Sometimes We Need Pseudonyms [en]

[fr] Pourquoi on a besoin de l'anonymat et du pseudonymat en ligne.

Ten years ago, if I’d spent over an hour reading stuff on a website, I would probably have written a blog post about it. Not necessarily a long blog post. But I would have blogged about it.

Nowadays, I share the link on Twitter and Facebook. (I’m having trouble dragging myself to Google+, for some reason, and only just signed up for — can I please have a client that allows me to post to all four at the same time? maybe even with customized text for each, but from the same place? please?)

So today, here’s My Name Is Me. Picked up on Twitter, and I’ve already forgotten through who. Click on some names there. Read the stories.

I’m a self-confessed fan of real names (it goes way back) — but I’m by far not an absolutist. I believe in trying to live an “integrated” life, in being as whole as reasonably possible in the various aspects of my life. I’m lucky to have a life and circumstances which make that pursuit realistic. Though I have my secrets and I do value my privacy (even if it doesn’t include certain things many others would consider private) I am not in a situation where there are whole aspects of my life I need to keep from certain people. I’m straight, I don’t have an employer, I’m not in a job like teaching or being a therapist or a lawyer where my personal life could be of interest to the people I work with, I’m not well-known enough for fame (or that of others close to me) to mess up my relations with people, I’m not an abuse survivor or an activist. I have it easy.

Like many of the people sharing their stories on My Name Is Me, I don’t believe enforcing real names will eliminate bad behaviour. I think it’s reasonably legitimate for some spaces to ask people to use their most stable identity (usually their “real name”), but there are always edge cases. I also believe there is a huge difference between “anonymity” (often short-lived and slippery) and a stable pseudonymic identity accompanied by a verifiable reputation. I think such identities are fragile, but sometimes they are the less bad solution.

I started off my life online very careful (almost paranoid) about keeping my real name a secret. I was afraid. Afraid of all these “strangers” populating the internet, the weirdos I might stumble upon. After a while I chose a pseudonym which I started using (“Tara Star“) as my “real name”. Some people knew my real name, but most didn’t. I was active on Webdesign-L at the time, and remember that I began feeling increasingly uneasy that (a) all the people around me seemed to be using their civilian identity, and I was kind of “cheating” and (b) I was building a reputation for myself which was not connected to who I “really” was. That’s an important bit: Tara Star was just a buffer for me between who I was and this strange online world that still scared me. Who I was was Stephanie Booth. I took the plunge to ditch Tara and be fully Stephanie online when I registered the domain name for this blog — also realizing that the domain registration made it possible for me to be looked up.

Trolls and haters are a problem online. The fact they are often (not always) anon/pseudonymous does not mean that others don’t have valid reasons for hiding their identities, nor that they are unable to use a pseudonym responsibly.

Pseudonyms on Facebook [en]

[fr] Vrais noms, faux noms, Facebook. Oui, je suis un peu crispée là-dessus.

I have to admit to a bit of a hang-up: I don’t like pseudonyms in real-names-only spaces.The first time I realized I disliked them in that context (and in that context only — I have no problem in general with anonymity/pseudonymity, except that it’s fragile and potentially dangerous to the one who tries to hide, and is bound to be discovered someday) a very long time ago, in another life, when I was very active on an e-mail discussion list called webdesign-L.

At the time, I was still suffering from the paranoia of the newcomer on the Internets: nobody shall know who I am, nobody shall know where I live, nobody shall know what I look like, nobody shall identify me. (Yes, my real online life started in the murky chatrooms of Chatplanet, in 98. I was completely freaked out about these “anonymous strangers”. I’ve come a long way.)

Until I registered, I used a pseudonym as my “real name” in all my online dealings: Tara Star. My coming-out as Stephanie Booth was not difficult, because by that time I had become increasingly uncomfortable about the fact that

  1. I was misleading a whole bunch of really nice people about my identity, when they were being honest about theirs
  2. I was starting to build a reputation for myself which was disconnected from my civilian identity.

So, on Facebook it’s different. The few contacts I have who use “fake names” use “obviously fake” names. I knew them offline before connecting to them on Facebook (you won’t find me connecting to people on Facebook that I don’t already know previously somehow or other, by the way).

But it bothers me that Facebook explicitly says “Real Names Please” and that not everyone plays by the rules. Now, I understand the rationale behind the need for anonymity/pseudonymity in some cases. That’s why I say I have a hang-up, because my position is not 100% coherent. It bothers me when people willfully “go against social norms”.

From a more practical point of view, it really annoys me to have to remember that this or that person is using this or that pseudonym on Facebook, when I know them under their real name in meatspace. It makes looking them up and inviting them to stuff complicated. And when they have two accounts, it’s even worse. Which of them do I invite? Thank goodness it’s only a small handful of my contacts that makes me think overtime 😉

This is an old topic for me — we discussed it at length on Spirolattic.

So, Facebook? Well, my hang-up makes it really difficult for me to say “yes” to friend requests from people who don’t use their real identity (or some minor variation thereof) on Facebook. But well, there are exceptions. So, dear friends-with-two-accounts-or-fake-names, consider what you mean to me if you’re in my contacts!

Thanks to Jon Husband for his question on Facebook, which prompted me to produce this dormant post.

#back2blog challenge (8/10):

Anonymat et blog intime [fr]

[en] My reaction to a new French-speaking blogger who desires to remain anonymous because he will be dealing with private stuff on his blog.

