While choosing an alias
to login to E2, I began to think about the pseudonyms
we use in online communities
such as E2.
A screen name gives you the freedom and anonymity to do and say things that you would not do in real life. This allows people to converse about very sensitive subjects without having to worry about what people think of you, since they do not know the real you, just this etheral version of you. I have read many nodes that contain very personal write-ups. Some were written by people I know in person. For this reason, I am unsure of what to put into my write ups. I imagine many people feel the same way. I keep a lot of my private life private and I think I would like to keep it that way.
When I choose an alias, I am reluctant to create a new name for myself. I feel that if I am not using my real name, I am not myself. I realise that this is what some people want, they are looking to be someone else. I had several attempts at choosing a name to use in Everthing but they all sounded geeky. I am a computer science student and am probably more geeky than I would like to be, which is why I rejected these names. I would have used my real first name if it wasn't already taken (and it almost invariably is, even though it isn't common) so I had to resort to one of my middle names*.
While people sometimes believe themselves to be secure in the knowledge that they will not be 'found out' while hiding behind their alias, this is not always the case. Law courts can demand personal information from the administrators of online communities if a user is accused of a crime. In order to prosecute, the court needs the legal identity of the individual. For instance, AOL were ordered to reveal the personal information of the person suspected of releasing the Melissa virus. Many online services do not demand personal information when you sign up but most ask for an e-mail address. This can, of course, be a false address. Examples are services like Hotmail and Yahoo. These give users anonymous e-mail addresses, which some people abuse. However, it is still possible to trace such an e-mail since forwarding information is kept in the header.
This also brings up the issue of free speech on the Internet. At what point, if any, does free speech become unacceptable? If a user breaches a confidentiality agreement by releasing information anonymously, they can be reprimanded according to the contract they are under, but only if their real identity can be found. What of libel? I have not frequented many online communities over the years I have used the Internet and consequently haven't be 'flamed' for anything but from what I have heard, upsetting the wrong person on the Internet, even by doing something simple like asking some simple question that could be found in a FAQ, can result in strings of abuse and threats.
Since this is my first node, I consider it a work in progress and will update when I have more thoughts on the subject. I am by no means an authority on this subject.
* After being here for nearly two years, I asked if I could take the name I originally wanted because the owner had only visited E2 for 15 minutes and never returned, and nate kindly did that for me. So now I can be myself again.