Names are weird by nature, I think. They're a series of letters, words and sounds that are applied as a label to a body. They are both a static marker of who we are (to think of changing a baby's name because you "got it wrong" at the hospital, or adopting a dog from a previous home and deciding you don't like the name it came with, are both acts I think many people would find tinged with an odd bitterness) and a changing byline of how we are viewed by others (as names are constantly re-drawn in more "acceptable" ways as things like gender identity and family associations morph and evolve, not to mention the addition of nicknames that may be foisted upon us at any time).
I don't think all people select to use a pseudonym for purposes of security. I think that there's a certain subset of people who do - whether as a way to try and keep their information secure from groups people who they don't want to share it with, or as a more magnified instance of that, to keep their very presence concealed as best as they know how from an abuser or a stalker or a known threat.
I have very dear friends with quite-obviously-probably-not-the-name-on-your-identification names that I still don't know the "real" names of after 10-odd years of knowing them, or do know but never call them by it because to me it's not their name. If some of these people tried to add/circle/follow me under their "given" name I would have NO IDEA who they were. I, too, have gone by a lot of names. Some of them I still go by - not really because I introduce myself as that name, but because that name has been so ingrained into the consciousness of the people who use it that it simply IS my name... at least one of them.
Some pseudonyms do provide security, but not in the way that can be thought of as a matter of simply convenience preventing one's online life from being dug up by coworkers or overly-concerned family members. A transgender individual in transition may have a legal first name which does not match their apparent gender, and in cases such as this, forcing the individual who everyone knows socially as "Mary So-And-So" to register their public or private profile information as "Steve So-And-So" could not only cause a great deal of confusion, but could place that individual in danger.
For me, using my given name and filtering how I share information has worked well and serves my purposes nicely. My given name has become fairly pervasively linked to any nicknames I may have, occasional misunderstandings (the people who hear me called "Sarahzon" and assume my name is "Sarah Zann", for example) notwithstanding, and I feel like I distrust the Internet enough to understand that anything I publish under a pseudonym for "security purposes" will very well be traced back to me eventually. But: I'm not everyone, and I don't think it's the solution for everyone.
I don't have any magical answers as to how we can walk the line between respecting the decision that people make to be known by the names they choose, and ensuring the authenticity of online relationships, but I hope for the sake of many of the people I care about that the answer isn't ever "legal names only".
"Don't you wish you'd used a pseudonym when you were younger?"
I did use one, for several years, on Livejournal, as many of my friends can attest.
I assiduously kept my "online persona" separate from my "professional persona", or at least I thought I was. Which worked until my stalker discovered that the one was the other, and broadcast that information publicly anywhere he could, at which point it didn't work.
The sense of security that pseudonymity provides is a very fragile and false one. You leave all kinds of information around about who you are: does your stalker know who your family members are? Unless they all use pseudonyms, too, they can be used to figure out who you are. Same with your friends. Same with your interests. Same with your job. Same with your location. Same with the sorts of figures of speech you use. Your childhood experiences. The name of the college you attended. The name of your first pet. Your favorite musical group. And on and on.
And what happens if you happen to make an enemy out of a friend? Your "safety" is potentially out the window if they're pissed off enough.
And because you've been lulled into a false sense of security, the results may be even worse. You may feel emboldened by your pseudonym to talk about things that are going to be problematic to you if your pseudonym gets "outed".
I don't really believe in privacy anymore.
There are companies that you can contact to get the address, phone number, cell number, picture of someone's house, and just about any other piece of private information you want for the modest fee of like 30 bucks. Unless you have a government backed Pseudonym it can be cracked open and spilled for anyone with the cash. Nearly everything you do on the internet is monitored by a vast network of algorithms that catch buzz words. These programs are in your e-mail, web sites, tool bars, web browsers and anywhere else you go on the interwebz.
Your cell phone has GPS and other programs that constantly track everywhere you go. I am not talking about the iPhone "stealth" tracker I mean every cell phone is required to have an emergency mode that once activated triggers a beacon to zero in on your location. It's also required that the government can force this device on at any time with the "proper" authorization. In addition to that the government/phone company can turn on the receiver of your phone at any time to listen in on any noise that might be happening in it's vicinity. Crazy right? Don't get me started on Land-line phones on a VoIP network, talk about easy cracking...
In a real world vs. virtual interaction with a company you give them your name, address, and a host of other pieces of personal information. In turn they put that information in a database. That database gets sold to a "partner" company for "marketing" purposes. So even if you never use the internet your personal information is on the internet and available for purchase. Int he real would you can't use a pseudonym for any serious transaction, it's a crime - a very serious crime at that.
Now I used to use Pseudonyms for everything and faked every piece of private information I put into a form on the net. Now the only reason I keep things, post on the net etc., separated is to keep my friends groups from mixing badly or annoying people who don't care about the topics I want to chat about. It protects people from trolling my friends or myself and allows me to communicate what I want to without having to wonder if I am annoying someone or starting a flame war.
Physical privacy in your home, sure that's important. The ability to share a private moment with someone, yes, that's important. How long until that's not even really possible?
I was using the defaults until recently, but I think I'd be even better off sorting across two different axes: How much do I trust this person with my more personal thoughts? and How close is this person to me - not in a trust sense, but in the sense I may see this person in the next few months?
So, after some juggling, here are the four Circles I now have:
• people who I trust and banter with on a regular or semi-regular basis (the "you've been to my parties" people)
• people I talk to a lot that I don't want to release all my content to (the "nice coworker" or "extended family" type)
• people I know from online and/or don't "talk" with often that I still trust with more intimate content (the "I remember you from LJ/IRC and while we've never met in the flesh, you've stood the test of time" crew)
• people whose posts I find interesting but I don't want to share the deep details of my life with (the "content syndication" follow)
Now, I think I can better select what I want to read or share at any given time without overshooting the signal/noise ratio. I can cast a wider content net when I have more reading time, I can narrow in when I'm looking for "local news" or specific information from people I see often, and I can modulate my own output to best manage content I publish & keep it going where I want to go. Everyone can see the "Hey, look at this cool thing I found online!" posts, but people who live in Outer Mongolia won't get overrun with news about about local stuff of interest, and I can complain and celebrate comfortably within my "inner circle" wherever they may be geographically.
Of course, there's always The Internet At Large (public posts)... but they've always been there.
I'll probably end up editing this all again someday as more people join so I don't end up where I am now on Facebook (feeling like I'm spamming LARPer nerds about my weightlifting progress and barbell nerds about the cool costume I'm working on), but I think this will improve my posting/viewing for now.
You might want to use the technique sparingly with people you don't know well who have a lot of comment traffic, as it would be easy for such a post to get lost in their busy stream.
Had a short conversation with a lady throwing trash out behind the laundromat today on my way around the building for a kettlebell waiter's walk:
"Pantpant, hi, pant."
"How much does that weigh?"
"Eh, pant, 35 pounds."
Starry starry fruit
Paint your palette red and orange
Damn it, nothing rhymes with orange
Starry starry fruit
It's been a day.
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