Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rampant Anonymity

The rampant anonymity I find where ever I go to exchange ideas on the Internet has always stuck in my craw.  I grew up with old school newspapers and their Letters to the Editor sections(always a favorite).  The insistence by the editors to include the real world name of the person opining was taken for granted.  You had something to say then stand up, let us know who you are and what you think.  Honest exchange by people willing to do it in public.

The Internet changed all that.  I went along with it at first, though I never felt right using a trumped up name in the first few newsgroups I joined way way way back in the 1990s.  I had been warned of dire and evil things happening to me and my family should I go public with my name.   My child snatched away by evil wraiths in the middle of the night.  Or my bank account drained more than once - that one never fazed me, my bank account is a dusty empty place and always has been.  It was a jungle out there they said, and the less the evil doers knew, the better. 

I am not sure when I made the decision, but at some point, I stopped using a fake cyber handle and began using my name or a part of it.  When all the basic names had not been taken, I used "Crum".  It had been my real world nickname since I was a little tacker.  But as the Internet became more crowded "Crum" became less and less available.  My nickname request would be spit back at me, "This user name is unavailable, but crum1357 is available." 

I began using my first two initials and my last name.  "MRMacrum" set me free.  Using "MRMacrum" forced me to at least take a second before I wrote something I might later regret.  "MRMacrum" made it easier for my shaky grip on recall to deal with keeping all the aliases in some kind of order.  One name and if I forget it, I can always pull out my birth certificate for reference.

I also began to fill in my location correctly.  No longer was I from "the edge of the Universe" or "The 3rd dumpster down in the alley behind Jake's".  Though I always did like using "Somewhere" as my home port in the appropriate profile blank.  With my name and real town listed, I was putting myself out there.  Again, if there were any memory lapses, I could pull out my drivers license and copy the address on it.

So here I sit in my home on Sam Page Road in Acton, Maine punching the words out that will connect me to the electronic jungle that comprises the World Wide Web.  I don't do it for any other reason than it is just easier for me this way.  Take from it what you will. 

A great example of a reasonable reason for staying anonymous is T.Paine's explanation from his sidebar.  T.Paine is someone I have traded barbs with from time to time on the various political blogs we both visit.  I find him a reasonable voice from the darkside and not a frothing at the mouth mindless advocate of all things evil on the Right. {Insert emoticon here - ;)  }  In other words, I can have a conversation with T.Paine once I have stopped frothing at the mouth.  I poached his side note and it goes as follows:

"Obviously my true name is not T. Paine nor do I want to give the impression that I speak for this founding father and American patriot. I simply admired much of what this man stood for and for his contributions to the birth of our nation.

My thought in hiding behind his name by using it as a pseudonym for my considerably poorer writing was to protect the guilty and to provide a slight degree of anonymity as I posted my sometimes acerbic thoughts and ideas on the web for the few souls that cared enough to read them when they happened onto this silly blog. Make what you will of the thoughts and weak prose within, as they are mine alone and not to be accredited to so great a man as the real Thomas Paine."

His handle is a tip of his hat to one of his heroes (and mine, but don't tell him.  It would ruin my image).  Other than that, I have no idea nor do I care what his reasons are.  If he is doing it because he might be embarrassed what folks think of his writing, then he is being silly.  He writes clearly and well.  His points are not wrapped in superfluous and bombastic paragraphs like mine are.  I guess he just has higher standards than I do.

I understand the myriad of reasons people use to justify their use of pseudonyms.  Retribution, Identity theft, cyber stalking, the list is endless.  I respect that.  If nothing else I am all about letting folks do as they will as long as they don't try to instill their will on me.  But with all the cutesy clever names, this widespread use of anonymity brings with it an ugly side.  It enables losers to cruise the Internet with impunity and wreak havoc with their hate and discontent.  It enables lies and innuendo to confuse the truth.  Anonymity forces a second guess about what we read or see when we upload a new link. 

