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On the unbearable anonymous of being January 15, 2008 2:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in knowing what it's like to be unanonymous on MetaFilter.

I'm thinking about finally disclosing my identity and announcing who I am on my profile. I know there are some MeFites who have always been public about who they are, but I'm guessing that there are others who might have started out anonymously and then finally outed themselves. I'm wondering if they can share their experiences of what it was like to become unanonymous and what the ramifications were, if any. Did it force them to change the way they posted? Did anyone lose their job because of it (obviously, one result would be that I would no longer be able to post or favorite something during business hours, har har).

I'm asking because on my return to the States I will probably start going to meetups and I might want to set up my own website and johnhdoe.com (not my real name) is more appealing than somethingdumbandhardtoremember.com. So odds are very good that very soon people will know my terrible, terrible secret identity.
posted by Deathalicious to MetaFilter-Related at 2:41 AM (158 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

Also, if any of you can think of good reasons I should keep my identity private, i.e. "You never fail to come off as a blithering idiot. If I knew who you were I would never hire you." that would be helpful
posted by Deathalicious at 2:45 AM on January 15, 2008


I don't make a secret of my unmasked, uncaped identity, because anyone who really wanted to know it would find out in short order, as has been proven herein time and time again. In fact, if I was the God of Metafilter and could do Anything here, I'd change my user name to my real name.
posted by pjern at 2:47 AM on January 15, 2008




I would, but I think I'd end up meeting myself, and I'm afraid of what I'd think. (Good luck!)
posted by not_on_display at 2:53 AM on January 15, 2008


There have never been any ramifications. (Yet.)

In fact, one of my still unfulfilled ambitions is for someone to come up to me in the street and say "Hey, you're that guy off the internet."
posted by Jofus at 3:14 AM on January 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Hasn't affected me, although I do have a very common name. I wish I had a different handle though, explaining to future employers why I chose a name that means "goofing off while pretending to be working at home" could be awkward.
posted by teleskiving at 3:15 AM on January 15, 2008


To be entirely fair, I'd say that if anything my internet scribblings have been more cogent and less riddled with profanity than my every day speech.

One of my most embarrassing moments was when I said "s**t" (to mean "stuff') during a class in grad school, sitting directly across from a visiting British ambassador (who was actually a Sir).
posted by Deathalicious at 3:17 AM on January 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hasn't affected me, although I do have a very common name.

Yeah, I self-google all the time, so I know my name is pretty unique. There's me and some high school basketball player in Oregon I think, and that's it.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:19 AM on January 15, 2008


Well, I started off with pretty much nothing on my profile, but now have pretty much everything on there. If people want to find out who I am, read every blog post I've ever written or look through the thousands of pictures I have on Flickr, they can. I'm pretty easily Googleable.

Frankly, if someone didn't want to employ me because of something I'd written online, I wouldn't want to work for them. I use my real name most of the time online (or at least it's easy to find out if you click through to whatever profile I have) because nothing that I write online, I believe, has any bearing on any job I currently hold. I don't write about work (past or present) beyond occasionally answering pertinent Ask Mes, and even then I write in generalities and never identify anyone else, so it's nobody's business but mine.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:32 AM on January 15, 2008


Frankly, if someone didn't want to employ me because of something I'd written online, I wouldn't want to work for them.

Yes, exactly! I have been flying my freak flag quite intentionally unmasked for this very reason. Please do Google me, Mr. Boss man, and if you don't like what you see, go fuck yourself. Urine test? Sure, open your mouth, sweetheart!

I am fortunate to be in a fairly specialized line of work, with a fairly liberal group of folks. I guess not all people can let it all hang out, and that is sad.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:39 AM on January 15, 2008 [11 favorites]


I agree with what Happy Dave and Meatbomb said about employers, but be careful with what you post if you plan to travel abroad.

I stopped using my real name in forums after a nasty incident somewhere in Europe, in a place whose name I do not care to remember. Some in-jokes in an electronics forum, plus a tutorial on how to build an aquarium pump had me stuck in a room for several hours, and I was denied entry.

Pump and bomb are written the same way in Spanish. "I put some magic blue smoke in your uC, I hope it does not escape in transit" does not translate well either.
posted by Dr. Curare at 3:55 AM on January 15, 2008 [9 favorites]


Hey, Deathalicious, that high school basketball player in Oregon is your googleganger. Mine are a Vietnam veteran who took pictures, or a guy who does voiceover work for sf radio shows, or a finance director for some business I don't understand at all.
posted by cgc373 at 4:00 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, mine's a US Senator, a dentist and a roadie for the Sex Pistols. Oh, and a script-writer for South Park.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:05 AM on January 15, 2008


It's now been more than a year since I abandoned my old profile, and precious low user number, in favor of using my real name. I did it for a couple of reasons, but the main reason was because I thought it might help temper my tone in the messages I wrote -- force me to take more personal responsibility for my words, and be less of an asshole to people here. I found out that it wasn't as simple as all that. The people here still wrote the things that pushed my buttons and I still responded in the ways I'd been responding.

It ended up taking more than just abandoning my alias to change the way I responded. But that's another story.

Aside from some people making some jokes about my name that I hadn't heard since I was in second grade, there haven't been any ramifications that I know of. But then, I can't know if I've missed any work or job opportunities as a result. I can tell you that my wife hasn't left me, and my friends still talk to me.

I did have initial regrets doing it. When I thought that a couple of axe-grinders were intentionally googlebombing my name just to yank my chain. But I've written and produced enough stuff online using my own name so that I think anyone searching for it would get a more well-rounded impression of me than that.

I get the impression you're thinking more of just divulging your name in your profile, but I still encourage you to to do it. Baby steps. I think that at some point, we're all going to to realize that we can't hide behind these inane pen-names forever.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:11 AM on January 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


Hey, my main googleganger is a voiceover artist too.

Deathalicious, I've never had a problem, but then I'm a relative noob, have a common name, don't go to meetups and maintain a below average profile here.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 4:14 AM on January 15, 2008


In five or so years I've been recognized once to my knowledge, and that was by someone I went to college with. But I'm also pretty low profile.

That said, I do kind of regret saying I wanted to fuck president Bush until his heart exploded.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:21 AM on January 15, 2008 [6 favorites]


> It's now been more than a year since I abandoned my old profile, and precious low user number, in favor of using my real name.

The only reason I didn't use my full real name to begin with was that at the time I didn't realize the input field would allow spaces.
posted by jfuller at 4:28 AM on January 15, 2008


My googleganger is a gay porn star from the southern hemisphere. I think he's semi-retired these days, but he was quite a top draw for a couple years there.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:40 AM on January 15, 2008


I've been non-anonymous online for about ten years now and the only time I regretted it was when, chatting/arguing in the pub, someone I'd never met before that night said 'But everyone knows that you think X and Y, in fact I remember you saying Z just the other week!' and went on to detail stuff I'd written online and completely forgotten. Which was well freaky.

Other than that, it's a good thing to do, I think. As Dave says above, you tend to be more aware of what you write, and I've found that being non-anonymous, with contact details all over the place to boot, leads to offers of work/interactions with interesting people - I have a suspicion that a lot of people are more willing to get in touch with a 'real person' than an anonymous handle. (Was there a character limit in place for MeFi handles in the past? Can't think why I left the last five letters off my name here...)

Jofus wrote: "In fact, one of my still unfulfilled ambitions is for someone to come up to me in the street and say "Hey, you're that guy off the internet.""

Replace 'guy' with 'bloke' and that's happened to me. In a nightclub, when, for reasons you can guess, I was already feeling more than a little paranoid. Again, well freaky.
posted by jack_mo at 4:40 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


My Googlegangers are part of a proud and noble line, I challenge any of you to beat this:
posted by Meatbomb at 4:48 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I like not being anonymous, to the extent that both my real name and my home address are both easily visible on my website. So far, nothing bad's happened, though I'm sure I'll be singing a different tune when they find my body in a gutter, my midsection spilling entrails onto the ground, cortex hunched over me with a sickle as he softly sings nursery rhymes, all my potential future employers standing around and looking on and nodding and being all "Well yes he certainly did have it coming and it's not like we would have wanted someone with an actual personality and motivations and life history to have worked for our corporation so thank you cortex." And then cortex is all like "No problem."

There are two reasons I like not having anonymity, one practical and one more abstract.

The abstract one is that I think a lot of humanity's general assholeishness stems from people lowering expectations for their fellow humans; folks often adjust their behavior to match the level of common courtesy that's expected of them, so transparency provides some nice good-faith effort toward everybody getting along. (Although I'm certainly not judging anyone else for remaining anonymous; I've known a couple of ladies that have been stalked in scenarios where openness in their online lives led to a lack of safety in their offline lives, and I'm guessing that a lot of my own personal comfort with my choice has to do with the hegemonic power backing me up as a young healthy middle-class first-world white male.)

Anyway, the other, more practical reason for my refusal of anonymity is that most of the ways I become a better person are based around feedback from other humans. When someone else knows exactly who I am and how to contact me, I feel much worse about being an asshole, and I'm more likely to try to be kind to folks. Recently, this manifested itself in an interaction I had with another member of this site: I'd posted something along the lines of "WORST POST EVAR" in the comments of Person X's FPP, and the more I thought about it, the more I wished I could remove it; it was actually a really interesting post, but more importantly, there was nothing constructive I was adding to the world by being such an uncreative and inarticulate dick. A few hours later, I checked the thread again, and when I saw that one of the mods had kindly removed my comment, I breathed a sigh of relief.

I think I would have dropped the matter entirely there, if I were only identified as "TunaSaladLovr13379" or something. But the fact that my name and comments are linked to my offline persona means that when I'm a douchemonger online, I can't just compartmentalize and forget it; a shitty comment on metafilter is a shitty comment that's tied to who I am generally. So I sent a MeFi-Mail to Person X in which I explictly apologized for being an ass, and it seemed to be appreciated. I'd like to think that if Person X and I ever meet now, it'll be with a smile and a offer of libations, rather than a bland look of mild distrust. In a perfect world, there would be fewer looks of mild distrust and more smiling offers of libations.

