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Can Internet Pseudonymity Be Saved? 491

Posted by timothy
from the you-may-comment-anonymously dept.
jfruh writes "Imagine that you're a lawyer who also runs a popular sexual fetish podcast. Or that you're a blogger on political issues and you want to determine for yourself who you're going to get into political arguments with. Or you're a transgender woman who isn't out to your real-life associates but you want to explore your gender identity online. Or that you're a female gamer who wants to play World of Warcraft without being hit on or harassed. All of these people have perfectly good reasons for wanting to use a pseudonym online. And yet more and more websites are making it difficult or impossible to do so, often for perfectly legitimate reasons of improving civility and stopping anonymous abuse. How can pseudonymity — one of the key foundations of early internet communities — be saved?"
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Can Internet Pseudonymity Be Saved?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have maintained a pseudonym online as much as possible, and will continue to do so. The guy out in Colorado or somewheresville who has the actual name probably is none too pleased

  • It's not a perfect solution, but most of these real name policies have no actual way to vet the users.
  • Identify it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:21AM (#44874001)

    Give people the choice of creating a "Real Name" account with proof or a "Pseudonym" account, and make this choice visible to everyone else.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Joce640k (829181)

      Oh, for mod points.

    • Re:Identify it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:35AM (#44874205)

      This seems like an attempt to appease everyone without actually understanding the issue.

      To the extent "banning" pseudonyms pleases some people, it does so by letting them retaliate. After you say something that displeases anyone in a position of power---an employer, a bitchy parent of a child in school, a litigious person, a government spook---they can use your non-pseudonymous name to find you in another area and retaliate. It's possible to retaliate across time as well as forum: when you seek employment, your employer in the position of power can Google your name and look for distant past speech. And the proportion of retaliation is entirely up to the person in the position of power.

      If only we could enable this retaliation for things "everyone" agrees are bad, like "trolling," and not for being gay or having a political view that some people don't like.

      We can't do that. What we can do is have a class of people who's much less vulnerable to retaliation than everyone else. Surprise: these people think you're "hiding behind" your pseudonym. This is the chief effect at work here, and your plan makes it worse, not better.

      If you are going to make a prescription it should be the opposite one: revealing your "real name" should be forbidden on the forum because even when only some people do it, it increases the power imbalance. proposed rule: If you use a name intended to look real, or claim that something is your real name, or reveal your real name in the text of your comment, you're banned.

      • "To the extent "banning" pseudonyms pleases some people, it does so by letting them retaliate."

        Precisely. It puzzles me why many people don't understand this.

        Our Founders (and for that matter, the Supreme Court) acknowledged that a Democratic form of government is not possible without free and anonymous speech, and anonymous voting. And anonymity requires pseudonymity.

        And this is so precisely because without anonymous speech, it becomes possible to retaliate against people for their speech. An employer can retaliate if an employee supports politics he doesn't like, for example. Or the governmen

        • Re:Identify it (Score:4, Informative)

          by Obfuscant (592200) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @03:59PM (#44877573)

          ... a Democratic form of government is not possible without free and anonymous speech, and anonymous voting.

          A democracy is impossible with anonymous voting. If you can't determine that the person who is voting has a right to vote, then anyone can walk in and vote. If you can't determine that someone has already voted, then they can vote a dozen or more times. You can't have the concept of "one person one vote" if you can't determine when that one person has cast his one vote.

          What you are thinking of is secret ballots, not anonymous voting. It is absolutely imperative that you identify the person who is doing the voting and his right to be there, and only at that point should the origin and content of the actual vote become unidentifiable.

    • Re:Identify it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:20PM (#44874889)

      Give people the choice of creating a "Real Name" account with proof or a "Pseudonym" account, and make this choice visible to everyone else.

      One of the big reasons for anonymity is protection of free speech. If you haven't noticed, anyone can be silenced with a threat of a lawsuit for slander, libel, terroristic threats, trade secrets, and the list goes on. Giving a website "proof" just makes it that much easier to silence someone regardless of whether they're operating under a pseudonym or not; The website is the first thing targeted by the anti-free speech crowd's lawyers.

      The only way for free speech to survive is to rebalance the power imbalance between the people who have lots of money and can simply threaten someone and drag them into court, sucking their life savings away... and the poor people who want to express an opinion, but lack advanced technical tools to obscure their true identity. And the first step in doing that, is something like Tor where an IP address or e-mail address can't be matched to a realworld identity. mailinator and Tor are a powerful combination for normalizing those relationships to an equal footing.