Maybe it is a good thing that thinking people are forced to second guess their sources of information.  Unfortunately, it appears that The Internet has also allowed many otherwise thinking people the pleasure of not thinking for themselves and accepting whatever they read if it supports their individual viewpoints.

The Birthers are the prime example.  They are also indicative of how easy it is to manipulate the flow of ideas on the Internet.  Unscrupulous agitators on the payroll of various special interest groups now have the best venue for spreading disinformation and propaganda Mankind has ever seen.  They can set into action, lies, rumors, and fabricated incidents to fire up their loyal minions into actions that move their interest in the direction they want. 

All in all, the positives of what the Internet has done and might do for our World outweighs the negatives.  But will this last?  Or will the evil doers, no matter what cause they push, overwhelm us with their bullshit and make the Internet irrelevant.

This is beginning to make my head hurt.  I gotta go.  Later...................................

Image poached from Cyberbullying - Check it out.  Interesting site


1138 said...

I too originally use my True Name.
After threats and actual harm done to my family. I couldn't recommend it to anyone and shiver at the idea anyone would consider requiring it. You are fortunate to live where you do, all of us are not in civilized territories.

I'm not sure Poor Richard would exactly agree with your statement, but he'd be more than willing to have a spirited and anonymous discussion with you in public, where the marketplace is supposed to be about ideas and not names about it.

Signed B.Willdered

1138 said...

Title: True Names...and Other Dangers
Author: Vinge
Year of publishing: 1987

Kulkuri said...

Kulkuri is what I have called myself for many years, it means vagabond or traveler in Finnish. The Old Lady says it means bum. My last name is in the URL for my blog and the title says where I'm from and where I'm living at this point in time, and when that changes, I'll have to change the title of my blog, maybe by changing 'in' to 'has left'.

Using your real name may make some stop and think before expressing their thoughts, then again, there's people like Ann Coulter, BillO, Glenn Beck, Tom Cruise and a host of others that spew bullshit while using their real names.

Hopefully I have mellowed and use my somewhat anonymity for good, not evil!!

Darrell Michaels said...

Interesting post, sir. I admit that my primary reasons for choosing a pseudonym for my identity is more for protection for my family's sake. I have had some pretty hideous, and on rare occasions, even threatening ccomments posted on my blog.

Were I a single man, I might be more inclined to use my real name.

As things are though, I figured I'd follow Samuel Clemmons example.

MRMacrum said...

1138 - I know there are people who have damaged other people's lives because they had access to someone's personal information, starting with their real name. Anonymity certainly is an understandable response. But it just isn't in me. I am an in your face kinda guy and always have been. Being something I am not on the Internet just doesn't feel right.

Thanks for the Book Title. I probably do not want to read it as it might make me regret being so open.

Kulkiri - I did not mean for the post to condemn the use of anonymity. I wanted to point out why I couldn't do it and then point to some of the damaging effects it brings with it.

So now I am in the same league as Coulter, the Beckster, and Clueless Tom? I feel better already. ;)

robin andrea said...

I use part of my real name (first and middle) on blogger. When I first started blogging, I used a pseudonym, but that just seemed too absurd to continue. I hated referring to myself as someone else. I hardly ever visit political rant blogs. The echo chamber gets old pretty fast. The few times I've timidly left a comment on one of my favorite science blogs, a nutcase followed me home and left long rambling insane comments on Dharma Bums. I guess that's why the delete button was invented!

MRMacrum said...

T. Paine - I am more afraid of my wife than any potential evil out in the real World. She is one badass lady. Anyone screwing with me is screwing with her. They do not want her to pull out her whupass stick.

I have also had my share of threats and awful things verbally tossed my way. But I figure that if I ever anger someone enough for them to hunt me down, they will find me, no matter what name I use.

And thanks for swinging by.

MRMacrum said...

robin - Thus the Internet proves that, with all of it's capacity to send us to a world of fantasy, all it really is is just another neighborhood with the same people we deal with day in day out. They just have odd names.