As for repurcussions: because my lack of anonymity acts as a check for the solipsistic tell-alls or the thrills I might take from small cruelties to other folks on message-boards, I tend to not say things online that would make employers balk. So far, I think the only repurcussion I've faced was that when I was hired for the job I have now, my interviewer told me she liked my comics. Well, all right.

I dunno, if you'll allow me the indulgence of waxing misanthropic for a second: Generally, I don't think very highly of Homo sapiens; nasty, brutish, and short sums it up pretty well as far as I'm concerned. But the nice thing about being open and friendly and putting trust in other people is that I -- in a very small way -- can at least eliminate some of the brutishness before the nastiness cuts me short. So I've decided it makes sense for me to let folks know who I am.

TL;DR hi deathalicious i'm greg who are you be
posted by Greg Nog at 5:14 AM on January 15, 2008 [11 favorites]


My googleganger is a currently very successful NFL football player for one of the best teams in the league. As soon as he showed up as a college player about seven years ago, my name (which is somewhat uncommon) got much more anonymous.
posted by octothorpe at 5:18 AM on January 15, 2008


Another non-anon. My reasons for being non-anon: it never occurred to me to be anonymous. People need each other. (And I guess everyone needs a hug, too). If this makes me a bliss ninny, so be it; the world needs bliss ninnies too.
posted by lleachie at 5:30 AM on January 15, 2008 [7 favorites]


lleachie: "If this makes me a bliss ninny, so be it; the world needs bliss ninnies too."

I now have a new favourite phrase/band name for any future whimsically-inclined progressive folk group I might found (unlikely).

Thanks lleachie!
posted by jack_mo at 5:48 AM on January 15, 2008


My Googlegangers include a Australian official of some sort and a famous SNL character.

Maybe I'm anonymous because I am still starting out, career-wise; or maybe I'm just chickenshit. Both are decent enough explanations.
posted by ibmcginty at 5:51 AM on January 15, 2008


Hmm. I think a certain desire for nonanonymity is why I use a variation of the same handle in as many places as I can. Even though it's relatively easily traced to the offline version of me, I'm acting on faith that no one hates me enough (yet) to make the trek. But even if I'm a bit wary of overtly linking my online persona to my offline life (death in a ditch anyone?), I prefer having a personality, and a history, and treating the internet as a community rather than a dumping ground.

At any rate, I see more hits for me under my full internet handle than for my real, very common and very Chinese name anyway.
posted by Phire at 6:06 AM on January 15, 2008


I haven't provided my real name on this site, but people seem to find me anyway. In fact, I'm meeting with another traditional singer from Toronto this very evening, who wants to chat with me regarding some songs I posted to MeMu. She apparently thinks they're great stuff.
posted by LN at 6:25 AM on January 15, 2008


I was anonymous for five years or so, then decided to put my real name on my profile and link the identities. Haven't had any problems, and it came in mildly handy in the GiftHub mess when I was able to post there under my real name so I could not be accused of being an "anonymous bully." (As an added bonus, one of the GiftHubbers accused me of falsely appropriating the handle of the "real" languagehat!) I'd say go for it unless you have a specific reason to worry.
posted by languagehat at 6:26 AM on January 15, 2008


I'm anonymous in that I can't be connected to my Metafilter account through googling of my name. But, if you really wanted to figure out who I am, you probably could. Plus, I have no issue with divulging my real name in private email or at meet-ups. I just prefer to keep my internet activity reasonably hidden from employers and clients and probably even my mom. And my name is a one-of-a-kind, so there's no mistaking who it is. If I had a more common name, I might feel differently.
posted by amro at 6:28 AM on January 15, 2008


The douchebag who wrote the article responsible for this post used my full, IRL name in his response article (which also got a FPP) when he quoted my comment in the thread. The only place you can find the article anymore is in the Freeper archives.

I'm really quite proud of this for some reason.
posted by Cyrano at 6:31 AM on January 15, 2008


I'm interested in knowing what it's like to be unanonymous on MetaFilter.

It's fine, no real issues.

The ONLY thing that annoys me about using my real, full name, on Metafilter is that when people address me here, they sometimes use the full name, which always sounds odd in my head. I'm like, what, you can't just pick one or the other, you HAVE to use both, like no one here couldn't tell who you're addressing? So, be prepared to have people sometimes address you as John Doe, not John, not Doe, not JD, but you're full freaking name. So think long and hard about including your middle name.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:31 AM on January 15, 2008


Everyone who has my last name is related to me, for better or worse... Thus, there's no point in laying low on Google. As has been said before, if someone wants to judge my ability to do my job based on crude remarks I made in high school, more power to them.
posted by potch at 6:34 AM on January 15, 2008


My reasons for being non-anon: it never occurred to me to be anonymous.

Ditto. I made the decision to be myself online when I first started posting to soc.motss on Usenet. Given all the trolling bullshit anonymous jerks pulled, it just felt right to use my real name from the start. Never occurred to me to go backwards after that, or to spend time worrying about someone who wouldn't hire me because of something irreverent or angry I wrote online in a situation completely irrelevant to the job.

It's never been a problem that I can tell, and the benefit - people seeing that you stand behind what you say with your real name, for starters - has always seemed worth it.
posted by mediareport at 6:36 AM on January 15, 2008


To address "Did it force them to change the way they posted?", that's actually WHY I'm non anonymous. To quote my own profile here:

What's the deal with your nickname? ....

I'm an aggressive, confrontational person, with strong beliefs, strong views of right and wrong, and a sarcastic way of expressing it. It's a fine line from using that for good and becoming a troll, so I use my full name to force myself to have to take responsibility if, nay, when, I go too far.

In other words? It's a deliberate check on myself.

posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 6:41 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'll try not to yammer on here but my decision to be open about my identity arose out of a lot of different things. I lurked for a year or so during the closed signup days and getting a login was a big deal to me. I already thought about this as a community before I ever joined and already had a friend here (hi, languagehat!) when I started. It is corny but I wanted to be a good citizen of metafilter because I truly cared a lot about it and about the very idea of a generally smart and civil place being able to flourish online.

So I chose to use my first name, and the more I got to talking to more people here offsite and in the world, the more I just wanted to be myself. The first time I really felt "outed" was when I wrote to interrobang suggesting a meetup and we realized we worked at the same place -- about three rows away from each other, actually. I had a moment of very disorienting paranoia; our workplace was quite conservative and my brain just went into overdrive wondering what I might have said or done to potentially get myself canned. Then I snapped out of it and went and met him and then we became friends and I'm so glad we did.

After I was part of the compilation record my full name was inextricably linked to this place, and I've given a little thought about what would happen if my family or friends or random person went google fishing, especially someone who doesn't know me well or much care for me. I've said some dumb things here and have probably bared my soul too much a time or two. Yet it is my feeling that if I don't do or say the things I want to because of some amorphous risk I will lose more in freedom than I'll gain in security. I've got a real xkcd fuck that shit feeling about that.

So I'm a non-anon, and I feel strongly it's better enabled me to get to know people here and come to care for them because of it. I'd love to pull a Meatbomb and go all the hell over just hugging on some mefites, especially of the bliss ninny variety. You guys have brought so many good things into my life I can almost forgive this whole nthing thing that is for me coming to be the textual equivalent of Tourettic nails on a goddamn chalkboard. Almost.
posted by melissa may at 6:42 AM on January 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I started off completely anonymous, then admitted who I was to some workmates (at least one was senior to me, but also a member, and thus understood), and at my first meet-up the cat was completely out of the bag. So far no death threats.

I don't have it in my profile, however, for the simple reason that I see no point in leaving traces of myself over the internet if I can help it - who knows what unfortunate data-mining could occur post quantum-computing (Doctor Curare makes a good point). Also, it's kewl when people call me Sparx.
posted by Sparx at 6:43 AM on January 15, 2008


I know you're looking for people who are or were anonymous and are now not, but I just wanted to chime in as someone who has been non-anonymous basically since the beginning of internet time. It's weird how using your real name makes you weird partners with other people using your name, especially if it's unusual. I belong to a Jessamyns group on Facebook and sometimes little Jessamyns IM me from all over the place because they don't know anyone else with their name. I also meet people who assume it's not my real name because people like to appropriate the name Jessamyn for whatever reason.

The good thing about making the anon to semi-anon move here on MeFi is that you can do it by degrees. You can put your real URL in your profile but not link your name if you want, so you're findable but not Google-linkable if you don't want to be (and remember not to link back!). People here are pretty good about not hollering at anyone by their real name unless people are pretty confident that you don't car if people use your real name (so people call mathowie Matt and cortex Josh sometimes but don't usually say anything but y2karl)

It's a pain with me sometimes, because I have a a few other websites and people in my job life or family life sometimes read them (imagine!) so occasionally I am being taken to task by folks for something I say online. That seems normal to me, but it definitely does raise my "what am I doing working somewhere where people think giving me a hard time like this is appropriate" eyebrow. I've tried to start up more anonymous sites for talking about things I might not want to talk to the whole world about, but I can never stay on top of them and they fade away. I'm non-anonymous because it's usually easier and because my first name is usually available on whatever site I'm registering on.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:50 AM on January 15, 2008


Mild derail: about people assuming that Jessamyn isn't your real name - I thought so initially, too, simply because I think it's a gorgeous name and gorgeous names aren't so common in real life. Plus it uses a 'y' as a vowel. That's pretty kickass, and kickass is not something I associate with most names. Sven is another one of those kickass names where I do a doubletake and grin at the person for having a cool name.
posted by Phire at 6:53 AM on January 15, 2008


For me it tends to moderate the middle part of this equation:

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19


Before I type anything, I think "Could this harm me personally or professionally?"

