On internet anonymity

I always post under my own name, and also use my name when commenting on other sites. As I’ve written before, I think this should be standard practice on the Internet. It not only tells people who is commenting, but dampens the sort of nastiness, trolling, and name-calling that has caused so many websites to become toxic cesspools of discourse. People should take responsibility for their words spoken in public. Only a very few writers with websites or a public presence resort to pseudonyms, and the ones who don’t include those most endangered by public exposure: people like Maajid Nawaz, Sarah Haider, Ali Rizvi, Asra Nomani, and so on.  These people, who criticize Islam, are risking their very lives by exposing themselves, and they are brave folks. We who risk less should do no less.

Now many readers do use their real names here, and I appreciate that. I also appreciate, though, that there are good reasons for some to withhold their names: fear of “outing” as an atheist and its attendant ostracism (but the more people who come out, the more who will come out); fear of public exposure and harm, especially if you have children; and fear of intolerableharassment (sometimes valid, often not—after all, I get harassed several times a day on email and even by phone).  I think that pretty much exhausts the valid reasons.  Most of pseudonymity, I claim—though not necessarily on this site—is practiced by people who want to be free to say whatever they want without taking responsibility for their words. That’s not a good reason.

So I’m writing this to encourage (not demand!) posters to use their real names unless they have a good reason to do otherwise. If you want to maintain pseudonymity, I ask (again, not demand!) that you let us know why below. I’m asking not to pressure people, but simply to know if I’ve missed some good reasons why people don’t use their real names when posting.

Finally, remember that there’s a reason why newspapers demand that, when you publish a letter to the editor, you give your real name.

Thanks,
The Management

 

190 Comments

  1. Andy Lowry
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Okay, I’m in.

  2. Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    One valid reason for internet anonymity is that many employers will nowadays do an internet search before employing someone. Thus a 17-yr-old could say something dumb on the internet, under their real name, and it come up on a search when they’re job hunting aged 27.

    I can also understand people wanting to keep different aspects of their lives somewhat distinct, so they may want different internet profiles for their “political advocacy” life and their “small town social circle” life or their “buddies who go mountain biking” life.

    • Nicholas K.
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      Well, for these reasons I’ll use my real first name and an initial. I won’t tell what name I was under before (JC may know, but that is OK). I usually try to make informed comments but occasionally I try to be witty or funny (and fail). I am employed and I occasionally post and browse from work. I just need to be not so easily found.

      • Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        “I am employed and I occasionally post and browse from work. I just need to be not so easily found.”

        Very well put!

    • eric
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Yes. I use my real first name but obviously this is pseudonymous as long as my last name is lacking. I do that for a very similar reason: fear that my employer will fire me for out-of-office conduct, either because management doesn’t like my opinion, or because they don’t personally care but don’t want to take any perceived PR risk.

      I also think it’s worth pointing out that pseudonymous posting can protect an employer just as much as an employee, by allowing employees to vent without it becoming a massive PR fiasco. Thus it’s not just about protecting me from my employer, it’s also a tool that protects my employer from disgruntled and incorrect me. 🙂 Working in academia has some great benefits, and one of them is that the institution you work for isn’t generally implicated in the public technical, social, or political comments of its professor-employees. But not every job is that way; in most jobs, the distinction between employee opinion and employer reputation is much closer. Heck, not even every academic job is that way – a Provost or President is likely much more constrained in terms of what they can say ‘off the record’ in their own name than a professor.

    • BJ
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      This is exactly why I use a pseudonym. All of these reasons, and employment in particular (I have a very particular circumstance where my views could be used against an entire company).

      • Dave
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

        That’s exactly my reason.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Employers, yes, but more so customers. I work with a lot of companies in very traditional industries and in less then cosmopolitan areas. It’s pretty SOP nowadays to google someone for their Linkedin profile. That’s as much as I want people to see of me. I don’t need someone from Beaumont, Texas knowing my stand on the issues; that’s not what our relationship is about. (Hell, I know a guy who was on a temp gig in Beaumont, and at the end of his first week he was invited to a Klan meeting.)

      • Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, me too [customers]; but I am in the process of winding down my sole-proprietor business (in preparation for retirement from my “day job”).

        Been working much too hard!

  3. BobTerrace
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Subscribe

    • BobTerrace
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Actually, my real first name is Robert, but I hide behind the pseudonym Bob. My parents taught me that.

      • Dave
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

        You had me fooled.

  4. Fluttermoth
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    In general, I wholeheartedly agree, however, I don’t use my real name online. I have a violent and abusive ex-partner and I need to keep my kids and myself free from the harassment he could cause us 😦

    • Posted April 21, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Well, this has got to count as the best reason for anonymity.

    • Posted April 21, 2017 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      I am glad that you escaped this relationship, and I agree that everything that may protect you is advisable!

  5. colnago80
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Just to make the record clear, my name is not Colnago and I am not related in any way, shape, form, or regard to the Colnago family that produces high end bicycles under their name. My only connection with them is that I own a 1980 model Colnago Superissmo.

  6. moleatthecounter
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Simply, this odd name is my usual internet site name. No secrecy issues at all. So it was an automatic choice really, when I initially signed up. Simple!

    Al Lee
    Staffordshire,
    UK

  7. Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    “reasons for some to withhold their names: fear of “outing” as an atheist and its attendant ostracism”

    This is my reason for truncating my name here. The minute I retire, that will change. I will become one of those aggressive and shrill atheists. 🙂

    • Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      And, as Nicholas K. responded, at 2, above: “I am employed and I occasionally post and browse from work. I just need to be not so easily found.”

      • Richard Bond
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        I have always used my real name, but I was near retirement when I started commenting, and have now been retired for several years. Also, I live in the UK, and my employer would have signed up for serious damages for firing me on any other grounds than causing substantial harm.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      I like it. Every time I see it it reminds me of the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack(which was a permanent fixture in the family car’s tape player) and the radio station DJ – “…and now jblilie Super Sounds Of The Seventies continues with Stealers Wheel and ‘Stuck In The Middle With You'”.

      I’ve only just noticed that it’s not ‘jbillie’ though, which slightly spoils it.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        Voiced by comedian Steven Wright.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          And, technically, that was K-Billy’s super sounds of the Seventies in Reservoir Dogs.

          • Saul Sorrell-Till
            Posted April 22, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

            I know that 🙂

            Good soundtrack too. We had Pulp Fiction OST and the Reservoir Dogs one on permanent circulation when I was growing up. I always thought it was ‘you put the lion in the coconut’ too.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted April 22, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

              Ooga-chaka, brother.

    • Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      I also try very hard to never say anything I’d not want to be associated with directly by name (with the small caveat above).

      This is one of the main reasons I frequent this website: It is a p[lace of civil discourse.

      Well, I like the boots, cats, and food a lot too! (Hey, it’s been a while since we’ve had a boots post! 🙂 )

  8. Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Another reason is that some of us just have an old nick name that we want to keep around. I used to post under one, & I still use it elsewhere for no reason whatsoever except it has fond memories.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Me too. I have used DiscoveredJoys as my nom-de-web for many years and many sites, and is usually a good search argument on a page or site when I need to find or respond to something. It also reduces the spam mail a little.

      It’s also the working title of the book I’ve been writing for 7 or 8 years, so every time I use it it prompts me a little harder…

      But in personal emails to people I use my mundane name.

