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Who Are You?

Is using a "fake" name on the internet a good thing?

The election is over and while many ballots are still being counted, I'm left with an unresolved question:  Why do people use anonymous names to post their opinions on forums like Patch?

I understand why anonymity can be important.  Authors have long used pen names for publishing their works for a variety of reasons.  People can be in danger for stating their true opinion in situations such as abusive relationships or living under a regime that limits free speech.  Victims of crime can often remain anonymous in the media to avoid embarrassment or retaliation.  There are many valid reasons for keeping your identity hidden.

So what about using a “fake” name to post your opinion in a comment section of a website?  I can see some reasons where using a pseudonym is good idea.  Perhaps you have a deeply held but somewhat controversial belief that you don't feel comfortable discussing outside your immediate circle.  You might want to share your feelings and experiences but would only do it anonymously because of the fear of reprisals.  That makes sense to me.

There is a fine line here.  Anonymity on the Internet is the reason cyber-bullying exists.  The notion that you can say absolutely anything without repercussions is a pretty powerful concept.  It's easy to get carried away when you are free from normal social restraints.  Statements that people would never make to another person if they were face to face suddenly become consequence-free.  It’s a slippery slope.

The recent heated debates here on Patch (and other sites) because of the elections has brought this issue to my attention and compelled me to consider my feelings about anonymity on the Internet.  I found myself giving more weight to the statements made by people who gave what appeared to be their “real” names.  Arguments made by “fake” names were somewhat discounted in my mind, regardless of their position.

It was also my observation that some of the more inflammatory and insulting comments were left by anonymous writers.  Not everyone who posts anonymously is guilty of this, of course.  But it seemed to me that many of the more strident commenters were using obviously "fake" names.  Are they that combative and condescending in real life?  Or are they using the smoke screen of a pseudonym to act in a manner that they would never consider in a personal conversation?

Just to be completely transparent about this, I don’t use my legal last name here.  It's hard to spell and pronounce so in many situations I use Smith, my maiden name.  In my personal life, things like social media list both my last names and I use them interchangeably.  Smith is the surname I was born with and identify most closely with.  It’s not a matter of being anonymous; it’s more of a convenience and an expression of my personal identity.

So how do you feel about this?  Does it matter to you if someone hides their identity when commenting online?  Do you have a compelling reason why you use, or don’t use, your “real” name?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Gail November 16, 2012 at 07:21 PM
John, you have a habit of going beyond a topic. I could have explained way more, but it had NOTHING TO DO with the topic of a real identity vs an avatar. You could also have an ex that got mad and gave your PW to everyone. More likely than "Eastern Europeans". There is NO password too complex to guess. You are out of your area of expertise here. I mention this so that people are not misled by that sort of statement. Security by the government (military) is set by how many hours it takes to break. Not that it can't be broken. (It does take some special gear, so everyone can relax.) Similarly, I explained the $50 limit so your story wouldn't panic everyone. It's a RARE occurrence and (given your background) really is an odd case, not 'proof'. I would have canned that CC. If you didn't, shame. There is no 'advantage' to using a real name as many of us have learned. This isn't about technical skills, it's about protecting (and securing) one's identity.
dexterjibs November 17, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Ever consider that there are people that are intolerent of the political views of others and would work to destroy that person? Especially if that person has a position in the community that would make it easy to destroy that person. I have seen it from both sides, but it seems the intolerent left is perfecting it and making a bloodsport out of it..
DaveR November 17, 2012 at 06:14 PM
LOL - "I use Smith". Smith is the most common surname in the English language. A recent analysis showed that there were over 515,000 people with the last name of Smith in the UK with Jones coming in a distant second. Apparently there were 2,376,206 Smiths in the USA in 2000. Using the name Smith is exactly equivalent to posting anonymously. Some of us have far more unique names to the point that using them is sufficient to identify themselves to anyone that wants to look them up. Thank you but no thank you. I'm not going to put my name out on the internet for every Dick and Jane out there to take a pot shot at. I have three choices, never say a word, be perfectly PC, or be somewhat anonymous. I choose to be anonymous and attempt not to be unduly provocative. I also assume that if someone really wants to find out who I am they might hack the database and thus I never post anything that would be damaging to me.
Michelle Smith November 17, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I'll do that one better...I was given the most common first, middle, and last name for girls. Even by using my name, I'm still "anonymous"! LOL It has lead to many mix up with others with my same name, but I'm used to it at this point. It might seem common or boring to other people, but it's mine.
Michelle Smith November 17, 2012 at 06:37 PM
I did consider it. See above "Perhaps you have a deeply held but somewhat controversial belief that you don't feel comfortable discussing outside your immediate circle. You might want to share your feelings and experiences but would only do it anonymously because of the fear of reprisals." It's a very valid concern.

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