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Identity and Reputation Circle

Why can't we be someone different when we are online?

If you read my posts, you know I am a champion of transparency. But when is it ok to be someone else? Only in games? Need that really go away in a transparent future? Or might pseudonyms, connected back to our base identity by an identity provider be just what we need to satisfy our desire for attribution?

More great images at Robbie Cooper's Alter Ego Project:
Lyndon NA's profile photoAnne-Marie Clark's profile photoJeff Jockisch's profile photoEugene O'Donnell's profile photo
I can see if blogging might put a person's professional or personal life offline in jeopardy, it would make sense to use a pseudonym. I haven't had any issues, however, writing, blogging and being myself online versus offline. The two have come together in surprising ways occasionally, but it's always been fun and interesting.
If we can't be someone else online, then i wonder when it's convenient for us to live out our fantasies. We may not be who we want to be because we know people are watching us, but online, i believe we should be allowed to create pseudonyms and be whoever we want to be. BTW +Damilola Oni is my real name lol!!!
AJ Kohn
I think it's up to you whether you want to have an alter-ego online. To me that's not really about pseudonyms and just about sharing a different part of yourself that is completely different and separate than your other 'persona'.

This is in relation to activities or hobbies that you might feel aren't as acceptable to your friends or in line with your 'self'.

That, to me, is different than using a pseudonym to snipe at people or to troll in the areas where you are already established.

So, perhaps you use a different persona for your ... shoe fetish. I think that makes perfect sense.
The issue of multiple online identities has irked me for sometime. I've written broadly about this topic. My most recent post can be found here, How Many Identities Do You Have?

However, I do think that the use of a pseudonym is sometimes necessary, but it is in no way a different identity -- no matter what you would like to believe. It is just a mask that covers up your single face.

Having some funny-sounding identifier on a game is perfectly fine but users need to realize it still represents one aspect of their single identity. They are not someone else.
I like gaming because of the fantastical factor of indulging yourself for a short time into a story that is not truly your own. It is like reading a well written book and feeling swept away into another world. It seems like it can be an extension of the feelings you have as a child on Halloween. If you want to be a spaceman from the future, go for it. Even if you don’t know crap about space, the future, or hell, evening being a man. 

But when a person jumps online to comment on news stories and uses that anonymity as a cover to say horrible things, it is frustrating to say the least. People should learn to express themselves freely but also practice the same “social civility” that they would if we were all speaking to people face to face. Transmitting an idea from your mind to a keyboard into the online world does not, somehow along the process, make those thoughts suddenly not your own. Anonymity or not, we are human. We should still use the intellect we have in our online lives. We should practice compassion just as we should in our everyday lives. A computer between a person and their ideas does not excuse any ill intent, hate or abuse they put out there...

When it comes to gaming, unless the people are jumping under fake identities in order to be damaging under the protection of anonymity, I don’t have an issue with it.

Too much comment from the peanut gallery over here I suppose.
I agree with +Jeff Sayre and +AJ Kohn that a pseudonym is really only another shard of your existing identity.

1) Should a psuedonym be afforded the same 'rights' to influence reputation markets? I think +julie oshea has a valid point about their potential for misuse. Yet if the pseudonym has no 'rights,' is it unfairly hobbled in some important way? I think it is.

2) What are the broad types of use cases where we think that pseudonyms are acceptable? Posting in safety from physical/emotional harm as +Jenn Thorson suggests? Living out fantasies as +Damilola Oni suggests? Maintaining employ-ability as +Lyndon NA has suggested elsewhere? Any thoughts here +Alex Grossman or others?

I would posit that we may not really need surface transparency in order to allow reputation markets to function efficiently. Rather, we need only stability of the pseudonyms and a link back to the base identity maintained by the identity provider. If this is true, then I can see allowing pseudonyms to influence reputations (+s, comments) if they meet some level of concreteness.
+Jeff Jockisch Certainly many cases can be made for pseudonyms on the basis of protecting oneself from negative repercussions offline, whether it be employment or political and legal consequences (as in jail time in repressive regimes). Pseudonyms are, IMO, real representations of aspects of a person's core self and should be treated as valid and acceptable, as long as they are consistent representations. By this I mean that they persist over time so that people can get to know them by that name, so that reputation builds up and attaches to them. After all, any name that is used is simply an identifier for a person, in essence a random series of characters. What matters is what that person says, posts, shares, and does over time. That should provide enough of a basis for people to know whether or not they wish to associate with that person or not.
AJ Kohn
I think the only danger of linking alternate identities to a central identity is that if that central identity platform is compromised, it reveals way too much.