The Blog Fodder said...

My pseudonym is a result of having my wallet stolen for the THIRD time on the Kyiv Metro just as my youngest arrived to visit. She said "Dad, you are just blog fodder" and a star was born. Or something. My real name is in my email address and anyone reading my blog some some time could do a pretty good job of knowing about me and my family, though I never use their real names either.

My fear is that if I bash Russia too much, it will interfere with my getting a visa. Good thing I can't speak the language or I'd end up in jail.

muddleglum said...

I kinda had to laugh.

I was always anonymous--you can find my name in just about any small town to large city, which is why my mail (and credit!) sometimes go awry. "Muddleglum" is actually my escape from being a blade of grass in a haystack.

If you want to visit, you'll need to call my wife so that she can give you directions in the last crucial miles--FedEx STILL hasn't found us.

But the names of my family I try to disguise to some extent. I figure that it is their identity and I need to have permission to mess with it. I see that you do about the same.

MRMacrum said...

Blog Fodder - All of the reasons to remain anonymus are valid ones. It is only the when they are used to foster negativity and do damage that it bothers me.

muddleglum - I hear you guy. I liked you blade of grass in a haystack analogy. And yes I do try to not identify those I write about or include in my posts. It is not my right to out them. That is for them to decide.

Randal Graves said...

If I wanna foster negativity and do damage I'll foster negativity and do damage this isn't China dammit!

okjimm said...

good points and counter points.

just to share... I became 'jimm' 35 years ago when the 'M' key stuck on my old typewriter while finishing a story for the college newspaper. I never saw the error. the 'OK' part came when I was writing one day, typing aloud as it were, and what came out was "okjimm, you can do this." (still wondering if I can) Basically, if you hide behind a moniker to be a troll, shame on you, otherwise, gee, we mostly are who we think we are.... or something like that.

remember, Biking season is just around the corner!!!

Tom Harper said...

When I first started blogging in October '04 I used a screen name. I started using my real name in early '05. The only run-ins I've had were the summer of '05 -- "Republican Vet." Any liberal who had a blog during that period has probably heard of him/her/it. He created a gay porn site using my name, blog title and Blogger Profile information. He did the same with several other bloggers too.

After he spammed my site with the same obscene comment repeated 40 times (each comment signed "Tom Harper" with a gay porn photo accompanying it), I had my comments disabled. I discovered comment moderation a few months after that and I've been using it ever since.

Beach Bum said...

The Birthers are the prime example. They are also indicative of how easy it is to manipulate the flow of ideas on the Internet.

Absolutely, but what bothers me is the number of people that are more than willing to believe some of the craziness on the internet but will scoff at information from say Brian Williams or some other real journalist.

Or will the evil doers, no matter what cause they push, overwhelm us with their bullshit and make the Internet irrelevant.

More than likely.

Nan said...

I've always used my real name, or a variation on it. I'm not sure if it's because I'm too unimaginative to think up something good, or simply too lazy. Or maybe I'm just realistic enough to recognize that in the overall scheme of things very few people actually give a rat's ass one way or the other about whatever it is I might happen to say. The people who get the most pissed off tend to be my relatives -- and they already know where I live.

I don't doubt there are nutjobs out there who occasionally decide to make someone's life a living hell for no rational reason, but the odds of one of them deciding that I'd make a nice target? Slim to nonexistant. And that's true of just about everyone else on the planet, too. In the overall scheme of things, most of us simply aren't that important. Besides, you can't live your life being terrified of shit that's probably never going to happen.

Mr. Charleston said...

I like T. Payne's Samuel Clemens reference and sort of feel that way myself. I use Mr. Charleston because it was a nick name I had in a rock n roll band. But I like the anonymity of the internet. Kind of adds a mysterious aspect to it. Except for those who actually post as anonymous, they suck.

yellowdoggranny said...

