you anti-pseudonymity bingo!
5x5 bingo card with anti-pseudonymity arguments
Text version at bottom of post.

What squares would you add?

Quick review of bingo: the idea is to play it against a commenter or a comment thread. A full row or column wins! (The free square is a giveaway.)

Also, yes, thank you, we are aware that a bingo card does not constitute a logical reasoned argument. You could, if you like, use it as a clue that we’ve heard some of your ideas before though.

Sharing notes: you can use this under public domain/Creative Commons Zero, that is, for any purpose, without attribution or sharing alike, or with it, as you choose. Here’s an SVG version.

Correctly identifying and banning pseudonym use is easy. Sorry, gotta stop spam! All possible uses of multiple accounts are sockpuppeting. What, you don’t want your friends and family to find you on our site? My online culture uses real names exclusively.
No wonder your minority group is invisible here, if none of you use your names. No one will harass/intimidate you using their legal name! Reputation and legal names go together. “It’s harder to find people under their legal names!”—Joe Smith What do you have to hide?
Why can’t you be honest and faithful to who you are? If pseudonyms are used, they should be officially registered. FREE SQUARE: “don’t be evil” People have a right to know who they are dealing with! Sorry, gotta stop sockpuppets!
Online harassment? Never heard of it. Don’t believe you. Only needed by men pretending to be women. What about the children? I asked my friends and none of us have any problem with it. If you don’t want your boss and family to see it, don’t say it online.
They have your IP address, why even bother? Refuse to live in fear. I will never trust anyone using a pseudonym. Widespread use of pseudonyms has never worked anywhere. Harassment is illegal; use of legal names will let you report it to the cops.

65 thoughts on “Anti-pseudonym bingo

  1. Virginia

    I’ve always used my own name, but I can understand why people don’t. Nicknames can go two ways. You can know who the person is anyway: I know that adactio is Jeremy Keith. Or the nickname can be truly anonymous: I have no idea who Skud is.

    I like knowing who someone is. But some women, in particular, have valid reasons for not wanting their true identity to be know. So, a square that I suggest adding is “I’m hiding from a stalker.”

    1. Skud

      That’s a funny example of “truly anonymous”… it may seem big-headed to say so, but the connection between “Skud” and my legal name (“Kirrily Robert”) is extremely public and not at all hard to find out.

  2. Kaesa

    Have had this argument several times with my boss. He neither participates in nor reads the activist blogosphere, but has explained numerous times to my silly lady-brain-owning self that people who tell stories of discrimination without including the real names of everyone involved are probably just lying for the attention, and all of that stuff is illegal, anyway, so jeez, why don’t parties who have been discriminated against just sue?

    My friends who claim to have been stalked are also ridiculous; apparently they should just ignore it because “people are assholes” and those who get persistent, threatening messages from former acquaintances need to Toughen Up.

    So yeah, I think I just got bingo twice.

  3. Tony Mechelynck

    Yes, brilliant indeed.

    I usually use my legal name, but sometimes I use a pseudomym, and where, when and why I do so is my business and no one else’s.

  4. Dorothea

    I love this so, so much. Thank you.

    I’m trying to come up with more bingo squares, but it’s hard! All I can think of is “well, I’ve always used my legal name, and nothing bad ever happened to me!”

  5. Madame Hardy

    Sorry, just to be clear: That was a bingo square.

    I ♥ this card. That is all.

  6. Jayn

    I love the John Smith one! My own legal name has a mixed heritage, and so it is extremely easy to find me with just that information. (And cripes, didn’t Blizzard get this same shit last year with their Real ID system? Read the news, Google–it’s on your own damn website.)

    On the ‘reputation and legal names’ one, I wonder what they’d tell J. K. Rowling?

    1. Mary Post author

      That square was suggested by someone with a very similar story: names of different ethnicities that results in a legal name that is unique or nearly so.

      1. ilcylic

        Hell, forget combos, my first name is unique.

        Amusingly, since I recognized your icon and URL, I chose to use the pseudonym of mine that you’d recognize, instead of the other one I usually throw out in the blogosphere… made more ironic by the bingo square about “reputation and legal names” since if I used mine, you wouldn’t have known who I was!

