Social Network Identity: Anonymity, Pseudonymity and Accountability -Media140

One of the great mysteries of life is why Anon was such a genius in print and such an idiot online. And like all great mysteries, it’s worth whiling away an afternoon investigating the phenomenon. Lets explore Pseudonymity vs Anonymity and the repercussions with Accountability. And let’s not forget to look at the fact Facebook…

One of the great mysteries of life is why Anon was such a genius in print and such an idiot online. And like all great mysteries, it’s worth whiling away an afternoon investigating the phenomenon. Lets explore Pseudonymity vs Anonymity and the repercussions with Accountability. And let’s not forget to look at the fact Facebook and Google make money from your online Identity.

Yesterday, Salman Rushdie, real name “Ahmed Rushdie” ran afoul of Facebook. The man who has battled jihads and militant movements out to assassinate him, had his identity hijacked from him, in one fell swoop by Facebook. Apparently Salman is not his real first name, it’s Ahmed. You can follow the story on The Guardian, on The New York Times and on Salman err Ahmed Rushdie’s Facebook Page.

Facebook says that we have to use our real name, not anonymous to keep ourselves accountable. What a crock…

Pseudonymity, Anonymity and Accountability

A Pseudonym is a name you choose, usually yourself, like a nickname to represent yourself on or offline, usually reasonably permanent. Anonymity is a temporary name, often “Anon” and Accountability is the reputation and trust you gain with that name.

For example, Salman Rushdie has to be very careful what he says online – poorly written material, lots of spelling errors, unclear concepts will lead people to say “gosh, he’s not as good a writer as I thought he was!”. Diatribes that are anti any race or religion, political agendas and so on must match the image he projects as himself, or there will be questions asked. Salman Rushdie is accountable to the reputation and trust he has built up over the years.

Ahmed Rushdie can, on the other hand, do what the fark he wants. Even though Ahmed is his real name, and Salman his pseudonym, it’s Salman that suffers or gains from online interactions in reputation and trust. “Salman Rushdie” is accountable, “Ahmed Rushdie” is not.

We build our trust and reputation on a whole lot more than the name we choose. A Rose Is A Rose… 

Which reminds me: SilkCharm is my online persona – she can be smart ass, snarky, grumpy, funny and klutzy. And she rarely swears. She stays on message – online communities are good, broadcasting spammy advertising is bad. If  I were to change that mantra, questions would be asked. And sometimes the Pseudonym takes over: I was at Kate Kendall’s The Fetch drinks the other night and people asked me “who are you?” I responded “Laurel Papworth”. Jo or one of the others would pipe up “She’s SilkCharm”! OOOOH SIIIIILLLLKCHARRRRM. Laurel is unknown, SilkCharm isn’t.

All of which sounds pretty strange if you’ve never had a pseudonym or nickname. Why would people choose another name?

The Importance of Pseudonyms.

Not everyone wants the name they were born with. Richard becomes Dick, Margaret becomes Meg or Peggy. Nicknames stick around, especially if you’ve had that name since you were a kid playing footy.  Who else uses nicknames? Women online – a lot. We’ve used them since day dot (well, since I’ve been in online communities, anyway, around the end of the 1980’s). We can be ourselves, speak up, debate, without fear of some loony guy showing up on the doorstep if we use a Pseudonym. Which reminds, me, sex workers and astrologers use pseudonyms online. Neither wants to connect their hobby or business with their real name, sometimes because they don’t want their friends and family to find out. Not because they are doing anything illegal online but in the case of sex workers, they wouldn’t be able to join a Health group or Abuse group if they use their real name.  Most of the Health online communities I work in – even the one’s around Asthma and Weight Loss, not necessarily the more stigmatized health issues – the community members would be a lot less forthcoming if forced to use their real names. Role playing games need a good pseudonym – no, not S&M and Sex Dungeons you goose. I mean World of Warcraft and Farmville and Dungeons and Dragons.

When I was in Saudi Arabia, working on the women’s online community (iMatter, showing that Women of Islam matter), no one used their real name. That’s right, 100’s of thousands of women used pseudonyms. Not one used their real name. Google Plus’ and Facebook’ Police would have a field day banning and removing left right and centre.

Not every reason for using a Pseudonym online is for nefarious trolling purposes. Sometimes it is NOT safe to use your real name online.

Newspaper Articles and Accountable Comments

One of the biggest issues facing newspapers online is that they do not build community – no one can add their boss or their mum or a great commenter as their friend on the Sydney Morning Herald or The Australian site. Because of that, people can let loose in comments, be anonymous but more than anonymous, be unaccountable. No tracking = bad behaviour. With temporary identities, there is NO accountability and NO community management. Let me click ignore on an idiot and click follow on a non idiot and you’ll see how quickly behaviours shift. Ok, it’s a bit tougher in newspapers – their tone and general spin is negative and snarky so they get negative and snarky comments in return.  But not every section of the paper is like that, so a good community (with Profiles, Reputation, Leadership, Points, Etiquette, Rituals etc) would be rewarded with better behaviour. I feels sorry for the journalists – the lack of community tools puts a target on their backs for online assassination and no protection is offered at all by the studio system that is traditional media. 

