posts about or somewhat related to ‘pseudonymity’

Recent events from the political and violent (protests in the Middle East and North Africa, and now riots in England) to the innocuous (the launch of Google+) have people talking very seriously about the role anonymity, pseudonymity and identity in general play in contemporary culture.
From OWNI, Rise and Fall of the Pseudonym:

Carmela Ciuraru explains that in the mid-19th century this curious phenomenon of pseudonymity reached its highest level, and as in the mid 16th century, it was customary for a text to be published anonymously. It is interesting that the decline of the nickname in the 20th century coincided with the rise of television and film. People had access to the lives of others, it became more difficult to preserve private life - and perhaps even undesirable. In contemporary culture, no information is too personal to be shared (or reappropriated). Reality TV has increased our appetite to “know” famous people, and the authors themselves are not immune against the pressures of self-promotion and personal revelations. We live in an age where, as the biographer Nigel Hamilton wrote, ”the identity of an individual has become the focus of much discussion.”

Image: Masque by 13Moya via Flickr/Creative Commons.

Recent events from the political and violent (protests in the Middle East and North Africa, and now riots in England) to the innocuous (the launch of Google+) have people talking very seriously about the role anonymity, pseudonymity and identity in general play in contemporary culture.

From OWNI, Rise and Fall of the Pseudonym:

Carmela Ciuraru explains that in the mid-19th century this curious phenomenon of pseudonymity reached its highest level, and as in the mid 16th century, it was customary for a text to be published anonymously. It is interesting that the decline of the nickname in the 20th century coincided with the rise of television and film. People had access to the lives of others, it became more difficult to preserve private life - and perhaps even undesirable. In contemporary culture, no information is too personal to be shared (or reappropriated). Reality TV has increased our appetite to “know” famous people, and the authors themselves are not immune against the pressures of self-promotion and personal revelations. We live in an age where, as the biographer Nigel Hamilton wrote, ”the identity of an individual has become the focus of much discussion.”

Image: Masque by 13Moya via Flickr/Creative Commons.

What Google’s “Real Names” Policy Teaches the Newsroom

Google’s caught a lot of heat over its G+ real name policy. Part of it’s simply the arbitrary nature of the real name enforcement: many people using their real names — and well known nicknames — have been kicked off Plus. 

But there’s a much deeper and more important conversation taking place that has to do with identity, privacy and the right to anonymity.

Danah Boyd, a researcher with Microsoft and fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, considers real name policies an abuse of power:

I’m really really glad to see seriously privileged people take up the issue, because while they are the least likely to actually be harmed by “real names” policies, they have the authority to be able to speak truth to power. And across the web, I’m seeing people highlight that this issue has more depth to it than fun names (and is a whole lot more complicated than boiling it down to being about anonymity, as Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg foolishly did).

What’s at stake is people’s right to protect themselves, their right to actually maintain a form of control that gives them safety. If companies like Facebook and Google are actually committed to the safety of its users, they need to take these complaints seriously. Not everyone is safer by giving out their real name. Quite the opposite; many people are far LESS safe when they are identifiable. And those who are least safe are often those who are most vulnerable.

News sites are continuously grappling with how to elevate the tone of reader comments. One chosen way is to make people use their real names in order to comment on stories. For example, some sites require you to swipe your credit card for a nominal one-time fee (say, a dollar) in order to prove you’re you.

Site’s that have done this (or found other ways to implement “real name” systems) generally report that while the overall number of comments goes down, the quality of discussion improves. That is, there’s less of an impulse to lob rhetorical bombs when people know exactly who you are.

But apply what Boyd writes here to the newspaper rather than the social network and we have the same dynamic. Namely, the paper dictating who can comment and participate, and ignoring the very real reasons why some in a community would need to anonymously contribute to a conversation about sensitive issues.

If news sites want to clean up comment sections, create a civil culture within them by having moderators, reporters and editors set the tone by actively participating in them. Otherwise, your crazies with an axe to grind will continue to ruin the roost.