I have an anonymous sock puppet account, but I don't think I've ever used it.
posted by davey_darling at 6:54 AM on January 15, 2008


It hasn't effected me at all. My real name isn't Joe Blarnystone mind you, but it's not too tricky to figure out what my real name is. No stalkers stalking my ass yet. And my bosses haven't asked me about any of the junk I put on the web.
posted by chunking express at 6:56 AM on January 15, 2008


I'm hardcore-- my post IS my name. 'Cause that's how I roll.
posted by ShawnStruck at 7:01 AM on January 15, 2008


I'm hardcore

Nope, you don't have space in between the first and last name.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:06 AM on January 15, 2008


I haven't had a problem. It's pretty easy to track down nearly ten years of times I either said stupid things on the internet or emoted like only someone in their early twenties can emote.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, I also share my name with a comic book writer, an NFL referee, an artist, and a baritone from Alberta.
posted by drezdn at 7:19 AM on January 15, 2008


The first item on my googleganger's Amazon wish list is a yogurt maker similar to the one my brother gave me for Christmas last year. Interesting!

I also get a handful of executive-y pages and a good amount of Julia Stiles. I think I'm safe.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:25 AM on January 15, 2008


The only reason I don't include my full name, Hyman Cockbag McGillicuddy, in my profile, is that immature people are all like "LOLMcGillicuddy".
posted by Mister_A at 7:35 AM on January 15, 2008 [16 favorites]


I stopped using my real name in forums after a nasty incident somewhere in Europe, in a place whose name I do not care to remember. Some in-jokes in an electronics forum, plus a tutorial on how to build an aquarium pump had me stuck in a room for several hours, and I was denied entry.

So, before you could enter a particular unnamed European country, they Googled you (where, at customs?) and wouldn't let you in? I admit I'm not really getting how this anecdote could be possible in the real world. It's quite entertaining though.

I think that at some point, we're all going to to realize that we can't hide behind these inane pen-names forever.

God, there's really no zealot like a convert, is there? While I'm glad there's a thread where Dave Faris can reign superior, the constant site-wide beating of the "anyone who uses an anonymous name online is a charlatan, and MeFi is a lesser place for allowing it" drum gets so old.

I admit I don't see why it's a big deal whether one uses a pseudonym or one's real name, when posting on a recreational website. I can see why, if one needed that governor of "Better use my real name to save myself from myself, else I'd be a complete asshole to other people," it's a prudent choice -- and I respect the people who've made that choice, just like I respect people who give up alcohol because they become self-destructive and harmful to others when they use it.

And I understand why this topic has been on the front burner, since GiveWell. But I didn't agree with those out in the real world who said, "People at MeFi use pseudonyms, ergo they aren't entitled to knock the pseudonymous behavior of Holden" -- which is just logically devoid. Nor am I inclined to re-examine a decision that I personally feel just fine about, simply because Holden's pals used the idea as a nasty way to minimize the MetaFilter role in their fraudulent behaviors coming to light.

But to me, it's a live-and-let-live. You use your first-middle-last, I'll use a pseudonym. I've got plenty of reasons to not want my name out there for the world's consideration, not the least of which is those who would find my home address and send me threatening mail, specifically mentioning my family and professional relationships for maximum fear factor. I realize that your garden-variety internet stalker isn't as entertaining as "I was detained in Spain for misusing the word 'bomb'", but it's all the intersection of online and real world that I need.

On preview, Mister_A, I totally did LOL there.
posted by pineapple at 7:38 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've used my name as my username on pretty much every site I've visited since the dawn of NCSA Mosaic. When I first got an Internet account, I made conscious decision not to use pseudonyms on the Internet, and with rare exception, I've stuck to that. I'd been on some online services before where I had used handles that didn't identify me, but back then, even using your real name on AOL wouldn't mean much to most people, because the tools for tying that handle to a person weren't readily available. These days, my name is unusual enough that it would be easy to track back to me (though not so unusual that I'm the only person that bears it on Metafilter (Oh shit, did I just out Adam Rice?)).

So I don't really have a "control" for what it's like using a pseudonym. I am always conscious that I am responsible for what I say. I'm only aware of one instance where that really came back to bite me: a potential client looked at my website, saw a political comment that he didn't like, and decided not to work with me. It's conceivable there have been similar instances, but where the prospective client never explicitly told me "I don't like your website and and don't want to work with you." And there was another instance where I made an unkind comment about someone, who heard about it and wrote me an indignant e-mail—I don't really consider this an adverse consequence.

I should also mention that I've been a freelancer since the time when the Web was a side-project for Tim Berners-Lee, so it's not like I can get fired—though if I made a sufficiently gigantic ass of myself online, I might not be able to get work from anyone.

There have been notorious cases of people getting fired for the contents of their personal websites. Mark Pilgrim wrote about getting fired and then hired because of his.
posted by adamrice at 7:45 AM on January 15, 2008


I've always been kind of curious just how much someone could figure out about me. Up until MeFi, the only information I gave out was my first name. But, I'm positive that with a little digging anyone could find out whatever they want about me. Even without my profile information here, looking on flickr you can very likely find out where I live and where I've been (and certainly what I look like...).

If someone cared to look at my posting history here, coupled with information elsewhere on the internet, I wouldn't be surprised if someone could figure out what building I lived in, even what apartment number. You'd also find out that I'm really bad at keeping plants alive.

I guess my point is that it's just about impossible to keep any level of anonymity on this site, especially if you're using AskMe regularly. So what's the point in hiding? Come on out, don't be shy. We have candy.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:02 AM on January 15, 2008


Was I ever really anonymous on here? I don't know; probably not. When I first registered, I didn't put any personal info in my profile, and my first few comments were sort of asshatty.

But that got tiring real quick. The freedom to talk about my life without worrying about outing myself is, to me, way more important than any theoretical embarrassment that could come to me in the future.

Here's the thing: people don't really think about you that much. I'm on Metafilter all of the time and I see thousands of screen names. There are only maybe about a dozen or so that I can really match to a personality.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:04 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Deathalicious: the dull, unthrilling answer is that you will probably pretty much not notice. I like it when people feel comfortable including their real name / identity in their profile—I've more than once had an A Ha! moment where I realized that some random mefite was actually some individual I knew and respected for something completely unrelated to the site, for one thing—but there's no great fanfare, no measurable difference, I don't think. A few folks will know your name. There'll be another link or two in the google chain if someone wants to try and find you, or find out who you are. That's probably most of it.

I've been out since pretty much day one, I think; I've always been more reckless than cautious about my online idenitity, so far to no noticeable detriment, and if I could travel back in time I might change my handle here to just "Josh Millard". At this point, "cortex" is pretty settled in, though, so I'm sticking with it and just not making any bones about my identity on clickthrough.

An able seaman who went down on the HMS Hood!

I see what you did there.

they find my body in a gutter, my midsection spilling entrails onto the ground, cortex hunched over me with a sickle as he softly sings nursery rhymes

Eh, gotta scythe somethin'.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:06 AM on January 15, 2008


I'm non-anonymous on the Internet but a dissembling slippery bastard, braggart and bull-shitter if you meet me in person.
posted by Abiezer at 8:07 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I admit I don't see why it's a big deal whether one uses a pseudonym or one's real name, '

It can be hard to take a person seriously who insists on calling themselves a fruit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:07 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


In fact, one of my still unfulfilled ambitions is for someone to come up to me in the street and say "Hey, you're that guy off the internet."

I've done this and I've had people do this to me. Ah, the small world of youth conferences.

I'm pretty Googleable - especially so since I don't have a Googledanger. There have been times where it's been an issue; I've had nasty commentors dig up my web history from years ago and pick apart my comments to attack me. However, that would have happened even if I just used a common pseudonym and never revealed my real name. My parents are always concerned that it'll come back to bite me, and in one way that is possible - my parents are relatively well-known in their fields and it sucks that I can't do everything I want to do because it would reflect on them negatively. I suppose instead of hiding my name, I'd rather hide this link, just so my parents wouldn't eventually have to pay for any non-conservative thing I end up doing.

It's funny how about 12 years ago everyone was advocating anonymity in the name of safety, and now blogs everywhere are going "if you don't share your entire full name, you're not trustworthy".
posted by divabat at 8:09 AM on January 15, 2008


You leave John Waters out of this.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:09 AM on January 15, 2008


I've never really been anonymous in my ten or so years on the web. If I could do it all over again, I'd probably do it the way you have - anonymous at first and then make a conscious decision to reveal what I'd want revealed. As far as being recognized in the real world, I've had a couple of people recognize me in a supermarket or Starbucks and these were fellow bloggers. My interaction was pleasant and brief. I suspect if anyone had a perceived beef with me, they simply kick my ass or put a bullet in my head.

Since I'm an infinitesimal speck of fly shit in the deep blue sea of bloggers, I don't worry too much about it however I have tempered my acerbic lashing out quite a bit. I don't want my daughter growing up having to explain that her father got shanked on a street corner for something he said in a model rocketry forum. It has become more and more evident that the things people say regardless of how seemingly insignificant, can come back and bite. Those are risks I'm not as willing to take anymore.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:23 AM on January 15, 2008


I've always kind of assumed that I'm never really anonymous online. Even if I didn't explicitly link my handle to my real name just about everywhere I've ever used it, I figure someone who cared would be able to figure out who I am. So I use more or less the same thought process for posting to my blog, Facebook account, and MetaFilter as I do when I'm talking to someone face-to-face. This is me saying or doing something, and it will shape others' image of me, whether that "me" is "Plutor" or "Logan Ingalls" or "that guy over there who'd look his age if he wasn't balding". Do I still want to do it? Since it's the same thought process I've used since I became self-aware 20+ years ago, I have a lot of practice, so it's usually pretty automatic.

What I'm trying to say here is that un-anonymity isn't the absence of anonymity. It's the default, and being it shouldn't require that much thought.
posted by Plutor at 8:27 AM on January 15, 2008


I was anonymous for a while, and then I decided it was useless. Connecting MetaFilter to my blog to Flickr and so forth meant I'd have to either control my personal info on ALL of them, or none of them. And enough already.

There's been no fallout. When I apply for jobs, I admit I stress a little bit, but honestly I have made a career of not hiding who I am and what I'm about, so why start now? And for more recent jobs such as freelance writing, it's actually useful to me to be able to demonstrate a functional web presence. And fortunately I don't exactly have the kind of career aspirations that are endangered by all this nonsense. Which means I'll be poor all my life, but eh.