      That's precisely why the wealthy are trying so hard to destroy them: It allows democratic discourse, the ability for people to organize anonymously against them and their corrupted interests and greed.

    • Re:Identify it (Score:4, Informative)

      by contrapunctus (907549) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:44PM (#44875191)

      I made the mistake of using my real name on hulu, then I found out my activity was searchable on google. so then I had to change my name to something else then cancel account and create a new account with a fake name just so people can't see what/how many shows I've watched.

      Needless to say I will never get a hulu plus account.

      And more importantly, I never use my real name unless I absolutely have to. I wasn't so careful in the 90s, so my name still shows up next to posts I have made back then.

      I have a rare name.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    citation needed: what kind of pseudonym restriction actually does improve civility?

    You can't just speculate that it does. You can't even play games of association that don't prove causality. You need to actually show it. I understand it matches your intuition, but I think your intuition is wrong.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zidium (2550286)

      It removes the ability to **easily** create dozens (or even hundreds) of sockpuppet accounts.

      Especially on reddit, dozens of pseudonymous accounts will stalk me and attack me at a moment's notice, even after I've been away for a year or more. I have no idea if this cabal is made up of 12 people or just 1 deranged lunatic, or any combination thereof. I just know that they know my real name, address, etc. and I know NOTHING about them.

      Real names (at least tied to facebook) would greatly increase their initial

  • by crow (16139) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:22AM (#44874025) Homepage Journal

    Our local newspaper publishes almost everything online. It also allows people to make comments. A few years ago, they decided to deal with the level of uncivil comments by requiring everyone to establish an account before posting. After a few months, it was mostly back to normal, but marginally better. Then this summer, they switched to requiring a Facebook or Linked-In login, and almost all commenting stopped--not just the problem comments, all comments.

    They killed the commenting system by trying to force real identities.

    • I wonder how this will shake out for a major Puget Sound newspaper that a couple days ago they announced they are going that direction, using Facebook logins and dropping the anon/pseud posting ability. But this would be where the nonpersonal/semipersonal throwaway Facebook accounts come in...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There have been numerous studies about the behavior of people with and without a means of positive identification. Unfortunately I can't find the references (at work, ya know...), but two distinct studies come to mind. The first was people in cars and the cognitive disassociation we have with other drivers, we don't often see faces or make eye contact, so other people just become cars, inanimate objects we cannot empathise with. As a result, we have no issues screaming at that mother of 3 who's trying to ke

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        There's also the issue that I won't even make a comment if there's even remotely a chance of controversy, and if that's true there's no need to speak up in a forum or letter to the editor anyway. Ie, if I wanted to make some pro or anti gun control statement, I know it would generate controversy no matter what side of the issue it is. Similarly, any statement regarding the Israel/Palestine peace process will generate extremely angry responses (even a middle of the road moderate stances are seen as anathem

    • Same thing happened on ESPN.com recently when they went to requiring a facebook log in. Where before you frequently got hundreds or thousands of comments on stories, now you rarely see more than a dozen.

  • Lie (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Karmashock (2415832) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:23AM (#44874041)

    Few social networking sites... almost none... are really able to figure out your real name. They might ask you to give a "real name"... and you can do that... but it doesn't have to be your real name.

    You can be Bruce Wayne... Or George Washington... or whatever. How are they going to stop it? Pull a credit card off you? Who is paying for social networking? Exactly.

    There are a lot of data bases with a lot of information on everyone. But how much of that information is actually accurate? The dirty little secret is that most of the information in those databases is garbage.

    Which is good for us. Keep filling it with garbage. When the data miners open wide, stuff their mouths with trash and keep shoveling until they're full. They'll believe they have some means to filter fact from fiction but they're welcome to try.

    This is the price of an automated system. Computers as we all know are stupid. Very easy to lie to them. And are we under any legal obligation to not lie to these people? No we are not. And even if we were, and I'd love to see a lawyer try to get a jury to convict someone of such a thing, then would it be worth the effort even to set an example? Not really.

    Lie and keep lying.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by neminem (561346)

      That works, until you actually *do* need them to have your real name for some other reason. My best friend from high school did exactly that for WoW, because he didn't see any reason for them to have his real name, so he just gave them a fake "real name". Then, a couple years later, he sent them money for a renewal and their system was messed up and didn't process it right, and when he went to complain, they had a huge mess trying to fix it because his "real name" wasn't his actual real name.