  9. Randy schenck
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I suspect for many it is employee related but who knows. I also think for the most part that people should take responsibility for their words and actions. I also think it leads to some of the bad side of what we all see on the internet. Why people would want to be on such platforms as face book or twitter or others and use fake names, I do not know. I can speak only for me and that would be Randall Schenck. I also think much of it is generational.

    • eric
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Fully agree with your second sentence (well, your first too, but the focus of this reply is the second). Anonymity may make it easier to get away with bad behavior, but it doesn’t somehow magically transform bad behavior into acceptable behavior. If one is going to post pseudonymously, one still has an ethical and social obligation to be well mannered, admit when you make a mistake, say sorry when you insult someone, try to be honest and truthful about the content (even if your posting name is pseudonymous), cite quotes and give credit to other people’s material, etc…

      IOW, the one bit of social dissembling of having a pen name is not an excuse for any more.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        One of many things I have learned from following this site is how important and rare it is to have rules and someone who enforces the rules. Otherwise, even a good site will go bad very fast and that is the nature of the beast. This is far more important than worrying about what names people are using.

      • Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        Right on!

    • Draken
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Some people are more or less forced to use Facebook because all sorts of event organisers and public institutions seem to use it, sometimes forcing you to log in.
      Thus it becomes easy to track precisely what a person’s interests are and which events or places they visit. And that I consider none of anyone’s business.

      Even worse, Facebook is often used as an identity provider for other sites. Make a comment on a FB timeline, and one on a specific newspaper site, and everybody and their dog can couple you to your comments until the days are done.

  10. Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I found that in many places on the internet animosity is favorable, because this way you can avoid judging the people instead of their arguments (or being judged this way). Using real names is prone to debates where some people try to discredit others based on collected personal information that is unrelated to the topic at hand. WEIT is definitely one of the safer places regarding this problem, but still I find animosity slightly better. Also I simply do not think my name is important to any discussion here, however this can be different for more public-involved people.
    I understand your standpoint, but I am going to take the freedom you give and keep posting under nicknames.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      I’m thinking you mean ‘anonymity’ rather than ‘animosity’.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        Probably a damned autocorrect. My tablet is wicked sometimes.

      • Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        Ah, right. I did feel it is weird, but I did not recognize the word ‘animosity’ and just passed it in in my mind as a synonym for ‘anonymity’. Now the memento of the combination of my clumsy typing and weak English stays here. :/

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

          Your English isn’t clumsy at all.

  11. Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I chose my name as a handle, like the old CB days. As far as I know, if any person wishes to know me a bit better, it wouldn’t be difficult. No secrets involved. 😀

  12. Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I have had a nick for a long time — AC or Anvilcloud — and I like it. It’s my internet identity, and if I could change my real name to it, I’d consider it 🙂 . It’s a play on my real name, Rayner (rain – cloud): John Rayner if it matters to you.

  13. Sastra
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Okay, here’s another reason to use an internet nym, though whether it’s “valid” or not may be a judgment call:

    Reputation and recognition of a long-established internet persona.

    I first got on the internet back in the 90’s, and spent a fair amount of time in IRC chat rooms. Only a fool would use their real name there. As it was, my ‘nick’ is both a play on my real name — Sue Ann STRAndberg — but it’s also a word in Sanskrit meaning “sacred text,” which is very cool for an atheist.

    I have been floating around different atheist/humanist/skeptic forums and listservs for over 20 years under the same pseudonym. I feel then that I’m MORE accountable for what I say and do as “Sastra” because that’s how people know me online. It’s become the “real me” in the same way Sam Clemens became Mark Twain. If I screw up or get nasty, my reputation is damaged. If someone knew me on #atheism or Usenet or godexist.list, they will sometimes remember me, and we can continue on with a shared background. If I were to suddenly change my nym to SueStrandberg, then I’d feel like I’ve gone anonymous.

    I’ll also add that “Sastra” is more or less gender neutral, and that’s convenient when I’m in a discussion with someone new and I want us to focus on topic. There’s a common belief that people approach or interpret what a woman says differently than they do what a man says. I’ve found this true a few times, when my sex came up somehow and suddenly the discussion changed. It’s especially true if I’m in a debate with a Muslim, or misogynist. I can’t say that this has been a serious issue for me, or that it’s a valid reason for not using one’s real name (or the entire name) but I’ll throw it in there anyway.

    I could change to “SueStrandberg” on this website alone, but given the fact that I’d only do it on here, I’d rather not. Many of the regulars here also go elsewhere.

    • eric
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      There’s a common belief that people approach or interpret what a woman says differently than they do what a man says.

      I think this is absolutely a legitimate concern. IIRC there’s a whole raft of studies using things like resume submission etc. that show simply the perception of a name as male, female, minority, etc. colors the way people view the content. Our sexism and racism might be inadvertent, unintentional, and subconscious, but most of us have some nevertheless. Thus pseudonymity can be a benefit of internet discussion the exact same way it has been for women authors in the past – many of whom could have expected to not be published, if they published as a woman.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      I think this makes good sense. I can attest that it has been convenient for me to have been able to identify you over many years and many websites.

      Coincidentally, just last night, or very early this morning depending on your point of view, I was looking through an old file of interesting quotes I’ve saved looking for a particular one and I came across a couple by you that I had copied from comments you’d made, both from the early days of Pharyngula.

      • Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        Yeah, those early days at Pharyngula. I remember those.

        • darrelle
          Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          Hahahhha. “Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end . . . tada da da da da da da da . . . ” Well, I didn’t. But I didn’t expect the crashing & burning to happen so quickly or to be so spectacular. There were some interesting people there. Sastra of course. Blake Stacey, Torbjorn Larsson (I’m sure I massacred that), Brownian off the top of my head.

          In that old list of quotes I also came across one from PZ himself. It was a good comment. As they say, if there is one constant it is that things change.

        • Scote
          Posted April 21, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

          “Yeah, those early days at Pharyngula. I remember those.”

          Oh, back in the day, when PZ was my first read of the day. Now it is PCC instead. Much nicer place.

          I’m rather glad that my posts there are under a pseudonym – the hoard (and PZ) got kind of nasty.

          • Scote
            Posted April 21, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            I should add, I don’t think PZ posting under his real name has made him any nicer…

    • Richard Bond
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Sastra: I found out your real name years ago; I have forgotten how. The minimal effort that it took was inspired by respect for the content of your posts. Knowing something about a commenter helps to see his or her comments in context. Given that you are so readily identifiable, “Sastra” is hardly anonymous. Of course The “a” ending always suggested a woman, perhaps erroneously, but then I studied Latin at school.

    • Molly Harden
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      I love the name Sastra. I think of my favorite characters on “Orphan Black” whenever I see it.

      She calls the main character “sister”, and in her Russian, it sounds like “Sastra” to me! 🙂

  14. philfinn7
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    This is the handle I adopted when I signed up with WordPress some time ago, and one I use elsewhere when a short name will suffice. No desire to be anonymous, just haven’t gotten around to changing it.

    Phil Finnimore

  15. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    My reasons are in what you said – plus :

    I like to think, anyway, that I write as if anyone could know my real name, in case I’d have to all of a sudden explain. I also don’t wish to ruin my chances at a good job or some such. I also, at bottom, assume people can write software to figure out who is who by now.

    I used another email once or twice here – a while before PCC(E) implemented a ban for it – and not frequently – but if PCC(E) needs to know, he can. I offer that comment as a truce, and a pledge not to do it again.

  16. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    I post like this for the same reasons Jerry outlines. It forces me to own my arguments and engage in arguments honestly. It also forces me to take things seriously and remain relatively measured as I really don’t want a load of horrible, mindless, lazy posts written under my name to be enshrined in internet history for ever more. A pseudonym makes snark and point-scoring so much easier and tempting and so I try and avoid it.