Sure, I look back and cringe at some things I've said (like telling nanojath to choke on his own tongue). But I'd say that's gotten me in less trouble online than it has in real life conversations.

Also, Deathalicious, please come to New York. Would love to put a face with whatever name.
posted by hermitosis at 8:30 AM on January 15, 2008


When I came out of the closet (of anonymity), no one batted an eye, or clicked a link. I’m as virtually alone as I am literally. Maybe it’s because people know I like to tuck my undershirts into my boxers.
posted by studentbaker at 8:31 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to say I hated the term "googleganger" the instant I saw it. I have the same name as someone at least slightly famous in US history. We had the same name long before Google existed.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:33 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


My googleganger is a gay porn star from the southern hemisphere. I think he's semi-retired these days, but he was quite a top draw for a couple years there.

Weird, Joseph: that's true for me, too!
posted by trip and a half at 8:37 AM on January 15, 2008


Doppelgoogler?
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:40 AM on January 15, 2008


I'm not anonymous. While I use 'Memo' as my handle, my profile has my name, my website, my flickr account, my not-up-to-date librarything account and my last.fm account, where everyone can see that I like to listen to videogame OSTs. I'M NOT ASHAMED. (Besides a whiny question I posted on AskMeFi).

Being serious, my non-anonymous status is almost inconsequential because I don't post enough to make it notable enough for Google.
posted by Memo at 8:42 AM on January 15, 2008


Yeah, I self-google all the time, so I know my name is pretty unique. There's me and some high school basketball player in Oregon I think, and that's it.

YOU'RE the other Hilskeblane Kabloomey?!
posted by shmegegge at 8:44 AM on January 15, 2008


I'm anonymous, and I'd like to keep it that way. If anyone out there found out I'm Jenna Jameson...
posted by katillathehun at 8:51 AM on January 15, 2008


I first stumbled onto Metafilter sometime after 9/11 I think, and when I finally signed up I felt rather intimidated by its size, level of discourse, and - it must be said - relative in-crowdness. At the risk of sounding schmaltzy it really did seem like something I wanted to be part of, and central to finding your place in any sort of community anywhere, I believe, is establishing some kind of trust. And I feel this is much easier if you have some sense of who's actually on the other end of the line.

Plus, I was already onymous through my blog, music and on some other places on the web, so it seemed natural. I haven't really experienced any downsides, except maybe my fear that if I get into a bad fight here or whatever it might rub off negatively on me as a person as opposed to just a cranky handle (but that's probably a plate of beans), or maybe sometimes Brits, other Dutch, etc. will occasionally rib me for hanging out here late at night (I'm an unrepentant owl), but that doesn't really bother me much either.

All in all I feel it actually helps to establish rapport, to promote a more human aspect of the internet, which can otherwise be a rather anonymous place. And if at some point you want to share that story of when you hung upside down from a chandelier with a leek up your backside after all, you can always just register a sock puppet.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:06 AM on January 15, 2008


I answer sex questions through Jessamyn now that I've stumbled into writing YA fiction, but other than that, there's no real big diff. for my procedure. Unless you're Adam Savage famous, you're probably going to be okay. Metafilter has an extremely low quotient of obsequious starfuckers, though the few it does have are truly hooveriffic.

The only downside I've found is that those remaining behind their screenname obscurity have no compunction about being real life diggy nasty sometimes. Says more about them than anything, but you know. I'm all about bringing the girlzone to Metafilter, so I'll come right out and say it: sometimes that stuff hurts my feelings.

Anybody wanna hug it out?
posted by headspace at 9:17 AM on January 15, 2008


Also: my name is rather run-of-the-mill in the anglosphere, but very unique in Holland (I know of one other, and he's a visting human rights expert from New Zealand or something). So I've got a truckload of googlegangers (self-link), but all my old classmates that want to cyberstalk me end up dissapointed, unless they dig quite deeply; that, or they think I have a very impressive resume.

My favourite namesake is this chipper fellow, who holds the enviable position of "gymnast comedian".
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:18 AM on January 15, 2008


Wait, I thought that was you, Paul.

Now those emails I sent you about "collaborating on mat routine" seem a little creepy.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:24 AM on January 15, 2008


I don't want my daughter growing up having to explain that her father got shanked on a street corner for something he said in a model rocketry forum.

Are you kidding? She'll have the best story of anyone in the room! You owe it to her to get shanked!

Hi, melissa may!
posted by languagehat at 9:33 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had links to my real identity in my profile; I took them down after a weird e-mail exchange with a MeFite that spooked me. My concern is more about attracting unwanted attention. I'm guessing that isn't as much of a worry for a guy.
posted by desjardins at 9:38 AM on January 15, 2008


btw, I'm not paranoid or deluded that someone wants to stalk me. It's more that I'm conscious of my responsibility to the one with whom I share my life.
posted by desjardins at 9:41 AM on January 15, 2008


If part of this is that you want to attend meet-ups, couldn't you just show up with an "anonymous" nametag?

Lurkers: don't even think about it.
posted by micayetoca at 9:49 AM on January 15, 2008


I have no problem putting my name in my profile. No one's looking, anyway. Even if they do, my positng habits are not particularly prolific, and I try to keep myself civil and reasonable.

Also, I have no googleganger. WTF?
posted by owtytrof at 9:52 AM on January 15, 2008


Unless you're part of the MeFi-in-group, revealing anything personal is completely pointless and likely won't add anything positive to your MeFi experience.

I debated with myself for days before finally posting a profile picture, but as my gut had told me, keeping it offline was the wiser decision. I ultimately gave in with a hands-in-the-air "oh well," thinking to myself: "what bad could really come of this?"

But when you add something personal to MeFi, personal is what you get back; in my case repeated ad hominem attacks and other bullshit that has drove me away from the community.

I wish I could go back to being anonymous.
posted by dead_ at 9:52 AM on January 15, 2008


I had a nickname back in the mists of the primordial internet, but I've hid the connection to my real name.

There's been a couple occasions when I've truly pissed people off that they've posted my picture or address to a thread -- if I was trying to be anonymous I could see where that tactic might be useful, but as an unanonymous person it's a little bizarre, like someone holding up a mirror in the middle of a bar argument and saying "This is what you look like!".

The only time I've had cause to regret the clear trail I leave behind me on the internet is when I've done or said truly stupid things. It would be nice to have an escape hatch, so that if I felt that I had completely discredited myself I could just start over with a new id. On the other hand, I've discredited myself a number of times under my real name, and it just doesn't seem to matter. Other people just don't care about my posting history as much as I think they do.

I suspect you'll have a similar experience.
posted by tkolar at 9:54 AM on January 15, 2008


but I've hid the connection to my real name.

"but I've *never* hid the connection to my real name."


sigh.
posted by tkolar at 9:55 AM on January 15, 2008


Slightly related, I've taken to using this as my profile picture in Facebook.
posted by Jofus at 9:56 AM on January 15, 2008


Premise: all superheroes (of any actual quality, so you can stick the Fantastic Four up your ass) have a secret identity. Lemma: if you have a secret identity, you are a superhero - like me. Conclusion: you "non-anons" are just cannon fodder for Professor Pan D. Monium's neutronic disintegration ray. Corollary: eat that shit, losers.

I should point out that these amazing powers of super-dialectic were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic set square and said BY THE POWER OF PLATO -- I HAVE THE POWER! do do do doo doo, do doo ba dee doo doo, do doo ba dee doo doo do doo Whinger became the mighty Cattle Bat, and I became the quidnunc kid, the most annoying bore in the universe. Only three others share this secret - our friends the Sorceress, Man-o-Many-Arms and Orko, and I'm not too sure about Orko. Together we defend Metatalk, a.k.a. Castle Greysulk, from the evil forces of Skeletor do do do doo doo, do doo ba dee doo doo, do doo ba dee doo doo do doo.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:03 AM on January 15, 2008 [6 favorites]


Whoa, I think Jofus and jonmc may be long-lost brothers.
posted by amro at 10:04 AM on January 15, 2008


You know, it's always bugged me that He-Man used the word "power" twice in the same sentence.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:11 AM on January 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Personally my handle is also my domain name. My real name is right on the front page of my blog. I've been using the same nick since the late 1990s and as far as I know no one else uses it. If someone accuses me of "using anonymity" they're either being disingenuous or just plain too lazy to use google.
posted by clevershark at 10:12 AM on January 15, 2008


amro: I admit it. We are one another's sockpuppets.

Although I'm not sure who that's most terrifying for.

(It's me, isn't it?)
posted by Jofus at 10:17 AM on January 15, 2008


In addition to having my real identity evident in my internet persona, I have a very rare last name. I'm basically the only one of me there is out here, so googling me is very easy and effective. I try not to worry about it. Sometimes I wonder if, when and if I have to go get a regular job again (that sound you hear is furious knocking on wood) I will run afoul of my presence online having become too extensive and, well, weird. Chances are you would never know if having your name searched was a factor in a hiring situation, of course. I never worried about the issue of it making my online activity while I was supposed to be working more visible: I always figured if you were going to get busted for that it would probably be as a result of being spied on directly. I'll note that searching my name as it appears in my Metafilter profile does not turn up that profile in Google.

Adopting my real name online had no impact on my interactions with people I didn't know previously. On a couple occasions people I'd lost track of looked me up through searching for me online (not through Metafilter). I was happy to hear from them. The closest thing to an uncomfortable moment was when a former coworker mentioned another former coworker having come across something I wrote on Metafilter. It was definitely a clash of contexts and I felt brief discomfort at this person having access to the level of personal exposure I have allowed in my comments here (which I realized then was far beyond the frankness and level of attitude I'd engage in at work). But I decided that it wasn't really a big deal.
posted by nanojath at 10:23 AM on January 15, 2008


I'm interested in knowing what it's like to be unanonymous in life.