      • Re:Lie (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Karmashock (2415832) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:48AM (#44874409)

        Your friend didn't handle it correctly.

        In the event that you have to pay, you do not need the payment information to match the account information. For example, if some child sets up an account on one of these systems his parents will ultimately pay for it through their credit card etc. Thus the payment information does not match the account name.

        So you say, "yes, my name is Bruce wayne... And this is the payment method"... there is no need for them to match.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      Few social networking sites... almost none... are really able to figure out your real name. They might ask you to give a "real name"... and you can do that... but it doesn't have to be your real name.

      You can be Bruce Wayne... Or George Washington... or whatever. How are they going to stop it?

      The latest trend is towards sending a message to your mobile phone with an account creation code.

      Why do you ask...?

    • And are we under any legal obligation to not lie to these people? No we are not.

      As a matter of fact, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives us the right to lie.

      I was raised not to lie under any circumstances. It was a long time before I realized that this is impossible. Truth is slippery, and in truth, it cannot be fully known. I trudged through life doing my best to be honest in all but the "white lie" social situations. Over time, I realized how gullible I was, as when one is honest, it is a natural assumption that others are honest with you. Eventually, I became more a

      • Re:Lie (Score:5, Insightful)

        by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @05:08PM (#44878359)

        First thing any trained interrogator will tell you is, everyone lies. In fact, psychologists expect a certain degree of lying during a forensic psychiatric examination. People who show up as not lying a little, don't sweat a little, are very probably sociopaths. The fact is, some amount of lying is healthy. We lie to protect our egos, our worldview, or the people we love. We lie to protect ourselves. And this isn't a bad thing. Lying, by itself, is just a social behavior. It's the motivation behind it that makes it good or bad.

        We don't lie all the time. In fact, we lie very little as a society. But it is essential to our survival that we do. Sun Tzu wrote several thousand years ago that the best way to motivate your soldiers is to put them on what he termed "death ground". That is, intentionally leading them to a place where there can be no retreat from the enemy. They then fight harder and hold nothing back. Sun Tzu knew that all warfare is deception, even to one's own troops. But it saved lives; Those soldiers might have run themselves ragged retreating constantly. By forcing the conflict, choosing the time and place, at a time when the soldiers would have maximum effectiveness against the enemy, casualties on his side were minimized. But you better believe that he didn't tell the soldiers he knew he was setting them up for a situation with no escape. He lied to them. And because of that, they survived.

        People lie about their age so they can join the military early. Maybe they come from a broken home, are constantly physically and sexually abused, and it's the only way out. So they lie, and it means they survive, emotionally if not physically as well. Honesty is a virtue, but like any virtue you can take it to excesss -- you can get yourself killed, or hurt, or those you love.

        If there's one thing I've learned about morality, it's that it cannot be inflexible. Sometimes you have to sacrifice one ideal to protect an even bigger one. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice a short term set back to achieve a long term success. Lying is directly tied to morality -- you can't talk about one and not the other. So I'm not saying don't try to be honest, but remember it's a virtue... and virtues come before doing the right thing, at the right time, with the right words.

        If you lie because it protects a principle of yours, or perhaps if what you do goes beyond principles and into the realm of love, which is perhaps beyond right or wrong, then I will not judge you poorly for it. I only judge liars who are motivated wealth, power, privilege, or advantage over others... I judge them by their vices, not by their virtues. So I guess all I'm saying, if I'm saying anything at all, is not to overburden yourself with guilt if you find you have to lie to do right. But be careful; If you find yourself saying you have to lie to protect others, or are doing something for another's own good then be warned. In all my experience in life, I have yet to find someone who made such an utterance, and good came from it.

  • Web of trust? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mlts (1038732) * on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:24AM (#44874057)

    I've always wondered about some web of trust available for this. For example:

    I have a website, and want people to comment. Someone decides to authenticate with a keyID. My server checks what certificates are associated with the public key. One cert from a semi-trustworthy source shows the anon ID is actually associated with a live person. Another cert from a decently trustworthy source shows the person is a frequent poster at a website. Still another shows that the ID has been in use on sites on a daily basis without any site bans for a few years.

    With this info in mind, even though I have no clue whom the person is, I can reasonably assume that it will be either someone good at ID theft, or someone that likely won't be trolling/spamming.