    I have to admit though, I’m beginning to question whether it was a particularly good idea. The internet is not a particularly friendly, safe place.

  17. beanfeast
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I started using beanfeast 29 years ago when playing dial-up multi-user games. The games are long gone but the handle persists.

  18. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I have an uncommon surname so Googling will disconcertingly easily bring up anything I’ve said. And I don’t have the deniability that someone named e.g. Smith does.

    My wife is strongly religious and many of her very large family are too. All the kids are internet savvy and news spreads like wildfire. So if one of the nephews for some reason decided to Google me and came on some of my comments on religion it would instantly cause my wife hideous embarrassment.

    I could call myself ‘Chris R’ but I’m actually better known among my (non-Internet) friends as ‘CR’ anyway. But ‘CR’ is pretty Google-proof (835,000,000 results…)

    cr

  19. Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Like an avatar, a pseudonym can provide individuality. There are many Neil Bruces out there, but only one darwinwins (I think.) For most of us, without a big internet presence like PCC, googling our names yields dozens of people with the same name. So using your real name does not provide identity anyway, unless it is supplemented with more information like your address, which most of us are not willing to do. So I don’t think requiring a John Henry will appreciably reduce nastiness. Anyone can make up a proper name. Just keep banning the nasties, like you do, for not following da roolz.

    • Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Hmmm. I just googled darwinwins. I guess that is hardly unique either.

  20. Taz
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I prefer to keep my internet footprint small. I have neither a Facebook nor a Twitter account. I don’t believe my comments here are much different than what I’d say in “real life” (depending, of course, on whom I’m talking to).

  21. Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    My real name (Barbara Wilson) is so common that it’s almost anonymous, so it would be safe to use, I suppose. However, being female on the internet does have risks I prefer to avoid if simply using a different name helps. Also, Sedgequeen doesn’t feel anonymous to me; I occasionally receive mail addressed to this name from my tiny circle of friends. I think I’ll keep it here.

    (It’s not hard to figure out which Barbara Wilson Sedgequeen is if you know the name of the largest sedge genus. You don’t have to scroll through too many sex therapists, doctors, nurses, authors, university administrators, professors, clothing designers, musicians, and real estate agents before finding me.)

    On the only other blog I comment on regularly, my name is usually bwilson (from my e-mail address) but sometimes switches to Sedgequeen at the whim of the computer. Because it’s usually the gender-neutral bwilson, I am generally interpreted as male there. That feels odd.

    • Draken
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      You don’t have to scroll through too many sex therapists, doctors, nurses, authors, university administrators, professors, clothing designers, musicians, and real estate agents before finding me

      Unless you google ‘sedgequeen’ and Google, in its usual clumsy attempt to be helpful, sugggests “Did you mean sex queen?”

      And sometimes, it then automatically includes those other results.

      🙂

      • Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        That won’t get you to me, but it would probably get you somewhere more interesting!

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

          In that general context, I misread your name as ‘Barbara Windsor’ 🙂

          cr

  22. Starr
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    While I don’t post much here, I am pretty sure I always do under my real name. However, I don’t think it is appropriate in all cases. I would never post under my real name on a site like reddit for instance. The audience for any particular post is just too large for me to take the chance on some psycho who disagrees with me doing something about it offline.

    This is a particular problem for me since I have a pretty uncommon name, and it wouldn’t be difficult for someone looking at my posting history to put together information such as what area of the country I went to college, which major urban area I live in, my approximate age, etc… to determine exactly which Starr I am.

  23. Sameer
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Many parts of the world are not as conducive to free speech as the USA. In my home country, India, criticizing politicians on social media can get you in trouble because of arcane laws restricting freedom of speech. Sometimes (e.g. the recent incident in Pakistan) the consequences can be lethal even. So I can see why one would want to use a pseudonym in such places. Being able to post using a name/avatar that clearly identifies you and still have a low likelihood of negative consequences from it is a privilege that only few people have. I would prefer a world where all people could afford to do it.

    • Draken
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Even in free-speech England, you run the risk of being prosecuted under its odious libel laws for things that are hardly libel- if the prosecutor has enough dosh they can effectively silence you. Case in question, British Chiropractic Association v Singh. Singh was lucky to be able to gather a lot of support.

      • Richard Bond
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        But at least Singh won. Free speech upheld.

  24. peepuk
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I’m paranoid.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 22, 2017 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

      That’s ok; the rest of us are plotting against you.

  25. HaggisForBrains
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    AKA HaggisForBrains.

    sub

  26. mikeyc
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    My real name is Mike and my last name begins with “C”. I use this pseudonym (the “Y” is a tribute to my dear grandma, the only person I didn’t resent calling me “Mikey”) for several reasons but there is one primary one.

    I rarely post here or anywhere but long ago in the late 90s I frequented some olde time Usenet boards with my real name. I was doing work on the molecular evolution of HIV and in one board ran afoul of an HIV-AIDS denier. I only made a few comments but the guy didn’t like them. He used my real name to stalk me and even contacted my employer. So once bitten, twice shy, I don’t use a searchable version of my name.

  27. HaggisForBrains
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Well, that didn’t work! I’ll have to reset my WordPress account somehow.

    Colin McLachlan

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      Trying again!

      • Colin McLachlan
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        OK I’ve changed my profile name, hopefully this will work.

        Colin McLachlan AKA HaggisForBrains

      • Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        Don’t do that. The pseudonym HaggisForBrains always gives me a smile.

        • Colin McLachlan
          Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:34 am | Permalink

          Thank you. I rather like it too! But I have no good reason, unlike some others, to hide my real name. A while ago I tried to sign my real name on each comment, but kept forgetting (it’s an age thing). Perhaps I should revert to Haggis, and try signing again.

        • darrelle
          Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:12 am | Permalink

          Agreed!

        • Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

          Yes. Me too.

  28. Michael Sternberg
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I think a preference for but not insistence on real names is a suitable middle ground for reasons of discourse and responsibility.

    But there is tension when pseudonyms are the exception and could thus lead to stigma. Compare with the fifth amendment, where there is temptation to take silence for admission of guilt, thus requiring explict reminders not to.

    For a deep discussion of the matter, from a context of Google+ attempting to enforce a real-name policy a few years ago, see:
    https://www.jwz.org/blog/2011/08/nym-wars/ . The EFF had strong arguments in favor of pseudonyms, also mostly on grounds of safety and privacy.

    • FiveGreenLeafs
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      “The EFF had strong arguments in favor of pseudonyms, also mostly on grounds of safety and privacy.”

      Yes.

      Just to add in the link to EFF homepage, The Electronic Frontier Foundation

  29. jay
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    This is an area where I have strong feelings, and I do disagree with you.I have NO problem with you knowing my identity, but I never post anywhere that requires ‘real name’ (such as Facebook). It’s far to easy for strangers to find more information about you than is comfortable with a simple Google search (especially if your name is unusual).

    At one level it reduces security and privacy. With enough searching, people can piece together where you live, work, kids go to school etc. If you’re looking for a job or an apartment, you may be turned down because of some (possibly misunderstood) statement you made long ago… but you’ll never know. And if you’re ever involved in a lawsuit, you can guarantee that the opposing lawyers will have a field day if they find enough statements to color the testimony.