It is worth reviewing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs apropos Online Communities : sustainability of identity and safety of the members, are two very missing functions in articles-with-comments sites like news online. By the way, when newspapers complain of bad behaviour in their comments section, or when the Communications Council tries to stop anonymous comments, tell them to build community, not articles with comments. They won’t understand what you mean – and that in and of itself is an issue.  Mostly because Newspapers think their product is articles, not readers and are therefore unprepared for the real war being waged over customer-as-product.

Your Identity is Facebook and Google’s “product”

By using your real identity, Facebook and Google can sell you as a psychographic or “Demographic of One” to companies. They can advertise directly to you based on your personal information collected over years. Forcing real names has nothing to do with “protecting you online” – as above, that is clearly incorrect, nickname Salman is no more likely to go off the rails than real name Ahmed, in fact less so. And everything to do with selling marketing intelligence. Facebook Farmville game maker Zynga doesn’t call themselves a games company, but a marketing intelligence company – they know everything about you.

Bottom Right Hand Corner – Market Intelligence. Your Identity = $$$$$. Will be the second biggest revenue earner in the Social Economy

I can already take out a Facebook ad for $1 a day and target 16 to 17 year old women, single, who like roller blading and Britney Spears and go to Wagga Wagga TAFE. And get those exact women, not some general 16-45 y.o. female demographic that may buy a magazine for one article. What will the future bring when Facebook and Google track those women across multiple platforms – across their searches, their friends, their restaurant checkins and their travel preferences? Oh wait, that’s already here and is called Google Plus.

Repeat after me: There is no community protection in using “real names”. There is huge money to be made from “real names”.

Incidentally I suspect that we’ll be able to have pseudonyms in the future, like Yahoo! allows, which hang off the main “real name” account. Blizzard have brought that in for World of Warcraft too. Just remember, they do know who you are, even if you create the fake secondary account, and are still tracking your marketing behaviours online!

An event worth attending – see below (remember, Google and Facebook are removing Pseudonymity as well as Anonymity)  

Media140 EVENT – Digital Anonymity: Do we have a right to anonymity online?

We are bringing together the some of the most exciting and influential thinkers in Australian digital media to share their experience and knowledge with a small number of participants at media140+ events in Sydney.

media140+ events are a natural extension of our larger events, but much more of a focus on creating more intimate experiences with a smaller number of people. Allowing everyone who participates a much greater opportunity to debate, engage and collaborate. media140+ events will run every month as an open forum with emphasis on creating conversation and collaboration.

Theme Digital Anonymity: Do we have a right to anonymity online?
As Google and Facebook try by force to remove anonymity from the web, is privacy no longer seen as a funamental right? Will it become a commodified product we will have to purchase? We take a look at the legal, social and media perspectives and ask the question is it really that important?
John Kerrison
John Kerrison (Host)
Sky News Business
Anne Hurley Stilgherrian Stilgherrian David Stewart
Anne Hurley
Interim CEO internet industry association
Writer and broadcaster
Jessica HIll
Producer/Reporter at ABC Radio Current Affairs
David Stewart
Director, Wrays


Date & Time 24th November, 6.30pm till 9.30pm
Venue Hotel Clarendon – 156 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills.
Doors open 6.30pm for 7pm start.
Tickets $10

You can book here at amiando media140

PS My little sister calls me Lolly. In a whiney voice. Try it and I will hunt you down and shove your mouse/iphone up your nose. My name is SilkCharm. Ms SilkCharm to you. Here Endeth the Blog Post.  😛

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  1. Oddly enough I use my real name everywhere – as a pseudonym!

    When I meet people in Meat Space who have only ever known me online, I’m not “Jason Jordan”, I’m “jasonjordan” as that’s how they know me from Twitter (@jasonjordan) and my Blog (jasonjordan.com.au).

    It affords me no privacy or protection, but it does make me stand by my words.

    And there’s great power there.

    1. I feel the same way about SilkCharm. With nearly 35,000 followers, I can’t really escape or have privacy or protection. Too many know my history and background. Accountability works with the name you use the most.
      I suspect Crikey journo Stilgherrian protects his nickname Stilgerrian a lot more than his real name. Which could be jasonjordan for all I know. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the great read, Laurel/SilkCharm.

    When people talk to me about online forums, it’s often the comments sections of newspapers online that they get heated over. They can be awful spaces, but as you’ve pointed out, the media isn’t managing those spaces as an online community. While the traditional media is gradually appointing ‘social media managers’ within newsrooms, they don’t seem to have grasped the role of ‘community manager’. And that’s why we’re seeing debates like the recent ones in The Australian http://bit.ly/s63Wiv and in Mumbrella and AdNews etc.

    1. Bingo! Slapping up a Facebook page and a Twitter account to push your articles online, does not a News Community Manager make! 😛

  3. A very interesting article! It’s something not often discussed online. Anyway, I don’t know if there’s someone in Facebook who got kicked out for using a pseudonym. Perhaps it happens if he’s also copying a real person’s entire identity.

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