    A reputation based system would be useful. The public key can be anonymous, but with CAs (of varying trust levels), I can find that the person has been proven to be not a bot, has a positive reputation on various sites, is known by friends and people I do trust, etc. Of course, on the other hand, I get a key that has absolutely zero certificates on it, I'd probably not bother to allow it on.

  • by pellik (193063) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:25AM (#44874069)
    With tracking cookies and javascript hacks being as prevalent as they are I've been using separate sandboxes for browsing profiles for some time now with Sandboxie. I suppose I could go extra paranoid and throw in a proxy, too.

    As long as the sites which know your real identity are walled away from the rest of the internet tracking then some level of anonymity can still be expected.
  • Except for that last one ( female gamer who wants to play World of Warcraft without being hit on or harassed), I can see why you might want to be using a pseudonym, but I wouldn't expect it to really cover your identity either. If you have a big online presence, people will be able to figure out who you are.

    As far as games go, I like online games using the "Mario Kart" model much better than anything else. When you're playing against the general public, it's more enjoyable to just play. No talking, no
    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:39AM (#44874275) Homepage Journal

      If you have a big online presence, people will be able to figure out who you are.

      I used to follow a pediatrician who would often rail against the conventional wisdom - he happened to be very science-based and would not put up with patients who demanded scrips for viruses, etc. He would blow off steam on his blog.

      Over time he started to leak info about himself - where he went to school, some nearby towns, etc. I left a comment or two advising him to stop doing that.

      A bit later he started talking about a court case he was involved in. This was about the time the "hunt was on" for @FakeSteveJobs and I was curious to see what was possible - I did a few google searches and it wasn't too hard to figure out who he was, since court filings are public.

      A month or so later, he disclosed that opposing council's staff had done the same, and used his blog posts to force a settlement.

      My take away: if you're going to do something like this, never include any personal details and/or never cross paths with the legal system. But if I lived near his town, I'd definitely take my kids there.

      • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:34PM (#44875077)

        I work with children in a different capacity, and in a country where the public perception is that every rock hides a pedophile. As someone who works with children, I need to be constantly on my guard and display all the sexuality of a banana. I also need to maintain the most perfect PC image, and never say anything that could insult any ethnic or religious minority. If it became public that the school hired someone who considers religion in general a dangerous delusion, it could expose them to legal action - and they'd fire me in a heartbeat to save themselves.

  • What a crisis! NOT (Score:5, Interesting)

    by water-and-sewer (612923) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:25AM (#44874077) Homepage

    I'm not sure "anybody" has to "do anything" at all - there are many models for communication and people can - for the moment, anyway - use whichever ones they like.

    I'm an old Usenet fan, but am perfectly aware the ability to nymshift led to a culture of spamming and verbal harrassment that are basically unacceptable and that helped kill Usenet as a communication platform (not totally; I'm still on it, as are others, but it's a shadow of its former self).

    Slashdot allows a pseudonym and if you want to advertise your website or Twitter feed, you can do so. You can also be anonymous if you like.

    Reddit allows pseudonyms and even throw-away accounts, and many people think that's been a big part of its success. On the other hand, Facebook requires you to use a real name. At first, that kept people honest, but now we've seen it's not that hard for spammers and scumbags to set up fake accounts and Facebook is somewhat powerless to stop it. So that did or did not work.

    My point is just that there are many existing models, and they compete for attention. If your transgendered lawyer wants to run a podcast, s/he'll decide whether to do it under her own name on Facebook or using a pseudnym elsewhere. The platforms compete. Bloggers who want to get name recognition can use their name; bloggers who want anonymity can blog under a fake name.

    There's a good debate waiting about the merits of the different platforms. And it's essential Netizens fight against any effort to do away with anonymity at the policy level. But for the moment I'm not convinced there's a crisis of any sort, or any need for people to "act now" to "save the internet."

    • by Deep Esophagus (686515) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:15PM (#44874811)

      ^This.

      TFS (and, if I were to read it, I suppose TFA) make it sound like there's a one-size-fits-all global identity model for all websites. If HuffPo or Facebook or even gmail decide to eliminate trolls by requiring proof of real identity, then it must follow that SecretKinkySex.com must also do the same.

      No.

      I actually agree that mainstream news sites have good reason for reducing anonymity for exactly the reasons stated -- to eliminate, or at least reduce to a manageable level, trolls. They could even argue that it is in their best interests to do so.