    Back in the 90s, I promiscuously posted on all sorts of things with my real name, but began to realize that this stuff stays around a long time. My brother once jokingly said ‘you know you’re not electable’ and I began to realize he was right. I am out as an atheist, and as a libertarian among those who know me., But I post on many different websites dealing with different interests from professional IT, political, as well as dogs, vintage cars and Jeeps. I use different (or very ambiguous) screen names so no one can create a picture of me from a Google search.

    • jay
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      I might comment, that with Google searches someone still might find published correspondence with a very controversial non politician in the last election… discussions that are over 20 years old.

  30. serendipitydawg
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I use an alias to avoid my internet “stalker”… this person used to follow my real identity around a number of boards and basically irritated the life out of me. It didn’t matter what I was saying, to whom, or in whatever capacity (I used to give technical advice on a couple of boards) said person would roll up. It was like having a small child perpetually interrupting so I quit my real identity and email address.

  31. Pliny the in Between
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    My friends, family, investors and co-workers all know I’m an atheist curmudgeon. They accept or ignore that. What they wouldn’t accept is that I’m a cartoonist.

    • serendipitydawg
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      🙂

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Reminds me of what Molly Ivins said about gay folk in west Texas: “None of them will come out of the closet for fear they’ll be mistaken for Democrats.”

  32. Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    I had a stalker for over a decade, a dangerous one.

    He died by *suicide by cop* he pretended he had a gun and was shot dead after a long standoff with police.

    Once you live in fear like that, the grinding away of your sanity type of fear, you never can be normal again, you always think safety first above all else, lest it ever happen again.

    What you see here is as close to my real name as I will put out on the internet, although my email address is my real name and I have emailed you directly with that address so you do have my real name but not out in public.

    It’s not being an atheist, it’s just being terrified of living in terror again. I am still very conscious of how I live my life because of what I have been through.

    • Posted April 21, 2017 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      Though I generally try not to express relief about people’s death, I am glad that you are safe now.

  33. Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    The only reason I don’t use my real name is that I happen to have a wordpress account with a name I picked for a ‘webpage’ that I would update periodically, but don’t.

    So when I post a comment and enter my email address, it recognizes the associated WordPress account, and wants me to login. And then instead of displaying my real name, it displays my WordPress account name.

    I’ve considered switching to a different email address, but then what little history I have here would be disjointed.

    (My real name, btw, is Rich Wilson)

    • Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      I guess it wasn’t that hard to change. So the excuse is “laziness”. I might also point out that ‘squeakysoapbox’ is a much more unique identifier than ‘Rich Wilson’.

  34. FiveGreenLeafs
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I think the use of anonymous but unique pseudonyms are very valuable and today even essential for several reasons.

    One reason is the privacy protection that it serves. This is to my mind a very complex multi layered issue, both in regard to the many different judicial systems and actors that exists around the world, the surveillance that are being performed, but also fundamental to social aspects and human nature.

    But it is, in my experience often handled in a very superficial way.

    For a more in depth discussion, I would (among others) recommend Daniel Soloves books on this issue.

    Understanding Privacy, (2009)
    Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff between Privacy and Security, (2013)

    As well as Bruce Schneier;

    Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World, (2016)

    And Julia Angwin;

    Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance, (2015)

    The issue and consequences extends much further beyond using your real name on the comment section on a website.

    I think that in 10 or 20 years, it might very well be basically forbidden, in theory, if not practice, to use your own real name on the Internet.

    Bruce Schneier compares our penchant to spread personally identifiable information about us on the internet, like the pollution that the workshops of the industrial revolution generated and dispersed into the air and into the rivers.

    The true consequences of spreading this around was not noticeable at first, and the true destructiveness took time to manifest itself.

    And, anonymous speech has a long, important and venerable history. Ben Franklin used more than forty pen names during his life, and authors like Mark Twain and George Eliot were all pseudonymous authors…

    • serendipitydawg
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I think the use of anonymous but unique pseudonyms are very valuable and today even essential for several reasons.
      Mine is no longer unique! I took the name of an impromptu work of artistic creation so I would be fascinated to know where the other serendipitydawg originated.

      • FiveGreenLeafs
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        So long you are ‘unique’ to the site and community you interact with and comment on, that is what I think is important 🙂

        But it is a small world sometimes, with a lot of strange occurrences…

  35. Thanny
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    First, you’re just wrong about anonymity being the driving force behind online nastiness.

    It’s distance. Not being face to face with someone removes almost all the inhibitions that produce civil behavior. Every nasty thing you’ve seen said under a pseudonym can be found said by someone else using his or her real name. This was true in the BBS world, before the internet became prominent, and it’s no less true now.

    Second, your list of reasons is far from exhaustive, and it seems you don’t fully appreciate what “taking responsibility” actually entails.

    People go after your job these days at the drop of a hat. Employers (current and prospective) search your name, to see what you’ve done or said in the past. People have been fired or suspended for things they have said outside of work while not representing their employers by any stretch of the imagination.

    And this is for simply expressing unpopular opinions, telling harmless jokes, or having the wrong sense of humor – not for being in any way nasty, or even mildly uncivil.

    The fact is, when you post something on the internet, you’re casting a very wide net. You can easily catch the attention of loathsome people who will mess with your life in any way they can, simply because they don’t like what you said. And for some of us, it’s not just our own lives that would be affected. Someone running a business, for example, has no moral right to accept the risks of non-anonymity on behalf of his or her employees.

    In nations without proper free speech protections (which seems more and more to encompass everywhere outside the US these days), some unpopular opinions can get you prosecuted and jailed. And I’m talking about places like Canada, the UK, Australia, and Germany. From being prosecuted for disagreeing with feminists on Twitter in Canada, to being prosecuted for comedically insulting the leader of Turkey in Germany, I find ample reasons to remain anonymous in nations like these, that don’t value free speech enough to protect it sufficiently.

    The upshot is, in this day and age, I think adopting anonymity should be the default sane position. The decision to use one’s real name should be very carefully considered, taking into account all the possible consequences for both oneself and those within the range of collateral damage.

    • Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      I too wonder about the competing hypotheses. Back in the BBS days, a BBS with a good sysop and decent users did wonders to contain unruly behavior and nastiness, even with nicknames or aliases. I wonder if that was because the people involved were more self-selected, whereas today billions of people have internet presence.

      • FiveGreenLeafs
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        Self selection is probably one part of the answer, but I think it (was) is a combination of several things, that often reinforce each other.

        Most people conform very easily and rapidly to local practices, if the tone and behavior is respectful, socially aware people will (often) automatically adapt their own behavior in response.

        But you also need swift and effective moderation that is perceived as fair and just for asocial aggressive individuals and those who just want to provoke for the fun of it.

        These loops also (I think) reinforce each other, both in a positive and negative direction.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      Entirely agree with Thanny’s first (couple of) paragraphs.

      There’s a combination of informality (due to the instant response of typing into a box), and apparent intimacy which is deceptive. You can’t see people’s expressions or hear their tone of voice and *very* frequently the impression you get reading something is much more provocative than the person intended.

      Add to that some degree of pseudonymity* and separation (you’re not physically in their presence) which decreases the inhibition and it’s easy to see how a chance remark can be taken the wrong way and a flame war develop.

      *even if they’ve used their real names, you still have no idea who they are, so in this context it makes no difference whatever whether they call themselves ‘Harry McSweeney’ or ‘dogbox’ (names made up, apologies to anyone who (inevitably) goes by those names)

      cr

    • Richard
      Posted April 22, 2017 at 5:01 am | Permalink

      “It’s distance. Not being face to face with someone removes almost all the inhibitions that produce civil behavior.”