    2. codeman38

      I love that one too, for much the same reason.

      I’ll admit that my real name is very closely linked with my pseudonym, and this is intentional. But still, the pseudonym adds an extra layer of abstraction, an extra in-between step, that using my real name directly doesn’t.

      If you search for my particular combination of names, you pretty much find only me– and even if you search for just first and last name, you’ll still get pretty much entirely members of my own family.

      (In addition, the pseudonym also has the advantage of being easier to spell. Gotta love French surnames with tons of silent letters.)

      1. Jayn

        Codeman: That’s another reason I like using pseudonyms–my given name is French in origin, and in an anglophone world bleeping nobody can pronounce or spell it right. Even my French instructors (native speakers, no less) have managed to butcher it from time to time. ‘Side from Facebook and legal documents, you’re not going to find many places I have it spelled out. I’m not even sure some of my friends know my full given name.

        My chosen handle is pretty unique, too, but becoming less so, and there’s no link between it and my real name.

        And on a complete side note, a comedian came to mind (paraphrasing)–”Her name is spelled Peuaultont. It’s pronouced ‘ph’”

    3. Dorothea

      As far as I can tell, my name (given + surname) is unique in history. Hunt as I may, I can’t find another one.

      1. Elizabeth

        Ditto. I suspect this is becoming more & more common, as people experiment with their own names, their children’s names, and as populations become less homogeneous.

      2. Chris Miller

        My current legal surname belongs to two families in my entire country. I’m very soon going to start the process of changing it, but as this doesn’t coincide with a marriage and I’m currently boarding with my family I’m not sure how much social pressure this will involve, not to mention the cost and the difficulty of finding a JP to witness the form signing in an earthquake zone where even the open roads change faster than many maps can keep up with. I’m starting to use it online now so I can tick the “currently using” box on the form. I’m also genderqueer and will be removing any gender-specific parts of my given names at the same time.

        Which, incidentally: if you’re a trans person wanting sex corrective surgery, you typically have to have been living as your correct gender for a year beforehand, at least. Meaning most people *have* to use a different name than the legally assigned one.

    4. zandperl

      In my legal name, both my first and last names are spelled uniquely. This has caused all sorts of interesting things throughout my life, such as my correcting my first grade teacher when she tried to teach me how to spell my name INcorrectly, continually correcting everyone else in the world when they do paperwork about me (hotels, credit cards, banks, airlines, even my auto repair shop), and (most exciting of all) I am internet unique. Just last night I went through 9 pages of Google hits on my name and I only found around 3 hits that weren’t me. The first page of hits includes the name and location of my current employer, and my parents’ names. If you put my name and the word “address” into Google, you get the name of the small town I currently live in on the first page of hits.

      Add to that the fact that I am a woman scientist, and I’m becoming increasingly outspoken about issues that would make me a great target, no, I don’t want my real name anywhere that they expect me to actually SAY anything.

  7. warped-ellipsis

    I’m on GP, and they’re actually looking for feedback. I could send them this post, but as stated it’s not exactly structured as feedback. Their official names policy is to go by what you’re known by, if that’s a alias then so be it; I’m not sure if that extends to the tumblr-like adopting a pseudonym that’s not known elsewhere. Anyhow, point is, I can poke them, I simply don’t have much familiarity with this issue. Who does, and can write feedback for them on this?

  8. Restructure!

    Another thing I dislike about legal names is that it allows people to judge your writing or “credibility” by taking into account your gender or ethnicity. People with white-and-male-sounding names would gain trust by using their legal names, but people with non-white and/or female-sounding names would be bringing the offline discrimination we experience—where everything we say is interpreted as a result of our gender/race—to the online world. Women writing about tech and/or people of colour writing about the humanities would probably gain more credibility writing with a pseudonym than using our real names, since people would immediately react with “Why should I trust that a person from Group X knows about Topic Y?” instead of evaluating the quality of the arguments.

    I mean, I get that enough offline. Why would I want to make it easier for people to discriminate against me online?

