PinkPants19 on YouTube, @HotTatas on Twitter and FeistyHamster 5 on Flickr – just a few of the pseudonyms I go by when going about my business on the world wide interweb.
I don’t, I made them up. Precisely because to link my pseudonyms with my real name could bring myself and my workplace into serious disrepute…
Although I’m being facetious, it’s a reality that we don’t necessarily want our ‘personal’ internet identities to be directly linked with our ‘professional’ ones, which is one of the reasons many of us choose to use pseudonyms. However, Google recently rubbed a few people up the wrong way by requiring real names for Google+ users and disallowing pseudonyms.
So, what’s the problem? The majority of us use our real names on Facebook with no real complaints – is Google+ so very different? And we don’t have to use it if we don’t want to, as pointed out by Google CEO Eric Schmidt himself.
Hiding behind our computers…
Why do we feel the need to shroud ourselves in the veil of an online pseudonym at all unless we’re doing something ‘wrong’? Would it actually make our online lives easier if we were all forced to be unveiled and therefore publicly accountable for what we did?
There’s a strong argument to say that using real names prevents the trolling, spamming and online bullying that is rife in many areas of the internet (you just have to check out the comments under almost any popular YouTube video to see this in action). Whether Google would make a business decision based purely on such altruistic reasons however is open to debate.
If our identities are public, are we easier to market to?
I’m not convinced. Targeted advertising works pretty well already, regardless of whether we’re JoeBloggs5 or DaBomb69 as we make our way around the internet. It’s about where we’ve been rather than what we’re called.
And does it really matter if ‘the internet’ knows we enjoy buying shiny PVC pants and crates of hummus-flavoured body paint? Doesn’t it just make life easier (except when you have to clean the pants)? Probably a debate for another post.
Why use a pseudonym?
Whatever the reasons behind disallowing pseudonyms on Google+, the reasons for many of us using them are varied: often it may be out of convenience (something short enough to fit a character allowance for a username), cuteness (you might simply like the way CuteKitteh sounds more than ‘Eric’) or familiarity (it’s what you’re generally known by).
The last one is an important one – for many people an online pseudonym is something they have built a whole reputation around and something by which they are well known in online communities; to start using their real name could see them losing followers and losing influence.
And if your real name happens to be less than common, you might have to prove it’s really real, as prolific blogger Violet Blue found.
So what’s the answer?
It’s a limited argument to say simply ‘don’t use it if you don’t like it’. To neglect debating the ethics behind the decisions that one of the biggest companies in the world makes because we don’t have to be personally affected is narrow thinking. And besides, if it rolls out successfully we could find ourselves feeling obliged to join, even if we don’t yet.
As for that answer I just mentioned, well I’m afraid don’t know. What do you think? Are pseudonyms necessary or would the internet be a better place if we were all who we said we were online?
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mistermundo/3779407756/