Tag Archives: pseudonymity

Another round of “real names will solve everything”, Blizzard edition

Via everyone everywhere, Blizzard’s (developer of World of Warcraft and the Starcraft and Diablo franchises) game discussion forums are the latest online forum to come up with the bright idea to make everything all better by requiring people to use their legal names.

Here’s their forum announcement:

Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature – http://www.battle.net/realid/ , a new way to stay connected with your friends on the new Battle.net. Today, we wanted to give you a heads up about our plans for Real ID on our official forums, discuss the design philosophy behind the changes we’re making, and give you a first look at some of the new features we’re adding to the forums to help improve the quality of conversations and make the forums an even more enjoyable place for players to visit.

The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it… the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before.

Links abound:

  • Blake: Blizzard Wants The World To Know Your Name: This is an important issue, because names carry markers of gender, ethnicity and real-world relationships that may be irrelevant to someone’s game play, but open up the possibility of harassment. It also makes it easier for harassers to follow people beyond the internet, making it a matter of personal safety. I find Blizzard’s decision unfortunate in every possible way.
  • everstar: WoW Fail: That means every post you make will have the name linked with your account published. On a public forum. Where everyone can see it. If you want to ask a question in their Customer Service forum, if you want to post a Bug Report, if you want to talk to other people in your realm, the name associated with your account will be displayed. And it’s supposed to be your real name. (via hoydenabouttown on Twitter)
  • Lodur (semi-supportive), Real ID on Blizzard forums, the good and the bad (via James in the linkspam): Some are concerned for their safety. They fear stalkers and real life harassment and fallout from the forums following them into real life. As a person who has worked in internet security for a long time, I can tell you the chances of this are pretty slim.
  • Miss Medicina, And I Didn’t Even Catch Her Name… : Being a WoW gamer is not exactly a mark of prestige in my field. It would not be a hobby that worked in my favor, but in fact, more than likely the opposite… The people who work at Blizzard don’t have to worry about their future employers knowing how much time they spent on the WoW forums.
  • Apple: Real ID, RP, and why only one person gets to have mine and RealID Forums (via James)
  • Chastity, Seriously Not Okay (via James): It is a common misconception that trolling is caused by anonymity. It is not. It is caused by people being assholes. Frequently, it is caused by people being racist asssholes or misogynist assholes or various other sorts of assholes who like to target people of a particular type.

See also wot Skud said.

Hacker News and pseudonymity

Mark Suster has a post about improving civility on YCombinator’s Hacker News:

I’ve seen vitriolic responses on HN on several occasion. I mostly get hammered on HN if I write about a controversial topic like criticizing Apple (in fact, what prompted me to write this post today was that I was asked on Twitter to write a post about Facebook. I have been avoiding it because I wasn’t up for the inevitable public pummeling this week). […]

In fact, I was reluctant to write this post because I know it’s likely to lead to the inevitable bashing on HackerNews, which unfortunately also spills over into hate emails that some people from HN send me personally (no prizes for guessing my email address).

His suggested fixes include:

1. Make all users post under real names that you verify — This in and of itself would help temper comments. It’s totally acceptable to me for people to harshly criticize my points-of-view. No problem. But calling me a f***ing a**hole or some of the other epithets used goes too far. If people used real names and if these were crawlable and searchable in Google the transparency alone would help regulate people. Not everybody but many. HackerNews doesn’t need to be JuicyCampus.

Better still add photos the was Disqus and Quora do. It humanizes everybody and drives more civil conversation. As Paul said in his blog posting, “don’t say anything in a comment thread that you wouldn’t say in person.†Photos drives this closer to reality.

No. No no and again no.

Strong moderation is possible without compromising anonymity or pseudonymity. And Suster’s suggestion of requiring real/verified names can actually worsen the situation for some people. Suster quotes Paul Graham, saying, “Don’t say anything in a comment thread that you wouldn’t say in person,” but that sounds like the voice of someone who’s never received abuse or harassment in person. People aren’t ashamed or afraid to make abusive comments under their own names, and the necessity of using real/verified names will only exclude those who don’t want abusive comments to follow them back to their own email inboxes (as Suster himself experienced) or worse, their homes or workplaces.