(sob)

There's a real person here, world! One with hopes and aspirations! One who laughs and cries and feels lonely at night! I've got so much to give! I've got love to give! And I can dance! Really, really dance! And yet day by day, I feel myself dwindling, growing smaller. Strangers pass by in the streets and they don't even make eye contact. When I lost my last job, there were people who acted surprised that I still worked there. Others had never even heard of me. I'm not invisible! All right, so maybe I don't hang out with the cool kids at the water cooler, and maybe I shy away from conversation and hide my face behind my long hair. Maybe I hid in the bathroom that one time when everyone was making plans to go out for drinks, terrified that they might ask me. But I was also terrified that they wouldn't! I cried all night! And then I danced my tears out. Just danced until I had no tears left to spill.

You'll see! One day you'll all know my name! BECAUSE I CAN DANCE!
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:26 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm happy with using a handle that everyone in my real life, aside from professional contacts, knows. I do believe in being your truest possible self online, and not being ashamed of it, but get real, I work for an SEC compliant business, and hope to transition into education. Working at a high school with the things I have to say online requires at least a little anonymity. I could see showing up the first day of class and facing some "bucket of cocks" jokes with screencaps from intrepid 17 year old chanboys. So, say all you want about who you would and wouldn't work for, but I don't mind taking on a mantle of professionalism that runs counter to my actual, drug-addled, sex-crazed, bird-flipping point of view.

All it takes, though, is knowing my friends' names, since I am in social networks, or drawing a few other connections, like that time I put a picture of my diploma on flickr, or the time I linked to a journal I wrote for here. I try and keep track of these pesky bridges. And yes, I am a little afraid of the attention I could get from webstalker people and vicious ad hominemmers.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:29 AM on January 15, 2008


cortex: "You know, it's always bugged me that He-Man used the word "power" twice in the same sentence."

Hm.
posted by Plutor at 10:29 AM on January 15, 2008


Sure, I look back and cringe at some things I've said (like telling nanojath to choke on his own tongue)

But if you hadn't said it I never would have started reading your blog!
posted by nanojath at 10:32 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


My real name has been in my profile since I've joined and I've had nothing but positive experiences because of it. It didn't even occur to me to hide it really, as I'd been posting under my real name on usenet for the decade previous.

My only rule is not to post something that would cause problems with work, or to post something I wouldn't feel comfortable saying to someone's face. Anonymous licence to shit-cockery is one of the worst aspects of Metafilter, in my opinion.
posted by bonehead at 10:35 AM on January 15, 2008


I think I have been transparent from day one with a link to one of my websites in my profile. Because of my freelance work, I've had my info on the web pretty much since anyone cared about the web. I didn't see any reason to hide it here.

Ramifications: Zero. No one cares who I am.
posted by The Deej at 10:46 AM on January 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


But when you add something personal to MeFi, personal is what you get back; in my case repeated ad hominem attacks and other bullshit that has drove me away from the community.

Wait, you're claiming people made ad hominem attacks on you... because you put your picture on your userpage? Is this a joke?
posted by languagehat at 10:46 AM on January 15, 2008


Wait, you're claiming people made ad hominem attacks on you... because you put your picture on your userpage? Is this a joke?

Dude, did you even look at his stupid dreadlocks?
posted by nanojath at 10:52 AM on January 15, 2008


My name is John Martin. Even with my middle initial, "P", maintaining anonymity, although not intended, is easy in my case.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 11:05 AM on January 15, 2008


I now have a new favourite phrase/band name for any future whimsically-inclined progressive folk group I might found (unlikely).

Thanks lleachie!


Unfortunately, jackmo, Someone beat you to it, I'm sorry to say.

As far as MeetUps go: I happily introduce myself to MeFites using my real name. There are just other people in the world that I sort of prefer to not be able to pay attention to me, for no real good reason. So I may someday put my real name up there, though I don't think it's going to change anything about the way I interact here. I tend to be brusque and/or incoherent in real life, too.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:13 AM on January 15, 2008


More like language FAT AMIRITE LOL
posted by scrump at 11:17 AM on January 15, 2008


For me, I prefer to remain semi-anonymous, by sharing everything but my last name. On Metafilter, I link to all sorts of sites. Both here and at those sites I purposely do not include my last name anywhere. I'm sure somebody could figure it out with some clever searching, but I'm trying not to make it easy for them.

I don't mind giving out my last name, but if I were to be fully unanonymous, I think I'd hate the idea of somebody being able to google it and then have instant access to my personal history, work experience, my blog, my photosets, my linkedin profile, etc. If I meet somebody new and I am interested in sharing these parts of my life, I'll tell them my online user names and/or my last name too, depending on the circumstances in which we've met. They can then decide to go to google town, or not. Currently, my full name reveals a different, more professional set of google results than my user name. Which is good for employers and what not. I'd rather them see my Linked in profile than a casual conversation with buddies. And I like having (some) power to choose what they might see.

I also don't want to make it super easy for people online who have access to all this personal shit to find me. It's very weird to have crap show up at your door, or receive personal (or junk) mail, or have unsolicited members show up on your chat buddy lists, all saying whack things that reveal how much they know about you. I'd rather somebody ask me.

The anonymity topic is a good one, which I've thought about often. I love to write and share stuff, but I dislike the baggage that can sometimes come with that. I've been unanonymous in the past and it's gotten me a few unwanted "friends". That's bad news bears. So my solution has been to be slightly cautious about telling real life people what my online user name is, and just as selective about telling online people what my real name is. I'm trying to be as transparent as possible, without setting things up in a way that is beyond my comfort level. I constantly struggle with this, and I think that's a good thing because it forces me to always be aware of the face I put out there, how real I am, and if I can do better.

What I've found is that, with this divide, I feel very comfortable with people I don't know reading and participating with me on all the sites associated with my user names, and feel just as comfortable with people I do know googling my real name. The crossover is there if I allow it. Maybe someday in the future things will change, but these boundaries now are what allow me to comment, write, and share as free and candidly as I do.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:27 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ramifications: Zero. No one cares who I am.

That just isn't true, The Deej. I care.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:28 AM on January 15, 2008


Anonymity is overrated, especially because I've never, ever been able to be anonymous due to my name. Nerver. Erver. Damn parents.

I've never had a problem at metafilter with my name being in the info (unless I've been posting while drunk or something--then I just feel stupid). So go for it. Everyone above who said that it humanizes the community is right. I do like the thin wall of secrecy with usernames, but also being able to be reached by someone with a question or someone who wants to talk outside of MeFi can be a good thing.

The attack on dead_ was uncalled for and stupid. I remember that. Sorry, dude.
posted by sleepy pete at 11:34 AM on January 15, 2008


More like language FAT AMIRITE LOL

*cries*
posted by languagehat at 11:48 AM on January 15, 2008


I've had my phone number in my profile since the very first MeFi meetup but do any of you fuckers ever call?

It is possible that my profile picture makes people not call me. Also, please don't call me.
posted by nicwolff at 12:07 PM on January 15, 2008


Too many responses, didn't read them all.

I am RustyBrooks, my real name, on pretty much every forum I use.

It's a fairly unique name although I have come across some others in the last decade or two.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:07 PM on January 15, 2008


Oh, and I have never suffered any repercussions from it, as far as I know. But I try not to write things I wouldn't want my wife/mom/boss/etc to read.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:08 PM on January 15, 2008


... because you put your picture on your userpage? Is this a joke?

People were calling him a wigga. It was in one of the MetaTalk threads on Hip Hop FPP and how MetaFilter is too white and lame to comment on them properly. And as sleepy pete has sadi, it was lame and uncalled for.
posted by chunking express at 12:15 PM on January 15, 2008


I'm not anonymous, but nobody cares who I am.
posted by empath at 12:16 PM on January 15, 2008


I straddle the two worlds. It's pretty easy to figure out my real name pretty easily based on a few comments I've made in the blue and green. Plus I link to a couple social networking sites in my profile (duh!). In essence, I am *not* anonymous, but I don't want anyone googling my real name to be able to bring up all of the comments I've made on metafilter.

Regardless, a lack of anonymity from a backward engineering route means I don't answer 90% of the askme questions I might if I were truly anonymous, and I don't offer much in the way of interesting personal anecdotes. (Of course I assume they are utterly fascinating, but it's just as likely metafilter is a much better place without them).

In terms of just general commenting and the voicing of opinions, I don't really figure a lack of anonymity into the equation.
posted by stagewhisper at 12:20 PM on January 15, 2008


Man my previous comment is barely legible.
posted by chunking express at 12:22 PM on January 15, 2008


As far as MeetUps go: I happily introduce myself to MeFites using my real name.

I do this too, but then I tell them I'm cortex so that they have any idea who the hell I am.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:22 PM on January 15, 2008


Hell, I'm anonymous even with all my personal info in the profile.
posted by netbros at 12:25 PM on January 15, 2008


I prefer to be mostly anonymous online because I always get fantastic reviews from my employers and coworkers, so I suspect that there might be some ill feelings if they found out how much time I spend here and that it apparently only takes me about seven minutes a day to produce what they consider a high caliber of work. Plus, you know, assassins talk. It's a catty business. You wouldn't believe what gets brought up at the Christmas party after everyone has a few drinks in them (you frag one goat at a small arms conference in Bali...).

That said, I have had several non-anonymous interactions with Mefites and Mechizens, and they have been uniformly lovely encounters.

I have also outed myself to a few family members, most of whom couldn't care less. One notable exception occurred at a family reunion where I mentioned in passing to a favorite cousin that I spend a lot of time here. He confessed to being a sometime lurker here, and asked what my nic was. I hemmed and hawed, and then, just as we were getting in the car to leave, I said, "It's Raining Florence Henderson." He just about fell down laughing. I never did find out if that was good or bad.

Hi, [name redacted]!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:34 PM on January 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


People were calling him a wigga.

Well, now I feel like a jerk for calling his dreadlocks stupid, which was just meant to be a silly joke based on languagehat's comment plus the only really identifiable feature of his profile picture. It didn't occur to me that this would actually be the source of people's stupid criticisms. I don't really think your dreadlocks are stupid, dead_. My brother used to have dreadlocks and I was always baffled by the small minority of people who took some sort of offense at a fucking hairstyle.

