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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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  • Identify it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:21PM (#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.

  • Lie (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Karmashock (2415832) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:23PM (#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.

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

    by water-and-sewer (612923) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:25PM (#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."

  • Re:Lie (Score:3, Interesting)

    by neminem (561346) <neminem@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:26PM (#44874089) Homepage

    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.

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

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:33PM (#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.)

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:34PM (#44874195)

    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 bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:39PM (#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 zidium (2550286) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:56PM (#44874521) Homepage

    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 efforts AND would feasibly provide their victims with more intel on how to track them down and publicly shame them.

    I've never been the target of sockpuppet accounts on ANY real-id type site.

  • Re:All? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @12:59PM (#44874551) Journal

    "I can observe or participate in a political rally without being personally identifiable."

    If you are in public, you are identifiable. This doesn't mean you have been, it just means it is possible. Remember the Boston Bombing? Those guys were "anonymous" but quickly found out that they weren't really "unknown". Pictures surfaced, faces were identified, and the search was quickly started.

    You are delusional if you think that you can be anonymous in public. Unidentified is not the same thing as "not being identifiable".

  • Re:All? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by madro (221107) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @02:09PM (#44875539)

    There are exceptions to first amendment protections. Speech that incites imminent lawless action, or "fighting words" (speech that leads to immediate physical retaliation) are not protected, at least in the US.

    The purpose of letting people speak freely is to allow venting of grievances as an alternative to violent confrontation. But when those words in fact degrade civility to the point that violence increases, then we've reached diminishing returns for the first amendment. When individuals or groups can bully with impunity and induce violence against a person (sometimes by suicide), then I can start to see the problems with unfettered free speech rights.

    It's not enough to justify the banning of anonymity, but civilization needs at least a little civility.

  • Re:don't use them (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rob the Bold (788862) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @02:24PM (#44875717)

    I deleted my FB, google+ and twitter accounts in June. Things are better without them. Websites that want me to login with social and force that will get fake accounts if these things persist. They add nothing.

    I avoided google+ initially because of the "real name unless you're famous" policy, and the fact that they seemed willing to cancel all your google services for a violation of this or other google+ policy. Since that included gmail, and I valued the gmail account I had more than I valued the potential value of google+, the choice was clear.

    Well now, they've turned googletalk into googlehangout or something. And googlehangout requires a google+ login, AFAICT. Googletalk was nice, since I could forward googlevoice calls to googletalk on my PC at home (cell service had been pretty poor in my neighborhood for a while). Cell service has gotten better, at least.

    From this, I assume that gmail will require google+ sooner or later, so now I'm moving away from that, since the switch could literally happen overnight like with googletalk.

  • Re:All? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bhagwad (1426855) on Tuesday September 17, 2013 @02:47PM (#44876005) Homepage

    The concept of "rights" is not to benefit society. It's to benefit individuals. So the idea of "diminishing returns" is absurd. If people don't have the control to keep their hands in their pockets, it's jail time and bye bye. The first person to throw a punch gets punished. This whole "induce to violence" is bullshit.

  • Re:All? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @12:50PM (#44884995)

    The chance of snuff films or child pornography being protected by free speech laws is zero, they're both specifically illegal by other laws and have clear victims.

    The problem when you move to any censored version of free speech is that someone will come along and try to force a think-of-the-children argument as to why they should be given the moral authority / power to decide which speech is acceptable, and which is not.

    As you do here.

    "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Evelyn Beatrice Hall on Voltaire

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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