Suster and Graham may not have noticed (they’re not the target audiences, after all), but women online are regularly admonished to use pseudonyms to protect themselves. Many websites with a culture of pseudonymity — LiveJournal and derivative sites are an example — have a very high proportion of female members, perhaps in part because of the sense of privacy and security that pseudonymity brings. A site which requires real/verified names is automatically flagging itself as a potentially/probably unsafe space for women, or for anyone else at risk of harassment, violence, job discrimination, and the like.

People sometimes speak as if pseudonymity is the same as anonymity, or suggest that pseudonymity is nothing more than a way to avoid accountability for one’s words. It’s not. Persistent pseudonyms (those used over many years and perhaps across multiple sites) can accrue social capital and respect just as “real” names can, and be subject to the same social pressures towards civil behaviour if the community has a strong culture of respect. Without a culture of respect, real names won’t help. With it, real names won’t matter.

There’s more about pseudonymity on the Geek Feminism Wiki.

Facebook is a feminist issue

Or, more to the point, Facebook’s privacy instability is a feminist issue.

[Trigger Warning: Discussion of loss of privacy and its impact on survivors of violence.]

Social media is a gamble. Unless you’re using a service such as statusnet which allows you to run and federate your own server, social media involves the placement of information about yourself, your activity and possibly your location, on someone else’s server. And for organisations like the Library of Congress to archive forever.

Facebook is probably the most cryptic and misunderstood as far as privacy goes. The chances of any given Facebook user of any demographic actually knowing what they are now signed up for? Anyone’s guess, but I’m pretty sure it’s not good odds. Even the geekiest of us get confused.

No longer do you make a choice about your own information; you now sign away information about your friends to your other friends. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has chronicled the (really quite scary) changes over the past 5 years.

Facebook Privacy Policy circa 2005:

No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.

[…]

Current Facebook Privacy Policy, as of April 2010:

When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. … The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to “everyone.†… Because it takes two to connect, your privacy settings only control who can see the connection on your profile page. If you are uncomfortable with the connection being publicly available, you should consider removing (or not making) the connection.

Matt Mckeon has drawn up another great visualization of the changes to Facebook’s privacy practices over the years as well.

The worst part is that the privileged complacency for privacy stems from on high. Zuckerberg is definitely not an ally. Why would he be? Eroding your privacy correlates with him getting richer.

Facebook is one of the most accessed websites on earth, and the demographics put women as the majority consumers. How can the privacy issues affect oppressed groups in our society that live in intimate association with their oppressors?

In a society where publishing any detail of her sexual activity online can have a woman declared to be “asking for it”, or where geo-ip can let an attacker find you, social media — especially facebook — becomes a feminist issue.

Some of us remember a few months ago when Google released its Buzz social networking thingamajig without really thinking the whole privacy aspect through properly. The outburst then led to a backflip from Google. I somehow doubt that the Big Blue Book is going to be quite as repentant as the Rainbow Borg.

The way of linkspam is neither swift nor easy (18th April, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Linkspam wears women’s underpants (16th December, 2009)

  • We’re a bit late with the link, but the latest Feminist Carnival went up at Undomestic Goddess on December 9. Submissions are open for the next carnival, out December 23.
  • Training bar staff to intervene to reduce the risk of rape — without any victim-blaming. As in, there’s less “watch your drink at all times, ladies” and more “we’ve noticed your inappropriate sexual behaviour towards other patrons; get out.”
  • Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants “James” outs herself as a woman, then explains how she wound up posing as a male writer, and how different her experiences were when writing under her own name. There have been several interesting followups:
    • Kate Harding drew parallels with the use of male pseudonyms by book authors in the past and, perhaps less well-known, in the present.
    • Amanda Hess observed that Chartrand had cultivated a very masculine writing persona, including using naked women to illustrate posts, describing one of her employees as “the team’s rogue woman” in “a good ol’ boys club”, and buying into stereotypes when writing about women.
  • We linked to Part 1 of Arachne Jericho’s series of posts on fictional portrayals of PTSD, but there aren’t forward links from that to the later posts. Check out the rest of the series: Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. A wrap-up post is planned.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Pink sparkly linkspam (November 16th, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.