I consider that it is not possible to blog anonymously in the long run. As you create relationships with readers, temptation to let out your real name to some of them will be great, and at some point somebody may let your name slip. Or if that doesn't happen, somebody who knows you might come upon your blog by chance and recognize you through the contents of your writing.

Writing with a pseudonym to keep oneself from unknown stalkers is fine. But when the pseudonym is there to keep people who know you from recognizing you, the consequences to face when it does happen may be very uncomfortable

Saturnin says his "blogging rule" is to not write anything he wouldn't be willing to stand up for if he was discovered. I ask him, then, what his anonymity adds to his blogging enterprise, apart from the fact he won't be easily googled for. If being anonymous helps him write more freely then if he was signing with, say, his first name, then maybe being anonymous is a trick he's playing on himself, and he might be brought to regretting it someday.

Saturnin entre en blogosphère il y a dix jours, avec un billet dont le contenu m’interpelle. Il nous annonce un blog intime, anonyme, et il nous en donne les raisons:

La condition : l’anonymat, quoi qu’on en pense. Impossible en effet de m’attacher à exprimer mes pensées et mes sentiments les plus secrets, impossible de livrer ma vie intérieure profonde sous mon vrai nom. Je suis enseignant. J’ai des élèves et des étudiants, que je vois chaque jour. Imagine, mon lecteur, que mes étudiants lisent mon blogue quotidiennement et sachent, avant même que j’entre en classe, dans quel état j’erre. Impossible.

Saturnin fait référence dans son billet à ma théorie des deux anonymats, et je sens justement dans son dernier billet, intitulé le droit à l’anonymat, un mélange un peu flou entre les deux.

Là où je rejoins entièrement Saturnin, c’est sur le fait que l’anonymat n’est pas mauvais en soi. Edicter une règle du style “Tu ne blogueras point anonymement” est inévitablement réducteur et ne tiens pas comptes des motivations du blogueur qui cherche à protéger son identité. Dans le passage reproduit ci-dessus, Saturnin nous dit clairement pourquoi la solution de l’anonymat s’est imposée à lui. Il désire parler de choses privées, intimes même, et ne désire pas être reconnu par un partie de son entourage (ses élèves en particulier — comme je le comprends).

Ma mise en garde contre l’anonymat qui cherche à préserver une intimité, c’est-à -dire à cacher ses écrits de personnes que l’on connaît, provient du fait que celui-ci peut s’écrouler. Sur le web, deux phénomènes peuvent précipiter cet écroulement (ou cet éclatement, suivant comment les choses se vivent).

  1. Le blog crée des conversations (comme celle-ci!) puis des liens entre le blogueur et ses lecteurs. Ces liens peuvent être forts, surtout dans le cas d’écrits intimes qui risquent de toucher profondément les lecteurs. Des correspondances par e-mail sont à prévoir. A un moment donné, le blogueur va peut-être donner sa véritable identité à quelqu’un dont il se sent proche. Des fuites sont alors possibles.

    J’ai vécu cela lorsque j’ai commencé à chatter en 1998. Mon identité véritable était un secret d’état. Assez rapidement cependant, je me suis fait des amis proches via le chat. On a échangé des mails. Vient un moment où l’on désire dire qui l’on est et ne plus se cacher derrière un pseudonyme. On résiste beaucoup la première fois, moins les suivantes. Un jour, par pure maladresse et sans aucune mauvaise intention, sans réaliser que c’était un problème pour moi, une fille avec qui je correspondais lâche mon nom complet en public, dans le chat. Bingo.

  2. Lorsque l’on écrit sur le web, les écrits ont tendance à s’accumuler. Il peut arriver, un jour, par hasard (et cela arrive!) que quelqu’un de notre entourage tombe sur nos écrits. Là , c’est le contenu de nos écrits qui nous trahit. Un billet ne trahira personne. Dix-huit mois de récit de vie, de cogitations, et d’états d’âme, oui.

Conclusion: l’anonymat sur le web n’est pas une chose sur laquelle on peut véritablement compter à long terme. Se pose alors la question de ce qui arriverait (les conséquences) s’il devenait connu publiquement que nos écrits précédemment anonymes nous appartiennent.

Quand je m’adresse à un public d’adolescents, clairement, il s’agit de prévenir des délits punissables par la loi ou des indiscrétions graves qui pourraient leur faire du tort. Beaucoup d’adolescents se sentent véritablement protégés par leur “anonymat” sur le web, qui est au fond très fragile.

Saturnin n’est plus un adolescent, par contre 😉 et ne va donc pas se croire “tout permis” parce qu’il ne signe pas de son nom. Même caché, il veut écrire de façon responsable:

Ma règle, c’est de fausser les noms et de ne rien publier que je ne pourrais assumer si j’étais découvert.

C’est fort bien. Assumer n’a ici pas une consonnance juridique, mais personnelle. Si Saturnin parle de sa vie sentimentale sur son blog, et que par un concours de circonstances encore inconnu, son nom devient public, alors il devra assumer face à son entourage ce dont il a parlé. Entourage qui inclut ses élèves.

Ma question à Saturnin: si ton anonymat “responsable et lucide”, comme j’ai envie de l’appeler, te fait choisir de n’écrire que des choses que tu es prêt à assumer face au monde, connu et inconnu, ton anonymat t’apporte-t-il réellement autre chose que la certitude qu’on n’aterrira pas sur ton blog lorsque l’on jette ton nom en pâture à Google? S’il te permet de te livrer plus qu’un simple “anonymat-discrétion” ou qu’une signature de ton simple prénom, n’est-il pas en train de te jouer un tour?