A More Pseudonymous Internet
From ephemeral publishing apps to the abandoned Google “real names” policy, a push to revive relative namelessness online.
Excellent article. Some excerpts:
…they search for safe spaces where they can … anonymously practice new ways of thinking and being. These interactions offer them freedom and distance from their existing relationships. They eventually use the experiences, relationships, and practices cultivated through their Elastic Self in other areas of their life.
I was finding myself on the Internet … learning skills that would be useful both as a professional and a human offline. My ability to be an effective creator was hugely shaped by writing popular fan fiction and running side-project businesses in virtual worlds. Researchers have also found pseudonymous games to be great environments for training leadership skills.
The above is hilarious to me right now. Just the other day I was talking to someone about Neopets. Yeah, Neopets. It’s a ridiculous thing to try to explain: a website built around fantasy creatures helped me learn valuable skills like marketing and business-management, and even helped build an international network of friends and business prospects (some of whom I’ve encountered recently, over a decade later, in person and on other sites).
“companies and institutions often misinterpret the meaning of people’s social lives, codifying it in a way that forces people into static relationships that don’t reflect the fluid nature of actual relationships.”
Commentators began suggesting real-name usage would make the Internet a clean and civil place. (These theories are contradicted by evidence.) Unsurprisingly, some people who have advocated for real-name usage are affiliated with data-gathering social platforms.
Can pseudonyms and anonymity be used to hurt others? Obviously, yes. As a woman on the Internet, I’ve encountered my share of nastiness.
There’s nothing about this article that gives the writer away as a woman, until she mentions it. Once it’s out there, certain people will judge what you say by your gender, and it’s neither fun nor interesting. Although I use my name here on tumblr, there are other sites on which I still use pseudonyms. I’ve been called “man”, “dude”, “12-year-old boy”, “sir”, and “neckbeard”, among other terms usually reserved for humans with a set of testicles, and know of other women who’ve had the same experience. People still think there are few women in discussions of gaming and STEM, but I wonder how many of us are simply hidden, just because we don’t want to deal with the BS?
Anyway, I agree with the author: anonymity and pseudonymity are an important kind of freedom, worth fighting for going forward.