There is a bit of safety in having those alternate personas being completely separate. I think it's also easier for the person since they are likely using an entirely different account, service or platform. The division of self is reflected in how they interact online. Am I making sense?
[ Just to be a nit picker ... I've posted in favour of Psuedonyms for All the previously listed reasons :D ]

The problem is - there are a myriad of good reasons to have psuedonyms ... but only for minorities and uncommon cases.
This seems to be insufficient to sway public opinion (not surprising - I've often found the 'majority' to posses limited scope, foresight and compasion).

The only real benefits I can see are
1) It offers a moderate/large reduction of attacks (not all, but many).
2) It offers a sense of "relative reality" to those uncomfortable with "net life"
3) It offers a sense of security and safety to many people.
4) It is less resource intensive to monitor and track compared to a "hydra'd" account setup.
5) It suggests (and permits) real accountablility for online actions.
6) It helps evade excessive measures for additional security/privacy of the data.
7) It permits "ownership" (the upside of accountability) - person trust/personal branding.

Of those - I've proven to Google Staff ( +Frances Haugen ) that the impression of security/trust/safety is false.

It may be that the accountabiltiy aspect is also limited, as apparently there have been instances of abuse and threats of death, which have received limited response and no direct interaction/punitive actions from G.

The privacy aspect is an issue I'd love to dig deeper into - but I get the awful feeling that no one from G will discuss it further (esp. not with myself ;)). It does suggest that either G have not implemented whatever measures thwy provided for other services ... or ... that their other services are not actually that secure/private (again, G won't answer me).

So that leaves us with resource consumption, the reduced "attack" rates and ownership/personal trust(brand?)
I honestly think both are viable reasons ... but not viable enough.

(Please note: I'm actually refraining from bashing G at this point :D)


Yes +AJ Kohn - you are making sense.
I think we ARE alter egos online. There's a lot of my life and personality I don't share. One example: I have a really demented sense of humor, something not appreciated with the general public.
+Douglas Karr
You see - that's the thing I find so disappointing ... not just online, but in "society" in general.
So long as what we think/feel/do/say isn't overly offensive, isn't truly harmful to others ... then there should be little/no reason to refrain.

If you cannot be yourself - then who are you meant to be?

I tend not to refrain.
I may "curb" my language a tad, I may try not to hit upon the same issues repeatedly.
That's done out of consideration though - not fear/worry/concern of consequences.

I suffer for it quite regularly ... but I view it the same as I view bullies - screw'em!

I worry that the people we all deal with online are utter fakes.
I fail to see how G believes that it engenders "trust" and "truth" - not when people are to scared to really be themselves, and instead have a "public mask" they use, that is quite different than the person behind it.
+AJ Kohn I agree that the linking of the pseudonym is a dangerous proposition for some. Might that connection be given up accidentally or intentionally? Might it be given up to governments, courts, potential employers, stalkers somehow?

I was thinking more about a world where that link might only ever be used to validate reputation-impacting actions. But that is likely pretty short-sighted of me. In some cases lives and dollars are on the line.
AJ Kohn
If it was really possible to keep that link private, I think it makes sense +Jeff Jockisch. But ... what's the phrase, all information wants to be free. I'd like to trust it would remain private but ... I think the reality is that at some point it would be exposed.
If you hold data - it may be forced from you via the legal system, or by hackers, or by stupidity.
Those points aside - it should remain private and secure ... at least, no less so that any other data held by authorities/those you grant permission to.

If G (and any other provider) are worried about their inability to provide proper security, privacy and anonymity, then they shoudl either refrain from trying to provide a service,
or permit multiple accounts without repercussions.

As it currently stands - a number of people are unable to participate, and others are unable to act as they should be able to - just so some people feel safer from "anonymous insults" ?
(or so that G can push their own agendas regarding better rankings and more monetization etc.)
+Lyndon NA I respectfully disagree. We all share some aspect of our personality in any situation. You, yourself, admit to curbing your language - it's a great example. There are two sides to every communication medium, both a sender and a receiver. In order to properly communicate, one must take the receiver into consideration.