    1. G

      Related to “If you don’t want your boss and family to see it, don’t say it online.”:

      I have more than one web persona. I have all my professional information under my real name and my political interaction under a handle. I do this because I do not want every possible employer, now and in the future, to have my politics available as a reason to treat me differently in the job market.

      One person I said that to told me he wouldn’t want to work for a company where that would make a difference. Neither would I, but I’m not sure I’ll always have the luxury of that many job choices and my ability to support myself has to come before my ability to express myself.

      I’ll also note that my real name that I use professionally is not my legal name, it’s a nickname.

      Google has tried to deal with complexities of relationships by adding circles but they don’t seem to have any idea that identity is not a simple thing.

      1. G

        Wow, that reply came out in the wrong place. But to actually reply to Restructure!, there have been some interesting experiments done on the effect of identity on judgements of content. When conferences choose the best proposals for speeches they get very different results if the speaker’s name is hidden from the judges.

        One academic conference tried blind judging one year and found that they accepted dramatically fewer papers from the ‘big names’ in the field. The big names were so offended by that that they forced the conference to go back to named papers the next year.

        Agreed, then, that making the substance of your remarks heard is an excellent motivation for using a pseudonym others can’t identify.

        1. Restructure!

          Indeed, female writers have been using pseudonyms long before the invention of the Internet. Anti-pseudonym sentiment is very much tied to unexamined privilege.

          As a elaboration of the “People have a right to know who they are dealing with!” square, I think people who are uncomfortable with pseudonyms unconsciously want to continue using gender, race, etc. to evaluate somebody’s performance or personality, like what they are used to doing in real life. Eric Ries writes about getting a feeling of “vertigo” and having “hard time forming a visual image” when he tried screening resumes with names and demographic information removed. It’s very uncomfortable! That’s how much people rely on surface qualities in face-to-face communication.

          resistance discusses how it’s not uncommon for a white person (typically a white man) to distrust what a person of color says, because they are a person of color. Instead of evaluating arguments critically, they only learned who to listen to (“who” is usually a person who is white and male). For the anti-pseudonym people out there, where does the “People have a right to know who they are dealing with!” feeling of discomfort really come from?

          Like someone said in Skud’s stream, it’s all about “security theater”. People who dislike pseudonyms want that feeling of trust over truth and critical thinking. (I also thought people were ‘splaining to her that “security theater” comes from Bruce Schneier, since I thought it was pretty clear that the term “security theater” applied to anti-pseudonym sentiment was what was clever and novel.)

  9. Travis B. Hartwell

    Thanks for posting this. I personally am not one that feels the need for a pseudonym on Social Networking sites, but you definitely helped me understand even more why someone would want to. Ultimately, I think it all comes down to safety. Whether it be to protect oneself from a stalker as another commenter mentioned, or someone feels the need to remain anonymous but has something they need to say, or any of the other personal and myriad reasons someone might have, I think it limits some conversations from happening.

    Interestingly enough, if I was strict with filling out my profile, I could not have my full name on my profile. My full name, with the middle initial is very much a part of my identity. I’m not Travis, I’m Travis B. So, in the first name field, I have Travis B. That is my full legal name.

    And, then, of course there is a certain community of people that only know me by my IRC nick, including my coworkers, and I’m even called it (or some variation thereof) in person. That’s why I listed it as my nickname on my Google Profile, so when I add someone I only know online, they can remember who I am. :)

    1. codeman38

      Yes! I had to do this as well– a lot of people in various communities in which I participate only know me by a pseudonym. And similarly, I’m seeing a bunch of people on Google Plus where I have no idea who they are because I only know them by a pseudonym.

    2. Cat deVice

      What do you mean by “limits some conversations from happening”? There are two ways to take that, one positive (“I am able to limit the number of times someone says stupid crap to me if I use a pseudonym”) and one negative (“You are actively harming the discourse”), and I’m curious as to which you mean.

  10. Pseudonymous Bleg

    You left out an important square: “the only way to get high quality content on the web is by requiring real names; people who use pseudonyms only post garbage.”