      Sites where just your presence on the site may cause irreparable damage to your personal life, your job, etc. -- not so much. It is in THEIR best interests to provide anonymity to the best of their ability.

      So, yeah. If you are willing to have your name associated with your inflammatory posts, give your real name to the sites that require it. If not, avoid those sites and stick with places that allow anonimity; they will always do so or they will go out of business (even if "business" is just selling ad space). Problem solved.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:27AM (#44874105) Journal
    They're not doing it to improve civility or stop anonymous abuse. These can both be solved by other, less intrusive mechanisms. Even Slashdot manages it: penalise anonymous users a lot, penalise new members a little bit, and require users to establish a reputation to gain full participation. If they lose that reputation, their ability to participate drops off. The real reason that they want real names is because it makes the information that they harvest and sell to advertisers more valuable if it's tied to a real name and address.
  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:28AM (#44874113) Homepage

    If your pseudonym is persistent, reputation still matters. It does not matter whether your pseudonym can be connected to your meatspace identity; reputation is still reptuation.

    The real problem with online harrassment, trolling, etc is that people lend credence to transient identities. Not a problem here, because we have persistent pseudonyms and transient identities. Transient identities get treated with skepticism and ignored if they're being abusive. Persistent pseudonyms which have earned a reputation are granted wider latitude to make their case.

    The problem is not pseudonymity, or even transient identities and anonymity. It is that most public fora do not make it easy to distinguish between a member in good standing and a drive-by-troll.

  • I use a pseudonym (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:33AM (#44874179)

    Not on Slashdot (my account predates getting married and having kids... back in the days when I only had myself to worry about and didn't think anything bad could come of having my real name out there), but on my blog/Twitter/etc. My wife and I use pseudonyms because we often discuss parenting issues and will post photos of our kids. We don't want someone tracking us or our kids down, though, so we don't use real names and obviously don't use our address or name of our kids' school. It's not impossible to track us down, but it makes it hard for some random Internet stalker (yes, I've encountered at least one) to call my work to "report" me to my boss for crimes she imagines I committed. (Said Internet stalker has harassed lots of people online and has contacted at least 1 person's employer because he used his real names/place of business online.)

    One of the big reasons why I don't use Facebook or Google+ (besides lack of time to be on a million social networking sites), is that they require that you use (and reveal to the world) your real name. (If they really wanted to require real names but support pseudonyms, it wouldn't be hard to devise a system where your real name was hidden to all and your pseudonym was displayed instead.)

    • by bmo (77928)

      One of the big reasons why I don't use Facebook or Google+ (besides lack of time to be on a million social networking sites), is that they require that you use (and reveal to the world) your real name.

      My reaction to that is... and always shall be, "proven by what?" Do either of them require a faxed photocopy of a government issued ID? No?

      So I ignore it. As you should. As everyone should.

      For all anyone knows, I'm an owl on both FB and Google as my real name. My real friends know who I am and that's all

  • Few suffer for many (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    When you have 10,000 trolls and 10 people with legitimate reasons to stay hidden, you need to pick which is more important to you.

  • by itsme1234 (199680) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:36AM (#44874221)

    Google killed a good part of "pseudonimity" with this crazy move to link your Google+ profile to your play/market reviews (even for just giving X stars without any comment).
    WTF? Ok, google knows a lot of stuff about me, where I am, it reads my email, some documents, knows a good chunk of what I browse, etc. WHATEVER. However, I just don't want to have a list of apps and apps rating associated with my name. It just feels wrong.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They were having problems with fake reviews, and this solved a good chunk of them.

      I don't like it either, but I don't have any alternate suggestions, you know?

      • by sinij (911942)
        Solved, as in destroyed the system where people stopped wriing reviews? I can easily disregard any Google+ comments, because now with certainty I can say that reviewers ether lack clear judgment and penned a review under their real name or are accepting monetary compensation for exposing themselves to a potential harm.
    • Google+ even follows some of us to Slashdot. Fortunately my Google+ name is a pseudonym using the first and last names of two different actors. Real-looking is all they care about, not that you actually use your real name.
  • Answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aaaaaaargh! (1150173) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:38AM (#44874245)

    How can pseudonymity — one of the key foundations of early internet communities — be saved?

    By not using services on the web that don't allow it.