In other words, I'm not 'faking' it when I share some aspects of my life and not others, I'm simply communicating in the most effective manner that I can. It I told off-color jokes to an audience that wouldn't appreciate the humor, I'm not 'faking' anything... it wouldn't work. I'm paying attention to the audience and how to most effectively communicate to them.
+Douglas Karr
I can understand, and agree with the idea of a communication level,
ensuring that people are on teh same wavelength, using the same language, tone, terms etc.

I disagree with the concept of being 2-faced, deceptive and utterly different : regardless of the reasoning.
That's the realm of politicians - and look at what that gets us.

It is the latter that I fear, and feel is going to happen.
The basic issue here is when and whether anonymity is appropriate. Why be anonymous? You want to be able to act in some manner without being identified.

Situations in which anonymity is desirable:
1. Free political speech which some people (including the government) might find offensive. Fear of reprisal.
2. Doing things that are not considered appropriate such as viewing porn, saying rude things to others, verbal bullying, posting the personal data of others, etc.
3. Considering alternate points of view, and provoking discussion without bias based who you are and who is participating in the discussion.

All these reasons exist in the 'real' world as well. I would assert that at least part of group 2 are probably not desirable. But group 1 and group 3 probably are. The question is how to have that sort of 'selective anonymity' and how to maintain it.
+Eugene O'Donnell I agree with that and I like the 'selective anonymity' concept.

Can/should my ability to use 'selective anonymity' overlap with my reputation-impacting behavior? Both answers have consequences...
I see 3 primary routes that would suffice;
1) Multiple aspects of a single account that are not publicly associated, but are attached behidn the scenes.
2) Multiple different accounts, each used for different actions, and that are non-associated in any way.
3) The option to take an action but refrain from providing publicly tracable details.

Of them all - I think (3) would satisfy G the most.
That would permit people to conduct the actions that G wants, and without some of the risks.
The ability to + that cross dressing site you like (without your work mates knowing it was you), to review that burger bar (though everyone thinks you're vegan), to rate that ABBA album (without your mates taking the mic out of you) etc.
So it offers a degree of protection/anonymity - whilst having the data wanted.


I'm giving it 12:1 odds - I don't see it happening.
Infact, it has only slightly better chances than psuedonyms or fractured accounts.
One thing to keep in mind. The Terms of Use of all Google services prohibit creation of psuedo accounts with false personal information. So in case any of you have done that ;-P you can be banned from Google at their leisure. There is a difference between having rules and enforcing them.

So I agree with +Lyndon NA that there is no chance (<100:1) of any such sanctioned activity. The legal liability is too large. So there is very low probability of the lateral influence on reputation. If selective anonymity is the target, the Terms of Use must permit that.

As far as traceability, that is again a matter of the rules and whether they are enforced. For example, FaceBook is not COPPA (child privacy) compliant and the Terms prohibit accounts for those under 13. But millions of under-13's use FB every day to bully each other. Transparency would avoid that problem.

We need to accept that to some extent Privacy is Dead. On-line identity must accept that.

If users want anonymity of any useful sort, the 'meeting place' must enable and sanction that. The best way to keep a secret is not to tell anyone! That means that your Doppelganger is only known to you and dies with you. I don't really see any other way. Otherwise governments can compel revelation of your Secret Identity. See the American Revolution - Poor Richard = Ben Franklin.
Bad enough when you mistype your PIN ... imagine having a cold and the ATM telling you to naff off.

And indeed - that would kind of kill the concept of private anonymity, and result in either the fractured or opted-non public methods being the only viable ones.
+Anne-Marie Clark That is the 'light side' of anonymity. It does indeed have a valid purpose and should be protected. But it can really only be protected by the basic nature of the medium used to provide it.

The 'dark side' of anonymity is harder to justify. But people will always want it.

Sometimes you just want to be unknown for a while. Like walking out the door of your hotel in Tokyo or London and finding a local pub. Nobody knows you and it is perfectly OK. You can spend cash and leave your cell phone in the hotel. Nobody knows what you did except you and the people you did it with. None of them knows you, and you don't know any of them. Not all bad.

Of course there are more sinister purposes as well. But can you have one without the other? Food for thought.
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