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to editing Wikipedia.

    1. Mary Post author

      Widespread use of pseudonyms has never worked anywhere. is probably closest. Where Wikipedia, Livejournal, Dreamwidth, IRC, tumblr, almost all phpBB bulletin boards and Twitter either all don’t work or don’t count as anywhere.

      1. pfctdayelise

        And what about coders!!!

        Yeah, all those people building open source software definitely know each other’s real identities! That’s totally vital for such close collaboration. pff.

  11. ignatzz

    The Federalist Papers, of course, were written pseudonymously.

    And that’s why they don’t want you to use one: it encourages you to speak your mind, and they don’t want that.

  12. Meg Thornton

    I use a mixture of my legal name (or a variant on such) and a consistent pseudonym across any number of sites. If you google my name, there’s about five or six other “Meg Thornton”s out there. If you google my pseudonym, megpie71, you’re pretty much looking at me – so when it comes to finding me, people are better off looking for my nom-de-net. So there’s another thing about pseudonyms – they can make it easier to identify a specific person, rather than one out of a hundred.

    In a lot of ways, my pseudonym, megpie71, is much more about “me” than my legal name is. My legal name was chosen for me by my parents and my culture. I don’t have much of a choice about it – I can drop half the personal name and ignore the middle name most of the time, but I’m still stuck with the whole darn thing. The pseudonym is something I chose – it combines my birth year, my totem, and my preferred name in a nice simple whole.

  13. Jason

    Brilliant! The issue of internet pseudonymity is generally my go-to example when trying to explain the concept of privilege, too.

    I would have suggested “blah blah accountability blah,” but I think “People have a right to know who they are dealing with!” is pretty much the same idea, no?

  14. pseudobloke

    I do understand and value the arguments in favour of protecting anonymous speech, it certainly can have value, but then I see stuff like this thread:
    http://www.reddit.com/r/reddit.com/comments/ikhrv/why_you_never_ask_4chan_to_name_your_band/
    and my attitude changes to “authenticate everyone, drain the swamp, sorry about the collateral damage”. I believe there are social networks that have pseudonyms and are not outrageous trollpits, but I don’t understand how they avoid descending into chaos. If you have anonymity then there is a frustrating conflict between “call out bad behavior” and “don’t feed the trolls”.

    and yeah, I am trying out a pseudonym for the first time ever.

    1. Mary Post author

      One thing that’s important to understand here is that “gross icky community with pseuds” and “my friendly safe community with real names” distinction doesn’t exist for many people in this thread. Real name communities are also frequently gross and icky. So we tend to view the problem of safety and quality of discussion as totally orthogonal to pseudonym use.

    2. Chris Miller

      Psuedonyms and authentication aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have a permanent psuedonym that still suffers from social consequences if you say fucked up things, and you can have real names that are common enough so as to be useless.

  15. Ravan Asteris

    I love this!

    I’ve been arguing in favor of pseudonymity since the UseNet days. Still the same old nonsense comes up, usually from straight, white, males with common or generic names.

    Unless Google+ changes its tune on this, it will be just another stalker network, enabling employers, ex’s and salesdriods to stalk you in the name of being “social”. Feh.

    1. Ingrid Jakobsen

      That wasn’t reassuring at all. They’ve not reinstated someone (Opensource Obscure) who appears to be far more widely known by that name than any other, and I still get this sense that they think people only really have one online identity.

      This all gives me the impression the people at google working on this haven’t got diverse enough online experiences (or those that do, don’t feel comfortable sharing them), and therefore can’t be trusted not to make other bad able-bodied white hetero cismale assumptions.

      (As for the bingo, where’s the conflation of anonymous and pseudonymous? Is that “reputation and legal name go together?”)

  16. EverDawn

    I work in health care–if I want to talk about a patient experience or ask for help with a difficult patient, I like to have an extra layer of anonymity to my posts: it help keep my patients identities safe as well!

    I also do not have the hospital where I work listed or the name of the town where I live.