(I think jonnie needs to take a little break now...)
posted by nanojath at 12:44 PM on January 15, 2008


I've been non-anonymous from more or less the get-go. I think the worst thing that has happened was rodii calling me out by name in a thread once. On the bright side, knowing that what I say could come back and haunt me has sure made me restrain myself from being a jerk. In a perfect world I think everyone should be non-anonymous for that reason.

I also understand that people are afraid that their views could come back and haunt them. I certainly have put forth some unpopular political views and now can't run for office. Oh well.
posted by norm at 12:52 PM on January 15, 2008


I think I was the first to mention the fact that dead_ has dreadlocks, shout out to my fellow wigga. *G-g-gang signs.*
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:08 PM on January 15, 2008


You live in Cairo, metropolitan population: 17 million. Number of Cairo residents on MetaFilter: ~1. You're still going to be anonymous and no one will care that you're a member of this site...

Then again, you never know if someone might find you online and take your comments out of context (you racist!)
posted by HotPatatta at 1:12 PM on January 15, 2008


If you decide to unmask yourself but you're scared that a potential employer might find you on MeFi, just take your identifying info out of your profile during a job hunt.
posted by HotPatatta at 1:14 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Signing up with my real name has meant that I've posted/asked/answered very little over the years. It probably wasn't a great idea in hindsight.
posted by jonathanbell at 1:33 PM on January 15, 2008


That just isn't true, The Deej. I care.
posted by Meatbomb


*removes personal info from profile page*
posted by The Deej at 1:36 PM on January 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


"It can be hard to take a person seriously who insists on calling themselves a fruit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:07 AM"
It is OK if Brandon can not take me seriously, in fact it is perfect. I also do not fear being fired, only canned by Ocean Spray.
posted by Cranberry at 1:52 PM on January 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've been open about my identity both here and on other online forums (I've been active on and moderated, among other things, locally-focused and internationally-known message boards centering on my favorite hobby). The worst thing that's happened in real life has been that someone recognized me as being "jtron from deathvalleydriver" and we ended up becoming good friends; I even attended his wedding.

Oh wait, that's the only thing that's happened because of it.

I'd be perfectly fine with using my real name online, but 'jtron' has one-third the letters. Also there is something nice about having my gormless ramblings go out under 'jtron' while my serious, pretentious, abstract video art is signed 'jesse dorje irwin.' Keeps from sullying 'jtron's good name.

This thread has been interesting, though. I had no idea "Brandon Blatcher" was his real name, or that "iamkimiam" isn't actually named Kim Iam. Next thing you'll be telling me there's no such thing as Jon Mc.
posted by jtron at 2:05 PM on January 15, 2008


People were calling him a wigga. It was in one of the MetaTalk threads on Hip Hop FPP and how MetaFilter is too white and lame to comment on them properly. And as sleepy pete has sadi, it was lame and uncalled for.

Huh. Well, sorry for making light of it, then. That's... pretty weird. And lame.
posted by languagehat at 2:11 PM on January 15, 2008


Dude, did you even look at his stupid dreadlocks?

Are you trying to be ironic, nanojath, or are you just that fucking stupid?

Pretty much what "dead_" said, and I'll go him one further.

You are pretty shallow for thinking anyone would give a shit, Deathalicious.

I used to have my real name in my profile, until some little plebe decided it'd be hilarious in an elementary school fashion to reply with an "Oh and Mr. Proper Name here thinks he's such hot shit, yadda yadda yadda" which then becomes readily available in Google. I had to contact an administrator to get them to remove the throwaway comment which was nothing more than slander. The point is all I got out of revealing anything authentic about myself was a load of bullshit and a waste of not only my time but an administrators as well.

My user ID picture could be identical to his, but I chose not to place it there for those exact reasons. The responses would be typical, even of the most "high caliber" forum there is - people are never better than the lowest common denominator on the internet, no matter what circles you travel in.
posted by prostyle at 2:21 PM on January 15, 2008


I've never been anonymous online, I mean, generally speaking. My name is always in my profile, my e-mail addresses have usually been my real name, etc. (Except for some cutesy ones I've had, but then, my name would still be available somewhere.) Hiding my identity has simply never been a concern or something I've thought about. As a woman, I figure I can be stalked by a guy who sees me in the grocery store just as easily as by someone who meets me online ... actually, more easily by grocery store guy. (I guess the argument is that more nutjobs will find me online than at the store.) And I don't say things that I'm going to regret. At least, not seriously. I don't say anything online that I wouldn't say in person, anyway. Maybe I'd worry more about divulging my identity online if I were some kind of extremist.

Or if I were a celebrity. I like to think I'd be the kind of celebrity who would just post as myself and let people have their laughs, but I think it would just create too much work for me, so I'd probably not use my real name.

And I don't care to be hired by anybody who gives a rat's butt about something I said in an online forum 7 years ago (or 7 days ago), so the whole future-employer issue has never been a blip on my radar.

So, what's it like to be unanonymous on MeFi? The same as it is to be unanonymous everywhere else. :) I post here the same way I would send messages to a mailing list of friends, or a bulletin board at school, etc.
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:24 PM on January 15, 2008


I'm semi anonymous. I've never used my real name as my handle, but I've also never gone out of my way to hide my name. I'm sure that any of you could figure out my first and last name (at least, my maiden name) through some judicious googling.

What I like about having nicknames is that I can change them on occasion, if I need to. For example, when I was a teenager, I was an adherent to a religious faith that would cause me much embarrassment if anyone I know now knew about it. When I got out of that religion, I started using a different username, and now if my coworkers or prospective bosses google me and happen to find my main username (this one) they won't find my past history of woo woo.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:29 PM on January 15, 2008


Stay anonymous. There are unfortunately a few real creeps here. Once the genie is out of the bottle, that's it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:33 PM on January 15, 2008


I got back in touch with a friend from my old high school because we're both non-anon here and I recognized his name. That was cool (for me, I hope he agrees).

I've never attempted to be anonymous on Metafilter. By the time I got around to joining, I'd spent years posting to various newsgroups under my own name -- it's already too late for me to run for office.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:35 PM on January 15, 2008


You'll see! One day you'll all know my name! BECAUSE I CAN DANCE!

And how!

posted by The corpse in the library at 2:42 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


prostyle wrote:You are pretty shallow for thinking anyone would give a shit, Deathalicious.

Okay...so you're saying I shouldn't reveal who I am, because I come across as shallow. Thank you for your constructive input.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:05 PM on January 15, 2008


"I" don't think of myself as entirely "aeschenkarnos". This identity is that sub-part of me that writes on MetaFilter and a few other places. I think of it as a "pen name". To link it to my birth certificate name or "meatspace body" as though it were a one-to-one correspondence kind of obviates the point of having it at all.

It's mainly a control issue. I very much prefer to engage and be engaged in controversy and argument here. Or over email, or something like that. I feel free to say what I think here, and feel that others are free to say what they think to me. I don't feel that intellectual freedom exists to quite the same extent IRL. IRL, I feel far more inclination to be likable, to self-censor. That not a bad thing at all, and I don't feel it as a "pressure" or anything negative; it just is the way it is. Different standards of "manners" apply, IMO.

Also, the capacity to edit greatly improves my ability to express myself. I'm a far better writer than face-to-face communicator. I'm not bad at face-to-face communication, if I do say so myself, but I see it as a different type of communication than this and do it entirely differently. The intellectual information density in writing is much higher; when talking, we express much more emotional information, we need to give people space to interject, we need to consider what each other say while in the process of expressing our own thoughts, and we need to take greater care to get our wording right the first time. We can't just edit it before we post it out of our mouths (the way I've edited and reworded this paragraph here extensively). The phone ... well, that's a whole other issue. I wish A G Bell had invented the fax first.

The converse of that is that people's expectations of mine, or anyone's behavior according to their posting history is going to be quite different from how they actually, IRL, behave. "I" don't feel inclined to want to roleplay "aeschenkarnos" IRL, and I don't want anyone to expect me to verbally come up with the kinds of things, IRL and on the spot, that I may take some time post here under that name. So, I try to keep "aeschenkarnos" unlinked to my IRL self as much as is possible. If my IRL self gets hit by a bus, aeschenkarnos mysteriously stops posting here, and that's the end of it. I have no expectations from any of you in that regard. (But if so, let me say now that it was fun, and thank you. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:55 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I" don't think of myself as entirely "aeschenkarnos". This identity is that sub-part of me that writes on MetaFilter and a few other places. I think of it as a "pen name".

... "I" don't feel inclined to want to roleplay "aeschenkarnos" IRL.


This is, as the kids say, wack.

That way lies douchebaggery. Separation of your online identity from yourself is exactly why civility breaks down: you wouldn't treat someone that way, but you aren't "you" you're SuperAvatar.
posted by norm at 4:08 PM on January 15, 2008


I take care of the "real identity being exposed" problem by acting only like tehloki, and not my true self, in front of other mefites. All they get is a seamless, thoroughly filtered tehloki experience.
posted by tehloki at 4:17 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Separation of your online identity from yourself is exactly why civility breaks down: you wouldn't treat someone that way, but you aren't "you" you're SuperAvatar.

But so are they. They're their online identity, with their own freedom of expression towards me and others.

Every one of us has multiple real selves and vary how we behave according to the context in which we are behaving. I bet even you, norm, wouldn't think it was "douchebaggery" to be polite and well-dressed and quiet while visiting an elderly relative, would you? Even if that varies from your "real self"? Would you be pleased if a rowdy drinking buddy showed up at your granny's with a keg of beer? (That is, if he crossed out of context without warning or permission? Tried to make you "change self"?)

There was a thread recently about sharing private emails and how that was bad. Failure to respect someone's online identity/offline identity distinction is in my view, worse.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:21 PM on January 15, 2008


Please let me clarify enough to say I don't think you're a douchebag, aek. I'm saying I think the idea of a MeFi account as a role to play rather than an online version of your real self is a net liability for the site.
posted by norm at 4:22 PM on January 15, 2008


Which "real self" of yours, though? Granny's grandson, Joe's buddy, CorpOrateCo's employee, Norm Junior's dad? Do you want the freedom to choose which aspects of which "you" you write about? Which voice you write in?