      My mother was like that: she would use the telephone as a weapon, to call people and say nasty things to them that she would not have dared to say to their faces.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 22, 2017 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

        My mom was good-natured, gregarious, and funny-as-fuck — everything that I’m not. 🙂

        But sometimes, when she got a few drinks in her, the worm would turn and what had been a sarcastic, cutting sense of humor would descend into outright nastiness.

        I swear it got to where I could tell from the sound of the phone ringing when it was her in a mood.

        • Posted April 23, 2017 at 12:11 am | Permalink

          Ouch! I believe it, though. I like angry rants of Lewis Black, the biting wit of George Carlin, and your snarky posts, too. Your mom must have been hilarious, when she was on a roll.

  36. Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I use this name because yes, I do answer to it. I’ve been thinking of possibly getting a legal name change and incorporating this name into the new one, because as far as I’m concerned, this is my identity.

  37. Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I’m not afraid of outing as an atheist as I live in the UK but public criticism of any government policy whatsoever would get me sacked.

  38. Another Tom
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I go with Another Tom because I find it more amusing and it is shorter than my full name.

  39. Les Faby
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I used to use a username on the web because, among the multitudes,there is an occasional religious nut.
    I am not as concerned now.
    As atheists are out, their friends, family, and respected colleagues will have a real person to map to that label, not just a demonized portrait drawn from ignorance and religious bigotry.

  40. Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I have a pretty unique name (so much so that I would be surprised if there’s another person in North America who shares both the first and last name with me), I write a political satire blog (listofx.com – which WordPress automatically displays as the commenter name), and as many other commenters, I prefer to keep my blog out of the searches by any current and potential employees who might not enjoy my jokes.

    • Posted April 21, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      I’m being a bit of a language Nazi here, but I can’t stop myself from pointing out that your name is either unique or it is not. “Pretty unique” is a meaningless construction. There are no degrees of uniqueness; it is all or nothing.

      • Posted April 21, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        What I’m being worried about is that if an employer or someone googles my name, it leads to me and to no one else, and this seems to be the case in Google search results.
        Of course, to prove uniqueness conclusively (at least on this continent), I would have to find out the names of every one of over half-billion people in North America and compare them to mine. I’m obviously not going to do that, so there is technically a possibility that there is another person on the continent with my name who does a much better job than me in protecting his online privacy.
        So would you call it unique or not? It’s like a Shroedinger’s box of uniqueness, or 6-sigma uniqueness, or quantum uniqueness, but definitely not all or nothing. 🙂
        Which is why I think “pretty” was pretty appropriate.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        I’m afraid Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage and Steven Pinker (in The Sense of Style) disagree with you.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        “Dead” is a so-called “incomparable,” too. Doesn’t seem to stop folks from having near-death experiences.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

          Thought experiment:

          Suppose every snowflake in unique. This is a commonly held belief and it may even be true. Call this set S.

          Now suppose every snowflake in the entire universe, except one, melts or otherwise dissipates. This will inevitably happen in the heat death of the universe. We’re left with one snowflake, which we’ll call s’.

          Is s’ unique in the same way and to the same degree as a member of S? I don’t think so: s’ is more unique than any member of S, even one shaped like the face of Jesus.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted April 21, 2017 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

            s’ might be the uniquest thing ever, comparatively speaking.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

            That would be a very special snowflake, then? 😉

            cr

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        Ooh a hair to split 🙂

        I think you’re technically right but practically wrong. Would ‘almost unique’ sound better to you? 😉

        I think it’s fairly inevitable* that, contemplating any real-world phenomenon, some parameters of it will be unique and others won’t. The more parameters are unique, the more ‘unique’ the phenomenon is.

        For example my car is unique, though everyone would disagree. It’s a BMW 318is exactly like every other one – except that, quite aside from little marks and scratches, the serial number is unique.
        (In sufficiently minute detail, almost every object is unique).
        But really, though it’s technically unique, it’s pretty common and not unique (in commonsense terms) at all.

        cr
        * just did it again

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

          The aversion to adverbial qualifiers of “unique” is an example of a shibboleth: It separates one group from another: Those who know (falsely) the one true unique meaning of “unique”, and those who don’t.

          Having said that, if I were writing a resume or a grant application I wouldn’t qualify “unique”.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

            I agree with both points.

            I don’t think I’d write ‘fairly inevitable’ either, for almost exactly the same reasons.

            cr

            • Saul Sorrell-Till
              Posted April 22, 2017 at 8:41 am | Permalink

              That’s a pretty much perfect argument.

              • Posted April 28, 2017 at 9:52 am | Permalink

                I literally died reading all the responses to my original language Nazi comment. It begs the question: “Is this the exception that proves the rule?”

  41. Hempenstein
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    It’s for historical reasons / old times sake. Actually, I think PCC[E] gave me the nickname many yrs ago, and I kinda like it.

    John Hempel

    • Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Hempenstein is cool. It’s always given me a smile: Very whimsical.

  42. Steve Gerrard
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I use my real name, but benefit because I am not “the real” Steve Gerrard, the famous soccer/football player for Liverpool. I appreciate the cover he provides.

    I do notice a slight bias in myself when I read comments, that of paying less attention to anonymous comments. I don’t know if people using names are using their real names, but something about “handles” makes me take them less seriously.

    • mikeyc
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      You know, when I spotted your name I was thinking (admittedly hopefully); “No…way…it couldn’t be…could it?”

      Go Reds

    • Mark Reaume
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      I am also not “the real” Mark Reaume, a famous(ish) hockey player from the 50s and 60s. Although he was a “Marc” not a “Mark”.

      I choose to use my real name for similar reasons as our host. It makes me think twice about what I say.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      So, really, you’re receiving all the anonymity benefits of a pseudonym (in that people can’t Google you) with none of the occasional disapprobation received by obviously pseudonymous persons?

      I used to know a George Smith. Instant deniability. Lucky sod.

      cr (838,000,000 results)
      [real name] – 9 of the first 10 results are me 😦

  43. Art
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    My name is Arthur. Most people call me Art. That’s all anyone has to know.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 22, 2017 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

      So “Art for Art’s sake”?

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted April 23, 2017 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        🙂

  44. Stephen Barnard
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    After reading through the comments I’ve come to realize that being retired means I don’t have to worry about what my employer (or anyone else) thinks of what I post on the Internet.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      You certainly got that right. I didn’t want to say the same because some workers out there might get a bit upset.

    • Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps thanks to my having a university job, I’ve always been able to say what I want here, even before retirement, as this website doesn’t represent the views of my University or host it, and I also have the grace of academic freedom without fear of reprisal.

  45. Randy Bessinger
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I agree and have to take responsibility for both the smart AND the dumb things I say. That said, I too am retired and that helps not having an employer.

  46. David Coxill
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Ok i will confess ,my real name is Clockwork Fancy frog Waffle .
    No one would give a flying fortress if they found out i was a Left wing Atheist .
    To be honest i regret ever hearing about Dr Jerry Coyne ,because of him posting photos and videos of Cats i rediscovered my love of Cats ,so i got one in Feb 16 .
    By Sept 16 i had gotten 3 more .
    Yesterday came home to find one cat with a live mouse ,bloody thing bit me when i was trying to get it off him ,went in to the kitchen ,blood and feathers all over the place ,looked like a scene from CSI .
    Spent a couple of hours in my shed model making ,went inside to find more blood and feathers ,then the 2 black cats who are from the same litter were sniffing round the small bookcase in my hall way ,found another live mouse .
    Don’t know if it was the one that bit me .
    I will admit not everyday is like that .
    PS ,just joking about regretting hearing about you Dr ,your web page is one of my favorite.