  • a SkinnyChick ...
  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:45AM (#44874353)
    And see how long their "real names" policy lasts.
  • by seebs (15766) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:47AM (#44874395) Homepage

    Admit that the reasons are not "perfectly legitimate", but have no basis in reality. Real names don't make people civil. Communities that are willing to kick out people who are abusive make people civil -- or, at least, omit the people who aren't.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:48AM (#44874411)
    'In the olden days", i.e. the 70s and 80s, computer accounts were rationed one per user by a central bureaucracy. It was almost always part or all of your real name. I did not have psuedonomy on uset then. Even though I would make "what if" arguments, people would still infer my known background had something to do with my argument. Many fewer trolls then too. the in 90s it went the other way and you could have as many accounts as you wanted in whatever handle you wanted. This caused account-remembering problems and well as poor troll behavior. Still you are only one level away from having your true identity known, either from clever detective work or a search warrant. I would not be totally boorish online.
  • by Radtastic (671622) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:48AM (#44874417)
    The problem of abuse on forums and online can be solved with good moderation. Unfortunately, most online sites don't bother to have someone ban users or delete posts based on users abusive behavior.

    A properly moderated site enforces civil behavior - psuedonym or not.
  • by Deliveranc3 (629997) <deliverance.level4@org> on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:52AM (#44874461) Journal
    How about giving us an update on how you protect Anonymous Cowards? Is the web server a ram disk that erases everything when shut down? You guys are pretty technical... let us know!
  • by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @11:58AM (#44874539)

    How can pseudonymity â" one of the key foundations of early internet communities â" be saved?"

    No it wasn't one of the key foundations of early internet communities. Quite the opposite in fact - it was seen as a great threat to Internet communities. Lemme cut and paste a post I made last year...

    Once upon a time, when I first got on the Internet (late 1980s), there was no anonymity. Sysadmins voluntarily adhered to a policy where each user's online identity and their real identity were linked [rajivshah.com]. If someone ever found a way to break this link, it was considered a bug [google.com] which needed to be fixed. (Also notice that all the people in those old USENET posts are using their real names.) This system was staunchly enforced by admins who believed the net would devolve into chaos and rampant misbehavior if people were allowed to post anonymously.

    There were a few people running their own servers who bucked the trend, but it wasn't until AOL joined USENET [wikipedia.org] that pseudonyms became a fact of life on the Internet. AOL allowed each account to have up to 5 usernames, ostensibly so family members sharing a single AOL account could each have their own ID. Obviously these extra usernames were quickly used to make pseudonyms by people wishing to post things online anonymously, which was good for free speech. But not surprisingly, spam was invented shortly thereafter.

    All that's happening now is that the pendulum is starting to swing the away from complete anonymity as netizens struggle to figure out the best balance between real names and pseudonyms. The people at the pro-anonymity extreme won't like it, just like the people at the pro-real-name extreme didn't like it in the early 1990s. But as with most things in life the best balance is probably somewhere in between.

  • by sinij (911942) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:17PM (#44874827) Journal

    From the very underlying infrastructure, where you are who you declare you are, to all kinds of social interactions enabled by technology Internet is pseudonymous. 'Real Name' is a very recent fad pushed on us by social sites that are unhappy with limitations imposed on their data mining (and profits) by the very nature of the Internet.
     
      Internet does not forget and you have no control over audience of any of your communications. Considering vast number of people involved, you can't even assume that your audience is reasonable or objective.
     
      As a result using Real Name is not unlike talking to a room of armed schizophrenic psychopaths - no matter what you say you have very little control, regardless of presentation or content, as to if you are going to end up lynched for what you said.

  • by xenobyte (446878) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @04:12AM (#44881757)

    Revoking pseudonymity retroactively can be dangerous.

    A news forum here in Denmark decided to force everyone to use their real names, and as you registered with your real name they simply made a small change in the application so it showed your real name as author instead of the user-chosen username/pseudonym. This had the effect that old posts also suddenly were linked to real names, and those people with unique names were thus easy to track down physically.

    Now, this happened around the time with the Muhammad Cartoon controversy, and we all know how crazy certain Muslim people are when it comes to 'insults' against their beloved prophet. Care to guess what happened? - Let's just say that visits by groups of baseball-bat wielding fanatics were involved. No deaths but that was mostly due to luck, not lack of trying. They took offense not only in the cartoons themselves but also that a few people commented on Muhammad's sexuality, specifically on the historical fact that he married a 6-year old (Aisha) and consummated the marriage when she was 9 years old.

    The forum is mostly dead now. They still force posters to use their real name and nobody dares say anything, knowing what had happened and what still could happen.

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