[Home]ImportanceOfIdentityInOnlineCommunities

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The bulk of the argument over whether to require real names revolves around the following opposed views:

  1. If something contributes no value, and can be misused, we can and should do away with it.
  2. If something isn't inherently harmful, and can possibly be used to good purpose, we should not prohibit it.

The following is not an evaluation of whether real names are inherently essential; this is a value judgment. It is up to each community to decide what atmosphere to cultivate. This page centers around MeatBall's own requirement of real names as a means of cultivating an open and professional community.

For our purposes, we will exclude the case of individuals under totalitarian rule, which is an exception case. The merits or worthlessness of pseudonymity will be considered within the context of the average internet user, within an environment in which pseudonymity is technically possible.

Note also that, for MeatBall, or any community whose policy expressly discourages pseudonyms, the burden of proof is on the user of a pseudonym to show that a pseudonym is required, not merely desirable. If this cannot be done, then use of a pseudonym is tantamount to public declaration of attack on the community.


Issues

Contributors: ErikDeBill, SunirShah, CliffordAdams, AlexSchroeder


The real problem isn't that pseudonyms can be misused. Rather, it is that their misuses, unlike in other venues (newsgroups, weblogs, etc.) cannot be restricted quite so easily (personal blacklists, filtering, etc.). I.e., consensus becomes crucial. This can in turn generate too strong an emphasis on consensus.

I'd like to explore ways that people could contribute through pseudonyms or even anonymously while preventing abuse. One way would be to allow people to submit content to a separate holding area anonymously. A few people would volunteer to watch this area, and repost content that meets their standards of quality. The reposters would note that the information was submitted anonymously, but that they are willing to accept responsibility for making it public. -- CliffordAdams (paraphrased)

While beyond the current reach of present day wikis a DigitalSignature around the comment has the potential to allow anonymous comment that has a certain level of trust, if that trust is abused or never earnt then it could be removed from public on complaint and only appear in the holding area, this is something I have thought of in the context of a restricted wiki where it would be impossible to edit signed comments (or a signed page) without the trust of the key holder for that comment (or page). A change in background colour could indicate unsigned (white), signed (yellow), edited signed work (red), the actual signiture itself could be hidden with maybe the keyid showable somehow. This would be a heavy processing load and not really doable in practice (someone prove me wrong by doing it!) --AndrewMcMeikan

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
Hash: SHA1

Well, here is an example of a digitally signed note. However, you
have to manually check it to make sure its content is still in its
original form. 

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: PGP 6.5.8

iQA/AwUBO94J4LQbX2ugbEqWEQKN+wCg0Kvo5D5yfWme1J+jkl8b+Zs6qlAAn2ua
iVY+2UYMCNKrluNLbDzT10Uy
=nSwI
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

In some situations it may be possible to accept (financial) liability anonymously, if money can be de-coupled from identity. Eg I could offer to indemnify you for the first million dollars of any 3rd party claim that results from one of my messages, and I could make that guarantee without you ever needing to know who I was. Having made such a guarantee, I would want to avoid committing libel in your forum. -- DaveHarris

True anonymity does not enable the association of the transaction with any given statement that might be considered libelous. In order to effect such an accountability scheme, PseudonymousIdentity? would be needed, at the very least.

No, you could charge each anonymous transaction a fee to place into an insurance fund.

That's a different solution. It removes the individually-derived indemnity guarantee of Dave's example. Perhaps it could work.

Might such a pool becomes a target for scam artists? If people are truly anonymous, and assuming that most anonymity is benign (at least in the sense of not being the source of libelous commentary), then there is a good setup for a two-party con in which one anonymous poster libels a "victim" who is complicit in the scam and pays off the not-anonymous-to-him source of the libel. The SoftSecurity angle of this is that the "benign" anonymous posters are motivated to protect the pool into which they pay, and thus to police the site for the scam.

It would be possible to do something anonymously or under a new pseudonym, while at the same time keeping and risking one's reputation acquired under another pseudonym. Indeed, as this reputation is defined (also responsibly) by the declaration of one or more people (also under pseudonyms, in a web of trust) that take this responsibility with obligation to keep the involved identity secret until they would be justified to do so, one can send those people a complaint against a bad use of the new pseudonym. Complaints themselves must be justified too, else they endanger the reputation of their authors before they break the anonymity of their target. See more details on the methods to implement such a trust system at http://spoirier.lautre.net/trustedforum.html (A financial liability can also be attached to this mechanism, see the link there).


There is a difference between a psuedonym and a name that just happens to be different from your original one. I firmly believe that at some point what is being called a "psuedonym" can becomes just a nym - as real a name as any other, and more so as time goes on and more of a person's personality is invested in its use. This point is crucial, because what MeatBall appears to mean is "you must use an identity, not a throwaway character", but what it ends up saying is "you cannot actually use your RealName on here, just this arbitrary tag that someone assigned you at birth and which doesn't really represent/identify you any more". For someone who cares about their identity, this is less than satisfactory.

Of course, there is the argument that I should just change my MeatSpace name. That's a lot of hassle, though - to take a trivial example, my passport and visa would become invalid, so I'd have to leave my job and the country that I am in. And what benefit would it gain me? The places that are important to me allow me to use my chosen name already. If the objective is just to link to an invested identity, then so should MeatBall. There are [over 16,000 pages] out there with GreenReaper on them, and it'd be a huge pain to try and change them all (compare the [600 hits] for "Laurence Parry", the majority of which aren't even me).

The value of allowing such names is the happiness of the contributors who can actually use their chosen name. This is not something to be taken lightly, as unhappy people are likely to just leave. I will say this for MeatBall - it has made me realise how important my name is to me as part of my identity, by presenting the possibility that I might be deprived of its use. -- Laurence "GreenReaper" Parry


CategoryIdentity CategoryRealNames

Discussion

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