  47. Scote
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I post under a pseudonym because I don’t publish my atheism or politics where future employers and clients can find them. I can’t afford to be political or religious on line under my real name.

    Requiring real names here would limit my ability to fully participate in the discussions.

    However, I would argue that our pseudonyms have reputations. It isn’t necessary to know my real name to judge the quality of my posts. You can just judge my posts.

    I’d say the rule should be “One Name” – no sock puppets or multiple account postings.

    If you force “real names” you may just get more real sounding fake names, and you’ll never know it. I post under an obvious and consistent pseudonym. I think that is better than setting a policy that may encourage some to lie with real-sounding fake names and send other people away entirely.

  48. d3zd3z
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    There is a certain unfairness based on the popularity of a name. Even Google searches for my full name generally result in people more famous, but there are several dozen people with my name just in my city alone.

    Whereas someone with a much less common name is more likely to be found by someone doing an internet search.

    • d3zd3z
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      And lo and behold, WordPress even took my attempt to put my real name and replaced it with an avatar and nickname, that it turns out is much more readily associated with me. The real name is David Brown, BTW, and I do look a lot like that little pictures, since I paid someone to make the cartoon version of me.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        Ah, the tractor manufacturer who revived Aston Martins. Honoured to make your acquaintance, sir. 😉

        cr

  49. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I make an effort to judge everyone’s comments on their content, rather than their identity. There are some assertions, nonetheless, that I find myself discounting slightly because the person making them is unwilling to put a name to it and claim it.

    I understand, of course, that some people — by dint of their employment, or family circumstances, or other worthy consideration — have a need to maintain anonymity, and I respect their decision to do so.

    As for me, foul language, bent humor, loose talk, and godless, left-wing ideology have long come as first nature; my family and friends know it, and I’ve never put much effort into keeping it from anyone else.

    Hell, it may be that an internet search turning up some of my more outré comments has cost me clients or led to gossip-mongering. But the fact of the matter is I don’t know and I don’t care — ah, there they are again, Ignorance and Apathy, the hallmarks of my dissolute lifestyle. 🙂

  50. Heather Hastie
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    My injury meant I had given up work before I became active on-line, so I never considered using any other name except my own. I’ve always taken responsibility for my actions etc and also refused to be bullied or cowed so it just seemed a natural extension of that.

    However, I’m pretty sure I missed out on a part-time job last year when I was checked out on-line because of my views. In general, just being outspoken and in particular, being a vocal atheist. I think there was an assumption I would be difficult to get on with in the workplace because of it. In reality, I get on with just about everyone. A check of my referees would have confirmed that, but people are lazy about checking things. It’s easier to make assumptions.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately a Human Resources group can check for internet traces at the click of a few buttons. Why go through the extra effort of checking references when there are other candidates?

      I don’t believe this is particularly desirable – but the firm I used to work for was using electronic sifting of job applications and promotion applications 10 years ago.

  51. Molly Harden
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Several years ago Facebook wanted to implement a “real names” policy.

    Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

    He was widely criticized.

    There are so many reasons not to use one’s real name. Having what you say being used against you by current or future employers is a huge reason. Not everyone has the freedom of wealth or tenure to allow them to speak freely.

    Mark Zuckerberg later bought up lots of property surrounding his house to give him more privacy. He did it not using his own name. Because “integrity?”

  52. LB
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    My employer asked me to keep personal artwork that I have posted online password protected or not to use my real name. The city I live in is in the south and is very conservative. She’s worried-with cause–that our clients will Google my name and find something controversial. :-/

  53. sensorrhea
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m not ready to be googlable via my real name for friends, relatives, or possible employers who might take offense at the kind of things I say about religion.

    FWIW you can find a lot of ugly commentary, especially on Facebook, these days made by people who are not anonymous.

    • sensorrhea
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      And, as someone pointed out above, my real name is pretty unique. Internet anonymity is pretty much automatically available under common real names like Jim Smith.

    • sensorrhea
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Just noticed the “letter to the editor” comment in the original post. I have letters to the editor published all the time under my real name, but I am also highly constrained in that medium. I don’t write everything I’d like to write or with the satirical vehemence I often would like to employ in order not to offend potential clients for myself or my wife.

  54. chris
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m a big fan of pseudonyms. First, because I’m paranoid and second, because I don’t think the validity of an argument should hinge on the identity of who makes it.

  55. Jeff Chamberlain
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I post only occasionally on this and other sites (with one exception at which I’m pretty prolific). I have used my real name. However, I’ve been persuaded by the various reasons identified in these comments (and similar reasons expressed elsewhere) for using a pseudonym. I suspect that in the future I will adopt a pseudonym (probably not here as that cat’s already out of the bag).

    I do think that site hosts almost certainly have valid reasons to know the real identities of posters, but that seems different from the subject here.

  56. Posted April 21, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I have extracurricular activities and proclivities that are not accepted by society and are considered deviant. I find it helpful to have a place I can be myself without worrying as much about outing myself. If I didn’t use a pseudonym I would be putting myself at risk of exposure that could result in job loss or worse. I do however use the same pseudonym across social media sites. Even on Facebook I don’t have my real full name posted because creepy men have found me and harassed me there.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 22, 2017 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      So long as it’s limited to consenting adults, and doesn’t result in permanent injury, whatever two or more people want to do with and to each other is nobody else’s goddamn business. Fuck the squares and puritans; let your freak flag fly, gracie.

      • Posted April 23, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        Yes! Thank You! That was perfectly stated. I wish everyone thought that way.

  57. Posted April 21, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I prefer to remain anonymous because I can’t have a blog if I want to keep my day job.

  58. Posted April 21, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Pseudonyms are traditional and I’m ok with that. Anonymity is something I value and I don’t need to explain it further. If I’m an unwelcome presence, I’d be banned with a real name or not.

    Content is what I look for, not names.

    Mike

  59. Bîp
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m an infrequent but anonymous poster here (though a loyal reader through feedly), and so I’ll offer a comment.

    Professor Coyne seems to assume a situation in which Real Names are default and anonymity requires a special reason. I disagree.

    I think it is important to realize that not wanting to share your personal library with the world need not entail any specific reason for anonymity. Much like not wanting to be filmed in public areas or feeling unease at having your photo shared online does not mean that you have something to hide. I think that saying “it’s none of your business” is, to my mind, a perfectly cromulent reason in its own right.

  60. Stephen Barnard
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    It’s an incontestable, observed fact (to me, at least) that anonymity in comments, blogs, websites, groups, etc. breeds bad behavior — trolling, insults, flame wars, and even criminal behavior. I see it all over the place. (Avoid youtube comments if you wish to keep any faith in the essential goodness of humanity.) People who would never behave in such a way under their true identity go mad with an alias. Even common email spam is an anonymity exploit.

    WEIT has it under control because of the iron talons of PCC(e), ruthlessly enforcing a code of civil conduct (Da Roolz). But what if WEIT had a million subscribers, or a hundred million? Jerry’s life would be overwhelmed with enforcement.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 22, 2017 at 1:06 am | Permalink

      Yeah. Non-anonymity is no guarantor of civil discourse, but I know from personal experience it does have a tempering effect.