Why would the "site" care? If username "AliciaJPennyOf4WestStPortland" deserves banning, she gets banned. If username "alicia_kitty" deserves banning, she gets banned. No difference.

Now, I don't anticipate doing anything that would warrant banning me. I like being able to post here. That in itself would be sufficient, in the absence of some good manners, to restrain me from the excesses of douchebaggery. But if I write something harsh to someone, feeling myself justified, I want their ability to respond in kind to be limited to posting here. (And I accept that limitation myself.) I want to be able to involve myself in arguments, controversial ones included, and I don't want those arguments to spill off-site into my IRL life.

Granted, it's not likely. But I can only control how much of a douchebag I am. I can't control how much anyone else is.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:34 PM on January 15, 2008


I think the worst thing that has happened was rodii calling me out by name in a thread once.

I've seen it done before, and it's very much a prick thing to do. That's why I don't put my name directly in my profile. This way someone who attacks me is either forced to resort to lame "haha not so clever shark" cracks or go to my web site, where I presume he/she will be so enthralled by the content therein that he/she will forget the desire to attack me altogether.
posted by clevershark at 4:34 PM on January 15, 2008


Metafilter has an extremely low quotient of obsequious starfuckers

While I agree this is likely, it isn't the starfucking I'm worried about -- it's the regular ol' fucking-with that concerns me. I don't agree with what prostyle said about Deathalicious, but the rest of the comment pretty much mirrors my experience on the rest of the internet... and I have indeed seen it happen enough here at MeFi (and as clevershark so eloquently stated, it's very much a prick thing to do), that it's just not worth it to me.
posted by pineapple at 4:52 PM on January 15, 2008


One of the best "Inside The Actor's Studio" questions ever was when someone asked Richard Gere how he brought the buddhist practices of mindfulness and being totally present as your real self to his job, which is essentially to pretend to be someone else. He gives an interesting answer.

However, now we're wandering into GiftHub territory, so I'll shut up now.
posted by tkolar at 4:59 PM on January 15, 2008


Thinking about this topic today, I realized that I do give more weight to the words of people who I believe are using their real name. People using their real names are, in my experience, a lot less likely to be picking fights and causing problems just for sheer hell of it.

In fact, I found it a little disconcerting when cortex joined the moderator crew. Not because he hides his identity in any way, but because I associate people who use their real names as their user names with a higher level of trust.
posted by tkolar at 5:14 PM on January 15, 2008


I take care of the "real identity being exposed" problem by acting only like tehloki, and not my true self, in front of other mefites. All they get is a seamless, thoroughly filtered tehloki experience.
posted by tehloki


So, at the meetups, you greet every MeFite by saying "You're my favorite!"?

Ha! I slay me!

posted by The Deej at 5:22 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Eh, rodii's callout was funny, not dickish. And that was a long time ago. My point is that if you aren't a dick the negative consequences of not being anonymous are roughly nil in most cases.
posted by norm at 5:51 PM on January 15, 2008

Thinking about this topic today, I realized that I do give more weight to the words of people who I believe are using their real name. People using their real names are, in my experience, a lot less likely to be picking fights and causing problems just for sheer hell of it. In fact, I found it a little disconcerting when cortex joined the moderator crew. Not because he hides his identity in any way, but because I associate people who use their real names as their user names with a higher level of trust.
Okay, tkolar, I'm interested in this -- because I believe that your perspective is one shared by many, all over the internet.

If I were registered on this site with the username "AnnieSue," or if I linked in my profile to a blog at which I declared I was "Anne Crowley, Corporate Lackey" or to a Flickr account named "anniesfamilypics" -- that would give you more trust in my words at MetaFilter, is what you're saying?

Absolutely regardless of whether I'm using any sort of verifiably real, legitimate, legally recognized name?

I'm not trying to make light. I really want to understand this. I've been pondering internet anonymity for years, and I admit that the naming of people is something I've never quite got my head around.
posted by pineapple at 5:54 PM on January 15, 2008


I wish I wasn't so late to this thread because it's very interesting. I am another person who has never been anonymous on MetaFilter. My very first email nickname was assigned by my univ. at the time, and it was an odd truncated version of my last & first names, so it gave me some anonymity, particularly b/c it was before I was doing any online shopping. But then about a year later I moved to a new city and when I signed up with my new ISP I got stuck with my first initial last name, which I didn't want (partially b/c of wanting to be more anonymous, but also partially b/c I hate my last name for aesthetic reasons). But at the time I was working in public radio and I already had a kind of public (albeit not at all famous) identity, and as an academic I also have to publish work under my real name, so I have basically made the decision from the start that I would keep my internet presence fully identified and professional. If you google me everything that comes up is me (I have no googleganger it seems), and almost all related to my academic work or a quasi-professional hobby I have. I just don't post personal info online, period. Even my Flickr photos are all things I feel comfortable sharing with anyone.

The reason I don't use my actual name in my user name (it's in my profile) is again b/c I just think my last name is ugly (and also b/c when I first started reading MeFi I noticed how everyone had these cool, witty usernames--I'm looking at you It's Raining Florence Henderson--and I wanted to play, too).
posted by DiscourseMarker at 6:03 PM on January 15, 2008


norm said: My point is that if you aren't a dick the negative consequences of not being anonymous are roughly nil in most cases.

I just think this isn't for you to say. Look at desjardins' example above. Was she being a dick, to warrant that behavior?

What about that one blogger (lord I hope someone here remembers who I mean, I think it started with an M), who was totally anonymous and claimed to be a rich woman living in the South, and last year she routinely went out after semi-famous bloggers that used their real names... and she took pictures of their children from their Flickr sites and then mashed them up in Photoshop and put offensive ("I'm secretly retarded," etc) text balloons over the kids' heads? And then published them and was covered by fair use?

There are threads going on here in MeTa right now where one MeFite is anonymous and one is not, and the anon one is apparently chasing the other around the site, attacking him apparently just for grudge reasons. I don't know the backstory, but how is that fair? If you would argue that the reason it happened is because MeFite 2 was a dick first... then I would ask, does he have to be punished for that forever and ever amen? No one gets to start over? Guys in prison have paid their dues and got out faster than some internet grudges I've seen.

Sure, that might be a case for "The problem is still the anon people. If anon people didn't act like dicks, we wouldn't have a problem." But to that I say, "Until any given community has validated and confirmed the identities of every user, there will be anonymous users who act like dicks... and as a result, there must be defense available to the rest of us."

It's sad that it's necessary, but it's what's fair. I don't think it's fair to say that "anyone who isn't a dick is totally safe." Especially in a world where even politely sharing one's religious, political or sexual orientation is a case for flaming and all manner of bullying.

Because the real problem for me is the corollary. If the argument is "if you aren't a dick, you don't have to be anonymous," the unspoken flip side is, "...therefore, anyone who is anonymous clearly wants the right to be a dick." It's just not true.
posted by pineapple at 6:09 PM on January 15, 2008


I've been Richard Daly from day one, and aside from comments about the similarity of my name to that of the Mayor of Chicago, It hasn't made any difference one way or the other, as best I can tell. Of course, I'm hardly a famous or prolific MeFi personality.

I'm 25 now. I was in junior high (I think) when I had to pick user-names for the internet and I used made up names then. Now that I'm pretending to be a grown-up, I use my full name.
posted by Richard Daly at 6:14 PM on January 15, 2008


I'm sure somebody could figure it out with some clever searching, but I'm trying not to make it easy for them. . . I don't mind giving out my last name, but if I were to be fully unanonymous, I think I'd hate the idea of somebody being able to google it and then have instant access to my personal history, work experience, my blog, my photosets, my linkedin profile, etc.

And I like having (some) power to choose what they might see.

iamkimiam, that's pretty much the way I feel about this. I know that people could figure out my real name, my real-life identity with a little bit of sleuthing. But why make it easy for them? I live a lot of my life online and I don't want the particulars of that online life to be open to everyone who can type a name into a search engine.

It's a question of privacy and personal boundaries. Some people are comfortable with posting all kinds of personal information, like their real names, their physical addresses, the music they're playing right now. And I'm not.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:26 PM on January 15, 2008


I'm not trying to make light. I really want to understand this. I've been pondering internet anonymity for years, and I admit that the naming of people is something I've never quite got my head around.

One of my research areas is actually anonymity & identity in online interaction, so forgive me if I prattle on a bit here...

There are many different ways to understand identity and anonymity, but one view is to treat these as two ends of a scale from fully identified to fully anonymous, and to recognize that the scale exists for both senders and receivers. So you're really dealing with people's perceptions here, and these perceptions are also context-dependent. As an example, a lot of the research from the mid-late 90s focused on identity play in chat rooms and MUDs, etc., and there are numerous examples of people using completely fictitious nicknames or profiles that were not connected to their "real" (like say government-issued ID) identity, but who nevertheless felt "identified" by these profiles, to point of people being able to tell when someone had hijacked a person's nick (for one example see this article.

There is other research that describes how in some forums, having an online identity that is linked to a verifiable offline person is important, whereas in others the community values/prefers/encourages the pseudonymity or anonymity. It's really all about the context--why are people in a given forum, what are they talking about, what level of participation is expected, etc. This thread seems to be evidence that there is some wiggle room in the MeFi community's norms regarding anonymity.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 6:27 PM on January 15, 2008


If I were registered on this site with the username "AnnieSue," or if I linked in my profile to a blog at which I declared I was "Anne Crowley, Corporate Lackey" or to a Flickr account named "anniesfamilypics" -- that would give you more trust in my words at MetaFilter, is what you're saying?

Absolutely regardless of whether I'm using any sort of verifiably real, legitimate, legally recognized name?


Yep.

And while a little bit of the enhanced trust would be due to my everyday-life connection of "Real Name" == "Real Person", most of it comes from that fact that in my experience online people using "real sounding" names are on average using their real names.

Looked at from the other direction, people who set out to troll or just to create a separate on-line self seldom (if ever) choose the name "Anne Crowley". In general the whole point is to step away from the mundanity of every day life and do something creative and clever -- and that usually starts with the name.