    On some sites I’m “EverDawn,” others I’m just “Dawn S-B”. I do NOT want to use my full name anywhere. It would be easy enough to find me if anyone really wanted, but I don’t really want to make it too easy! ;-)

    1. Crystal

      Exactly, that’s what people who rally to Facebook’s and/or Google+ ‘s views on that subject don’t understand: P-R-I-V-A-C-Y and S-A-F-E-T-Y. These should prevail above any other reason.

  17. Shane Tilton

    I think this is a counter-point. If you want to turn this into a square, that’s fine. I would like to hear what this group thinks about this quote by Doctorow on privacy:

    “There’s something really liberating about having some corner of your life that’s yours, that no one gets to see except you. It’s a little like nudity or taking a dump. Everyone gets naked every once in a while. Everyone has to squat on the toilet. There’s nothing shameful, deviant or weird about either of them. But what if I decreed that from now on, every time you went to evacuate some solid waste, you’d have to do it in a glass room perched in the middle of Times Square, and you’d be buck naked?
    “Even if you’ve got nothing wrong or weird with your body — and how many of us can say that? — you’d have to be pretty strange to like that idea. Most of us would run screaming. Most of us would hold it in until we exploded.
    “It’s not about doing something shameful. It’s about doing something private. It’s about your life belonging to you.” ~Cory Doctorow about the need for pseudonym in a digital age.

  18. Victoria O'Keefe (Twitter: Victoria_OKeefe)

    I think it’s doubtful that pseudonymity can last long-term as there are a lot of powerful people against it.

  19. mathew

    Suggested addition: “Everyone has a first name and last name, which should always be written in that order.”

  20. Anonymous

    [Note from Mary: while you are welcome to use pseudonyms on our site, including ones you made up only for use here, we prefer that you don't use the names 'Anon' or 'Anonymous', as it's too likely to be reused by someone else on the site! We do like distinct commenters to not appear to be the same person.]

    This is really interesting.

    I almost always use my legal name. I normally make a point of it on open-source and political forums like this one. I’m not it this case because I’m going to reveal the main reason why I might not.

    I’m somewhere on the (M2F) transgender spectrum, I don’t know quite where – but I’m in a relationship where we both understand enough about each other it doesn’t matter how we would express it. Some of our friends have met both my ‘sides’.

    /But/ it is an issue that for me – it just seems simpler to keep out of my professional and open source life. Partly that is because I’m worried maybe even frightened I’ll meet unwanted discrimination the future. Why make life difficult – I don’t want to, or feel I need to challenge people in that space.

    I just want to do geek stuff, (s/w or h/w engineering etc) when I’m a professional or working in the open source space. When I’m partying I want to be free to wear a pretty dress.

    Luckily my partner has helped me find friends who accept this. I’m not a man pretending to be a woman. I’m me. Whoever that is.

    Nobody fits into the little boxes. Lets hope your example gets that through to others that might not recognise it.

  21. Waldo

    In certain communities and on-line activities I’ve been known as Waldo for over 15 years. My real name? Not Waldo.

    However, if you were to tell a fair number of people I know both in real life and online “Check with [my real name]“, they’d have NO IDEA who you are referring to.

    In these places I’d be more anonymous under the name on my driver’s license.

  22. Coffeinea

    Thank you very much for this. I have been having some issues with people in my peer group turning out to be advocats of using legal names, not really understanding the use and benefit a pseudonym offers. They seem to refuse to understand how social networking *can* work without having to dish your IRL identity to joe public. And yes I also want to keep myself safe from unwanted eyes peering on me “letting my virtual hair down”.

  23. Kai Dracon

    This is a knowing generalization, but I’ve noticed the trend is that people who don’t believe anyone should ever use a pseudonym have a history of enjoying franchise in whatever role in life, or they are “strivers” craving the most mainstream acknowledgement of success and reassurance.

    If anything, such attitudes are what corporations increasingly bet the farm on. Companies like Social Intelligence (look it up!) are appearing to help the corporate world spy on what employees and potential employees are saying explicitly (i.e. their actual thoughts.)

    Companies wish to consolidate everyone’s information in one place and ensure that it’s information that can be used to “punish” Badthought. It’s one area where the diehard conspiracy theorists may be proven right in the end.