      I don’t do flame wars, and I try to keep a civil tongue in my head while nosing about the comment box, at least toward my fellow commentors, if not toward the topic of discussion. But I do indulge a taste for snark on occasion. And on occasion I’ve gotten a bit warm under the collar.

      Knowing a comment is going out under my own name has made me hesitate before hitting the send button on things that come off as really prickish. (Sometime I send ’em anyway, but it does make me hesitate. 🙂 )

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted April 22, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        That’s how I feel too. I have posted pseudonymously(not here), on things that aren’t that ‘important’, stuff like music, games, films and football, and I’ve done it on YouTube, and it’s slightly disturbing to realise, half-an-hour into a back-and-forth with someone I don’t know and who doesn’t know me, that any pretense of civilised discourse disappeared after the second post and all I’ve been doing is point-scoring and inventing entertainingly toothsome insults for my opponent. Then I feel a wash of shame and think ‘what am I doing here?’.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 22, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

          Much of the content on Youtube is excellent, but the comments are infested with trolls and ‘my [favourite thing] is better than [the thing in this video]’ point-scorers.
          (NOT suggesting you’re one!). But it’s easy to get dragged into a shitfight when someone has just derided your comment in personal terms.

          Amidst it all are valid points and informative comments but they tend to get swamped in the trivia, sadly.

          cr

    • Scote
      Posted April 22, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      “WEIT has it under control because of the iron talons of PCC(e), ruthlessly enforcing a code of civil conduct (Da Roolz).”

      Except that really is it, isn’t it? It is modding and creating a culture where polite discourse is encouraged and required that makes the difference.

      When Google implemented its since rescinded real names policy YouTube comments did not magically become thoughtful and erudite. Lack of modding is the issue, not “real names”.

  61. Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    I don’t post here often, or even as often as I used to. If at some point the rule becomes a condition for posting, I’ll have to regretfully pass on commenting. I don’t ever use my name on the internet, I don’t use it for banking or paying bills, because the “protections” are a fig leaf easily bypassed by the determined and unscrupulous. I also don’t own a cell phone, which puts me firmly in the tinfoil hat brigade with some folks, but when I travel I don’t have to worry about providing my password to the most recent iteration of law enforcement. I have my reasons for maintaining my privacy, and I hope you can respect that.

  62. Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in an era of wars starting with WWII.
    I learned to be afraid and very discreet about where I went, who I associated with, whether to reveal my identity, and keeping my thoughts
    private. Fear of nuclear war, assassinations, militant groups kidnapping people and robbing banks, students being shot on campus, HUAC, political reprisals, etc. Plus, I married young and had a small family to protect. And, there have always been restrictions on individuals who needed employment.

    Now, I’m retired and old and my kids are grown. I assume I may say what I want using my own name without fear. What’s the worst that can be done to me? I’ve lived a full life.

    In re use of “real” vs. pseudonymous names, I think it should be up to the individual as to what they want to be called. We’ve all been given names we didn’t choose. We’ve all had nicknames inflicted on us. We may have chosen a preferred name or two other than our “real” names to be identified with. I think we should have choice about “the” name or names we prefer to use, just as we do gender identity, religion or politics, etc.

  63. Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    I had my real name in the name field but i bought a new phone, made a post from it and between the new phangled phone and chrome, they,them,whatever changed my name without my knowledge, although i know where they, them, it got it from.
    I just could not be arsed changing it back after i realised this had happened. If someone really needs to know I’ll tell you or not, depends if your angry or wanna send me money.. can’t see that happening so no problem.

  64. barn owl
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    The administration at my university worries me more than the students – when the president and various deans repeatedly say things like “God bless you” and “You’re doing the Lord’s work,” and put bible verses in their e-mails, the Christian status quo is pretty clear. I think many of my students know that I’m godless, and don’t seem to care. Certainly they know I’m a left wing treehugger.

    Several years ago, several of my students found my (defunct) science/environment blog, which was under my real name, and told me they enjoyed some of the humorous neuroscience posts (e.g. about Vladimir Putamen – bad puns ‘r’ us!). At first I was a bit disturbed, but then I realized that this is just one of the ways they enjoy interacting online. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter.

  65. Kiwi Dave
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Sixteen years after I began posting on the Internet, I no longer recall with any certainty why I chose anonymity.

    FWIW, I am David Lenny, but I like my Internet name and changing the various accounts which record me as Kiwi Dave would be too tedious – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  66. Posted April 21, 2017 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    My WordPress username is a transparent rendition of my real name, Maya Markova.

    When I was creating a profile somewhere, there was already another Maya Markova there, so I omitted the last word of my family name.

    I respect other people’s decision to keep their real names to themselves. Recently, a student claimed that I had given him a non-passing grade because he was a Muslim. Such things could put one in real trouble. If that student had devoted to biology the time he spent digging information about me online, he would most likely pass.

    I am glad that most my relations have another family name, so I can post under my name without closely entangling them. This is a layer of protection against mean people who insult opponents’ families. Once I made the mistake to write here that a family member has difficulties understanding evolution. Someone then implied that my family member was dumb. I swore never again to mention specifically a family member here, and I never engaged that commenter again; to me, he does not exist anymore.

  67. ploubere
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I use my real name and stand behind my comments, even the dumb and wrong-headed ones. Or at least take responsibility for them.
    I sympathize with those who fear job loss, but as long as rational progressives and atheists allow themselves to be discriminated against, it will never stop. The gay movement found the courage to stand up and look at the progress they have made.

    • nicky
      Posted April 22, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Is that your real name? For some inexplicable reason I found ‘ploubere’ a fascinating, enigmatic, mind-occupying (like a tune one can’t get out of one’s head) ‘pseudonym’.
      I wonder if it will become less viral in my mind now that I know it is not a pseudo. BTW, on which syllable is the stress? On the first ‘e’?

  68. rom
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    rom is an abbreviation of my middle name Romans … My first name is Juris … but that gets mangled by most.

    But if anyone wants to know more they can join agnosticsinternational.org click on my username and home website … there’s more info than anyone needs about me.

  69. Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    For the record, the main reason I decided to use this pseudonym (which I’ve used without exception since 2006) was because I was working in the field of social work. I wanted that clients could share openly about all matters, including their religion, without later googling me and finding me saying that their religion is a bunch of hysterical gibberish.

    On the “about” page on my blog (linked) I state that I have no financial interests in any of the matters that I write about, and state that my legal name is available by email on request.

    If I had any professional interest in the matters I tend to comment on, I would use my legal name.

  70. Dan
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Dan is my first name. I see no reason to use my last name.

    • Posted April 22, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      How about this for a reason: to distinguish yourself from other ‘Dan’-s. 😉

  71. kelskye
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t have a problem with my views being attributed to me, though I do have some reservations about posting online. Namely if it hurts my employment prospects. You never really know just what people will take offence to (and if you hold any views worth holding, they should offend some), and how that could affect your chances for future employment. I also have to be careful because since I work around the public service, I have to be seen as impartial – even as a private citizen posting their private views.

    So there is always some power in anonymity or pseudonymity, because they allow for expression without many of the negative consequences that can come from expression.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      “So there is always some power in anonymity or pseudonymity, because they allow for expression without many of the negative consequences that can come from expression.”

      The problem with anonymity is that in many cases the negative consequences are well deserved, because the expression is disgraceful.

      • kelskye
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that’s the trade-off.

  72. Gabrielle
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    If my boss were to find out that I visit atheist websites and occasionally post on them, she wouldn’t take to it kindly. She already has expressed disdain that I’m simply divorced. She and several other coworkers of mine are socially conservative, and frankly I prefer they not know what I do in my spare time on the internet.