This isn't to say that I implicitly trust anyone with a "Real name", it's just that a post by Anne Crowley would get a closer and much more generous reading from me than one by clownswilleatme547.
posted by tkolar at 6:36 PM on January 15, 2008


Jofus, I'm ascared.
posted by jonmc at 7:16 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think it's pretty easy to find out who I am. But I don't directly connect my ID with my real name because if someone's going to google me (I have no google twin) I want to make them work a bit. If I was ever in an interview and someone said "so, you're kind of a dick about [list all the topics I'm a dick about]" I'd know they were doing more digging than someone I would care to do work for would do.

My moniker here is a geographical reference and only looks like a "real" name by accident. But I'll answer to just about anything. I do find when I sign up to boards which ask, as a courtesy, that you use your given name I do answer a bit more carefully. It all seems a bit more official somehow.
posted by maxwelton at 7:18 PM on January 15, 2008


I must say that my user name has been awesome for meetup purposes.
"Hi, who are you?"
"Hi, iamkimiam"
posted by iamkimiam at 8:27 PM on January 15, 2008


I just think this isn't for you to say. Look at desjardins' example above. Was she being a dick, to warrant that behavior?


I've been pretty careful to qualify my statements. I understand scenarios that warrant anonymity, but I think they're pretty much the exception to the rule*, and I further think that as a blanket rule non-anonymous is better than anonymous for the sake of respectful community relations.

Because the real problem for me is the corollary. If the argument is "if you aren't a dick, you don't have to be anonymous," the unspoken flip side is, "...therefore, anyone who is anonymous clearly wants the right to be a dick." It's just not true.


I think that's a strawfigure. The corrolary is rather "anonymous users are more likely to be churlish than open ones". In my experience, it's possible to be open about identity and not suffer for it. I have a problem with those that act inappropriately and never have to risk consequences for it. The worst examples of bad behavior on this site tend to be associated with anonymous or false identity.

*Fine, hide your contact info. But why hide your identity? We have Actual Celebrities here that don't hide their identity. I guess I don't have much sympathy for the 'I want to pretend I'm someone else' argument.
posted by norm at 7:43 AM on January 16, 2008


Well, I'd just like to chime in to say that I've found this thread quite fascinating. I honestly had never put a lot of thought into my username; it never really occurred to me that people would treat an obvious handle differently than a more natural-sounding name.

I guess I've spent so much time both on the Internet and in the world of Amateur Radio (where people are frequently identified by their callsigns; trivially resolvable to real names and addresses, granted) that it doesn't seem odd anymore to have a discussion with someone named It's Raining Florence Henderson (not to call you out or anything).

I always was a bit of a sucker for those early-90s 'Internet exceptionalism' arguments, where the online and real worlds would be completely divorced, and people would use the online anonymity so gained to argue and discuss without being able to shout each other down with ad hominems. While that seems almost hopelessly naive to me now, given the amount of general asshattishness and douchebaggery that transpires on many anonymous forums, I'd still like to believe that it's not totally impossible to be both anon/pseudonymous and decent.

Whether I'm actually any good at that isn't my place to say, but on the whole I can't quite get myself to give it up.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:58 PM on January 16, 2008


I guess I've spent so much time both on the Internet and in the world of Amateur Radio (where people are frequently identified by their callsigns; trivially resolvable to real names and addresses, granted) that it doesn't seem odd anymore to have a discussion with someone named It's Raining Florence Henderson (not to call you out or anything).

Yeah. I think there's definitely an issue of basic acculturation in how people choose their usernames—while there are surely folks who stop and seriously consider all the options when deciding what to go with (Full name? First name? Pseudonymous full name? Nickname? Favorite handle? Arbitrary new handle?), a lot of folks probably just pick something they're comfortable with or used to and run with it.

I signed up as "cortex" because:

1. It was a new nickname, pulled from a then-recent net project among friends, and
2. It was short, and so worked well under constraints that as it turns out didn't and don't apply to mefi usernames but which do apply to a lot of other systems.

I don't know if it occured to me to sign up under my real name. At the time, I may not have even seen that as useful, whereas (as I said above) I do now. If I could do it all again, and authentication systems permitting, I might use my full name for everything. As it is, I'm pretty tied into the handles I've used in specific places, "cortex" especially so, so I'm realistically stuck in hybrid mode. When I comment on other blogs or sign up for new non-mefi-related accounts, I'll generally opt for my full name, however.

Which is all getting around to the interesting question of how people without a comfortable or preferred handle deal with choosing a username. How do you decided? What are the options that occur to a username newbie, and why are they aware of those options? Is the notion that a username is a short, pseudonymous string without whitespace a widespread cultural assumption, say?

Where does someone who doesn't know how to choose a username get their first education? Prompts from signup forms? Autogenerated handles based on previously provided information (so a helpless John Smith becomes "jsmith193")? Tech-oriented movies or episodes of tv shows? The observable norms of usernames in the space they're joining? Sheer creative impulse?
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:20 PM on January 16, 2008


So you're leaving Cairo, Deathalicious? I found it vaguely comforting to have one other Mefi-er here...

apropos of the discussion, I guess I just never felt the need to create a handle that wasn't my real name. Not being anonymous kind of checks you occasionally from cutting loose in comments, but I find it keeps me politer even when I get annoyed by somebody else's posts...
posted by jackbrown at 5:15 AM on January 17, 2008


The corrolary is rather "anonymous users are more likely to be churlish than open ones". ...I have a problem with those that act inappropriately and never have to risk consequences for it. The worst examples of bad behavior on this site tend to be associated with anonymous or false identity.

See, while I realize this happens, I don't agree with the notion that anyone who chooses anonymous = more inclined to be a dick. There are MeFites who know my real name, know me in real life -- and while we don't go around flaunting those pre-existing relationships here, I am willing to say (knowing that they could easily call me out if I'm off-base) that I don't say or do anything differently as Pineapple than I would with my legal name.

In my experience, it's possible to be open about identity and not suffer for it.

In my experience, it's possible to be open about identity and suffer for it. Surely there's room for both experiences here, right?

Fine, hide your contact info. But why hide your identity?

Maybe this is putting too fine a point on it, but what's the difference? If my identity is out there, i.e. my name, people can find me and my family and get my contact info. I'm not okay with that.

We have Actual Celebrities here that don't hide their identity. I guess I don't have much sympathy for the 'I want to pretend I'm someone else' argument.

These are two very different statements, conflated. In fact, as long as they aren't being dicks with their words, Actual Celebrities have far less reason than regular people to hide their identity: they're already out there, splashed all over the place.

But there are loads of reasons that one might choose internet anonymity that aren't "I want to pretend I'm someone else." And the problem I keep hitting in this thread is that most people seem to want it to be very black and white: you're either out there with your full name a la Matt, Jess and Josh... or you're a dick "trying to be someone else."
posted by pineapple at 7:28 AM on January 17, 2008


I just noticed my name pop up here in recent activity. What was odd about my situation was that the person who was e-mailing me DOES use his real name in his profile, which was verifiable because he e-mailed me his landline phone number. So, obviously his lack of anonymity did not deter him from being weird. (Note: he was not threatening at all, just grossly inappropriate, especially knowing that I'm engaged.)
posted by desjardins at 9:19 AM on January 17, 2008


If I were registered on this site with the username "AnnieSue," or if I linked in my profile to a blog at which I declared I was "Anne Crowley, Corporate Lackey" or to a Flickr account named "anniesfamilypics" -- that would give you more trust in my words at MetaFilter, is what you're saying?

Absolutely regardless of whether I'm using any sort of verifiably real, legitimate, legally recognized name?


No, not to me. To me, pineapple (just as an example) is trustworthy because she posted this great, long response to a question I asked. She clearly knew what she was talking about. She followed that up by a general pattern of earnest responses and in my head she's noted as someone to trust, even if I couldn't google her work phone number. I might've had a slight bias based on the name right up front (not that I should, being named after a plant myself), but that was quickly dispelled almost immediately as I caught on to the pattern, and the fact that many people are around enough to catch on to these patterns is what makes Metafilter great to me.

And on the other side, many people commenting here they're glad to not be anonymous are people I had not realized were not anonymous. So many people have names or links in their profiles that I realize now I've seen before, but I'd forgotten. Take jtron, I just think of Tron the movie, even though I've seen his photo before. Even cortex, by now, is just "cortex" to me, and the fact that he's really Josh Millard from Portland keeps slipping my mind. That identity feels less "real" to me, since I first got used to thinking of him under the name cortex.
posted by salvia at 10:15 AM on January 17, 2008


"Anne Crowley, Corporate Lackey"

I guess the short version of my comment above is that if I wanted to get to know people by reading About Us pages, I could do that without Metafilter.
posted by salvia at 10:20 AM on January 17, 2008


I don't pay much attention to a person's username except that I may draw incorrect inferences about gender. I also tend to confuse similar usernames and usernames across sites. For example, I know an "empath" on another site who is a whiny, middle-aged female, which really confuses the hell out of me when MeFi's empath posts or comments. Obviously I wouldn't have this problem if both used their real names.

Similarly, I've used (apparently) common usernames at various sites, and I'm inevitably confused for someone I'm not. One username was universally thought of as "male" though it's a gender-neutral word. I haven't run across any other "desjardins" online, however.
posted by desjardins at 3:51 PM on January 17, 2008


My nick goes in and out of style, as 'lysdexic's abound on the 'net. I've had it for about 15 years, so I don't feel the need to change it. Other people have given out my default email address as their own, I think to throw other people off or be dickish, so I get some strange emails, but not enough to make me want to ditch the name.

I've put my 'real' self online in professional context, and the two selves never interact, so it's not that big a deal for me. I have thought about ditching this name and coming on as 'me', but I don't really see the point.

I also don't get out much, in real life or online, so I already 'know' the people I know online, kwim? I so want that to turn into a real word!

The one exception is the Meta-verse. I will one day make it to a meetup and correct that, though.

How long has 'Everyone needs a hug' been there? wtf?
posted by lysdexic at 8:13 PM on January 17, 2008


A slightly different riff on the end of anonymity.
posted by tkolar at 3:01 PM on January 19, 2008


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