    1. Dorothea

      Having had Real Name use used against me in the workplace, by people too cowardly to use their Real Names to confront me… yes to this. Crimethink crimethink crimethink!

      1. Nomad of Norad

        Having seen a thing online talking about that Social Intelligence company… I say it’s pretty clear people should be scared something like that exists. Oo

        That said, I have used this nick for more than 25 years… but for a good part of that time I had in my email headers both that nick AND my real name, to STFU some people on a mailing list I was active on who tended to distrust people who used nicks, accusing them of “hiding behind a nick” and other such fucking bullshit. When they saw my nick AND my real name appearing together, they couldn’t argue that I was “hiding something.”

        I value people with interesting nicks, and never judged them as someone “hiding behind” a nick, though, and frankly found that attitude that people were “hiding behind a nick” or the implied notion that the only reason FOR a nick was to hide your real self… more than a little offensive.

        However, I now post more these days under another made up name, my primary Second Life self, which slowly took over on SL from my original SL self. As it happens, that original SL self was, oddly, the nick you see now, with a surname tacked on. I later wound up going to an alt on SL, though, because I already had built up a back story and persona for my existing nick/self going back more than 20 years… actually coming up on 30 years in cyberspace… and I wanted to find out what it was like to be a virtual kid again in SL, so created an alt based on another character I’d created 20 years ago… because it didn’t make sense to “kid-ify” my existing persona. Oddly, I’m now probably known at least as well by that kid self as I was as my original nick, but I’ve taken cares to make sure most people haven’t been able to connect my Nomad self with that other self because…. to be truthful, there’s a bit of a war on out there, and there are some people who despise “kid avs” as something somehow creepy, and even perverted, which is just… utter nonsense, and dare I say it, for some people even bordering on the bigoted.

        But, to be honest, it isn’t THAT hard to connect that other self up with this one, with just a bit of googling.

        In any event, there is something very wrong about people judging you purely on external, superficial details like… are you using a nick, are you in VR as something other than what you are in real life, or in VR as some innocuous form that THEY don’t like, are you belonging to this that or the other social, philosophical, or religious group… rather than judging you by what you actually say or do, by what you are on the inside.

        Indeed, some may even discount what you say or do purely BECAUSE you’re using a nick, or you’re in VR using an av they don’t like, or you’re part of a particular social, philosophical, or religious group, and they never even TRY to listen to what you say or do. But that’s their problem, not yours, and they do themselves more harm than they do you by rejecting you based on those superficial details.

        Unfortunately, there are a lot of shallow people like that out there.

  24. Cajsa Lilliehook

    I love your card and believe I have heard most of those reasons and find them to be overwhelmingly shallow and thoughtless reasons – the sort that arise from unconsidered privilege that takes so much for granted. For me, the strongest element is male privilege arising from their relative lack of experience with stalking. There’s also white privilege that comes from never having their authority questioned because of ethnicity or gender. There’s the class privilege that leads them to disregard people’s concerns about social media and their employment – particularly in regard to participation in alternative communities such as Second Life.

    I was not surprised by Facebook’s fanaticism about making every member a marketable widget, but expected better of Google. It’s motto is first do no evil – I think it’s time for them to look for a new motto.

  25. Lexin

    I have already run into the problem that their insistence on the use of real names means that people I’ve known on the net for years don’t recognise me under that name. It wasn’t until I mentioned my usual pseudonym that a friend managed to (she tells me) put me in the right circle.

    So I’d suggest as another block on the bingo square, “But I won’t recognise you if you don’t use your real name!”, simply because it’s such total rubbish.

    I’ve been Lexin on Usenet and around fandom for years. Some of my friends call me that IRL. I answer to it, too. As much as the name I was born with, it’s my real name.

  26. allreb

    And, while this is much less of a concern than personal safety… using my real name is almost never going to help people I know identify me. My real name is extremely common — there are several thousand people with the same first and last name combo in the U.S. Hundreds of them have the same middle name, too. I do actually show up fairly quickly if you google my full name, but then again, so do HUNDREDS of others. On the other hand, if you google “allreb,” every account that comes up is actually me. It is WAY easier to find me and know who you’re dealing with using the pseud than my legal name.