    Also, I have a government security clearance and occasionally have to go through the background check process. I’m sure nowadays the investigators google people by name to see what comes up, and since I have a somewhat uncommon name, it wouldn’t be hard to locate things about me online.

    I don’t post under my real name anywhere on the internet, even on the knitting message boards that I participate on. I’ve gotten into some heated arguments occasionally on the boards, and again, I wouldn’t want my employer to come across those posts.

    If a person is looking for a new job, it is especially important that there be nothing too controversial or too personal about oneself online.

  73. Jimbo
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    My reasons relate primarily to my work.
    1) I don’t want colleagues at the company I work at to know my strong atheism because it could change the character of our working relationship. People are judgmental and atheism is unpopular.
    2) I don’t want my candid opinions about God (or hunting or sex or any other private matter) to be in the public domain. I will share my opinions with people I trust, not because I am uncomfortable or shy about expressing my beliefs or fear being judged but because everything online is discoverable and I know well that HR departments search online and in social media to find dirt on job applicants. It is soft discrimination that might limit my future employment prospects. Would I hire a Christian or Muslim? Of course. Would they hire a devout atheist? Probably not. And I would never know otherwise.
    3) Political correctness has become a bludgeon to attack people. Just look the treatment of professors mentioned on this site, threatened by snowflakes. People are getting fired merely for private opinions that are not even inappropriate.

  74. Denise
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    You’re right that I’m unwilling to stand behind some of what I say online.

    It’s not employers or colleagues or the world at large that I’m hiding from; it’s a handful of real friends and family. I don’t want to get into things with them.

  75. Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    I post under my real name.
    I feel that if my opinions are going to have any credibility, i need to stand behind them.
    They may not always be right and they may often be unpopular, but they’re mine.

    I have been an outspoken person all my life. Sometimes i’m sure it hurts me socially and perhaps economically…But at the end of the day, i know my convictions have been conveyed honestly and to the best of my ability.

  76. Ken
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    My reason for anonymity has to do with work, like some others here. I’m a public servant in a country where the expectation of political neutrality is very strong. It could be career limiting for me to be political in public. But I want to take part in political debate, so I post anonymously.

    But I don’t think a particular reason is needed and sympathise with those who say they just aren’t comfortable attaching their names. Who knows what some Trump goon is tracking. I think the only issue should be *how* people engage. If someone gets banned for being an asshole, it doesn’t much matter whether they were posting as themselves or not.

  77. fizziks
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    I have posted here a few times. I don’t use my real name when commenting on the internet anywhere because there are an almost infinite number of statements – political, religious, cultural, etc. – that current or future employers could disagree with, and find with a simple web search.

  78. gluonspring
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Originally I used this pseudonym because I was afraid of how my family would react. I care less and less about that every day. In fact, post election of Trump I’m close to ostracizing *them* from my end, so it is seeming like less of a net negative from the status quo. 😉

    Also, when I first transition from fundamentalist to unbeliever I had to work out for myself, for the first time, what I thought about literally everything. That was a very intimidating project made less intimidating if the worst consequence of going down some dumb cul-de-sac is that someone laughs at your pseudonym.

    There are two things that still keep me from dropping the anonymity:

    1. A lease that I fear might not be renewed if it were known (I will be changing jobs this year, so this problem will go away).

    My plan, currently, is to “come out” after the job change. I won’t be making any big announcement, I’ll just start phasing out some of my anonymity.

    2. I’ve said a LOT about my family and some childhood religious figures with this pseudonym. All is true but occasionally more blunt than I might want them to actually read. e.g. I honestly feel my fundamentalist upbringing was a form of mental abuse, but I am not ready to lay that burden on my mom.

    I won’t be self-doxing this, or any other pseudonym I have, any time soon for this reason. I’ll just start posting here some under my real name and that will be that.

  79. Madgerbil
    Posted April 22, 2017 at 2:56 am | Permalink

    I’m a Brit living in the United Arab Emirates.

    http://www.dubai.ae/mobile/en/Pages/SubLifeEvent.aspx?App=false&SubLifeEventID=70&IndLifeEvent=Practising+your+religion+in+Dubai&Category=2

    As you can see from the link, the law permits a 10 year jail term for contravening the so-called ‘Anti-Discrimination’ Law. A law that purportedly is intended to promote tolerance. The locals aren’t well versed in irony.

    Posting under my real name is clearly out of the question.

  80. Posted April 22, 2017 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    No problem, I ‘ve allways used my real name or some abbreviated form of it.Sometime I use the Gaelic Form, when I feel more Irish than usual. Micheál Ó Brógáin

  81. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 22, 2017 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Many of the commenters here have stated they chose to remain anonymous out of concern over the potential reactions to their religious views by employers and/or family. I don’t doubt that many of these concerns are legitimate, and I empathize with them.

    But at bottom they seem little different from the concerns that kept gay folk in the closet or that kept white folk from selling homes to black folk because of “property values” or the feared reactions of their neighbors.

    How long, o lord, how long, until the religious can be expected to trim their sails to the beliefs of the godless, as we trim ours to theirs?

  82. nicky
    Posted April 22, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    ‘nicky’ is a nickname derived from my real name. Many people call me nicky, so it does not feel like a real pseudonym. Moreover it does not denote any particular sex (= ‘gender’ for some), which I like.
    I used to post a lot of critical posts on a South African (m&g) website (long since defunct). Critical of then president Thabo Mbeki (Wacko Thabo) and Manto Tshabalala Msimang (Mal Manto) in connection with their AIDS denialism. Since working for the SA government, I thought it wise not to use my ‘pretty unique’ 🙂 surname.
    So my nick ‘nicky’ has ever since been my name when posting, except on blogs where that name was usurped.

    • nicky
      Posted April 22, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      My ‘pretty unique’ surname prompted me to search on Google. It is less unique than I thought. Several in the Netherlands, a few in Belgium, Luxemburg and France, a few in Argentina, a single one in London. And, to my surprise, a whole nest of them in Illinois, in Cook and Chicago! (As well as a loner in Connecticut.)
      And of course some in South Africa: myself and my children. Still, ‘pretty unique’ in South Africa.

  83. Posted April 22, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    I did not read all comments so I may be repetitive.

    a) A friend is telling me what an idiot I am to use Google, Whatsapp, and Facebook. If he has a point, how dumb would it be o use your true name in forums and comments.

    b) I want to travel to Indonesia or to the USA, or even live there after retirement. It might be better not to be an open atheist with a record of Islam criticism.

  84. Jonathan McIntosh
    Posted April 22, 2017 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Using a pseudonym is necessary sometimes if you hold unpopular views. If you support Gamergate under your real name, you run the risk of being fired, your family getting harassed, being Swatted, etc. There are many in the movement who have experienced this simply for criticizing the work of Feminist Frequency or SJW game “journalists.” Not all of us are scientists like Thunderf00t who are relatively protected (people tried to get him fired by lying about him being a Nazi).

  85. Posted April 23, 2017 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Allowing people to be anonymous, you allow them to share without fear of immediate reprisal. For those of us that came from cults or abusive churches-being able to be open and honest without fear of personal retribution has been invaluable.

  86. somer
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    I know Im late to this – I have been interstate for the past month. I don’t give my real name because I was stalked for several years in the past, and on an earlier computer and place once hacked. The name is a family name so its sort of my name! Its also because I don’t want extra hassle with relatives, and some friends over politics and religion, and for the work reasons many have mentioned.


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