  27. Elusis

    Thank you for this card. The “if you don’t want it public, don’t put it online” and “refuse to live in fear!” squares have been getting worked hard in my space lately (and if I see that XKCD cartoon one more time…)

    I wrote this a couple of years back: http://elusis.livejournal.com/1891498.html

    And ironically the same issue has just popped up again, with the primary bad actor re-invoking the drama llama and continuing to out women of color because he’s angry that his reputation as someone who outs women of color keeps sticking to him.

    Outing has had huge consequences in my own life, and I refuse to accept that my choices are “never participate in a connected, online life” or “suffer constant, ever-present penalties for failing to conform to dominant norms.” (Particularly when people telling me that I should just not put things on the Internet are apparently not aware that some of us are heading into the start of our third decade, or more, online.) Being online is in many ways MORE important for people who are marginalized and oppressed, since it’s a way to find community and to self-advocate to a degree that may not be accessible in one’s “meatspace.” I will not cede that tremendous benefit to the panopticon without a fight.

  28. John Doe

    I just think of all the courageous people throughout history who brought about real social change and advanced the human condition by remaining anonymous and operating clandestinely behind a fictional persona. To name a few examples…uh…hmmm…..

    1. Mary Post author

      There are counter-examples, but in any case this is a strawperson. Google+ and Facebook and… 99.9% of online forums are not explicitly or implicitly stating “discussion hosted here must be intended to bring about real social change and advance the human condition”.

      If it was true that no one had ever brought about real social change and advanced the human condition under a pseudonym (which is quite different from a fictitious persona by the way, a pseudonym is a name and a fictitious persona is an entire past-and-life story) then one might then be able to say to activists “you may wish to consider using your legal/most widely known name, because it’s demonstrably much more effective”, but it still wouldn’t be an argument for a blanket policy even in activism, let alone elsewhere.

      Or were you intending to contribute a bingo square? They need to be a touch pithier but “Gandhi wouldn’t have got anything done using a pseudonym” would be a good one.

      1. Dorothea

        It’s also arguable whether a pseud always obscures the Real Name ™. Is “Mahatma” a pseud? Then Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi used a pseud! (There’s also “Bapu,” of course.)

        Me, I have a semi-professional (occasionally unprofessional, I’m sure) blog under a pseud. Its FAQ reveals my Real Name ™, if one is hardy enough to scroll down through the whole thing. The bleak fact is that Employers And Employability own our Real Names ™ these days, so any public discourse that isn’t Sanitized For Employer Convenience pretty much has to happen under a pseud — and the goofier the pseud, the better, to throw up a thought-barrier to complaints from officious or malicious coworkers.

        I like my Real Name ™ and wish it hadn’t been coopted, but social reality is what it is.

        I wonder whether Google Plus realizes how impoverished its discourse will wind up being because of the Employers And Employability consideration involved with Real Names ™.

  29. Kim Curry

    I’ve used a variety of pseudonyms on the ‘net, pretty much everywhere except Facebook and LinkedIn, until about two years ago. I was running a search on my name, and there’s at least 5 or 6 in the U.S. that show up regularly.

    So, two years ago, on the front page of the Google search, came a Topix discussion, for a town nowhere close to me, where someone using my name had apparently participated and been rude and crass. Someone who claimed to know her in real life suggested that her new boyfriend was into illegal activities…

    All of which, had it been me, would have been “material information” that could make me ineligible for certain jobs. While I was looking– internally– for another job.

    I complained to both Topix and Google, and it doesn’t show up on the front page anymore.

    I started using my real name on my blog, Twitter, blog comments, filled out my info on Google as a way to fight back. Looking for ways of saying *this* is me, *this* is who I am, and who I am is different from the other Kim Curry’s out there.

    Is there a place for anonymity and pseudonymity? Surely. I’ll still use them sometimes. But for brand-building, I’ll use my own name.

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