I have been the real me from day my friends and my little town..we're all right there on the map..come see us..

MRMacrum said...

Randal - No not yet. But soon.........

okjimm - I find it odd that no one has put forward the idea that I could be pulling everyone's leg with my supposed transparency. Good to know the folks who visit are not as paprnoid as some of the whacked and deranged that are out there.

Tom - Yeah you and I have sort of discussed this before. I have had run ins, but nothing like what you describe. Kudos to you for staying real while still finding a way to weed out the oddballs.

Beach Bum - I think some peole want their news packaged in such a way as to support their personal views of the world, yet believe that what they are ingesting is objective.

Nan - I like your style. Like worrying about lightening. Shit happens. Hopefully most of it misses me.

Mr. Charleston - Anonymity does reduce exchanges to justone mind connecting with another without the baggage a real identity can bring with it. That is one of the positives. But we have to realize anonymity does have anugly and destructive side also.

Yellow Dog Granny - I will do that should I ever leave here to travel again.

susan said...

I understand and agree with your position on this issue particularly when it comes to people posting comments on major news sites. If people are inclined to post lies and foul opinions in the midst of serious conversations it seems a shame they are too cowardly to use their own names or have links back to blog sites where one could at least try to discover the basis for their views.

Mauigirl said...

I gradually have let go of my anonymity by including my Facebook badge on my blog, which has my real name. Originally I had the pseudonym when I was working because I wasn't sure whether it was a good idea for people at work to know all my political thoughts. But now I retired so it's a moot point. Plus I've gotten much braver about lettig people know my real beliefs. I was even nervous about my friends reading my blog at first! It's all about putting yourself out there and letting people know your inner thoughts I guess.

The Blog Fodder said...

"I find it odd that no one has put forward the idea that I could be pulling everyone's leg with my supposed transparency".
Sounds like a set up for a John LeCarre novel. Anyone read The Little Drummer Girl" from about 20 years back?

Demeur said...

I hope you can appreciate why I use a disguise. When I started out in the blogosphere I was doing work in places that our less than friendly neighbors would love to know about. I could tell you about it but then I'd have to kill us both.

MRMacrum said...

susan - I am glad you caught my main point. Thanks.

Mauigirl - I went through a similar process. My first year of usergroup participation was as a lurker. Then one day, after reading yet another in a series of idiotic posts by a specific idiot, I laid into him. The dam had broken. I have not been able to shut up ever since.

Blog Fodder - I am heartened that I no longer attract people who mistrust everything.

As to the LeCarre novel, I read it long ago, but am having trouble remembering it.

Demeur - Each of us have to determine how much of ourselves we want to reveal. The reasons are personal. I respect that. I gave up trying to disguise myself. Sadly it has had not much of a detrimental affect. My life apparently is so boring and uninteresting, not even the lunatics are interested.........knock on wood.

Laura said...

When we bought our first computer, and I waded my way into the cyber world, I used a fake name. (fake pictures too but that's a whole other kettle of fish!)
I guess I was scared of someone coming and killing me in my sleep-who knows. I just assumed everyone lied about who they really were.

Now, with many of my blogging friends, including you, having access to almost all of my personal info thanks to Facebook, if anyone really wanted to find me and kill me, they could. Easily.

I don't have a problem with people using a fake name. I don't think that they are hiding. I don't like anonymous comments. They really bother me.


Life As I Know It Now said...

I am a libra, a librarian, and a liberal so Liberality just fit. Plus I live in redneck land and it's just better all around to be anonymous. Some of my fellow bloggers know my name and where I live.

MRMacrum said...

Laura - None of my close associates who like to snatch and eat children are interested in Canadian children anymore. Just too hard to get them over the border in the trunks of their cars.

Now women who favor wearing aprons on the other hand............

Liberality - And I suppose your dream come true might be to hum a libelous libretto on the the Libyan Airways jet as you cruise at 34,000 feet to that ultimate vacation spot, Libreville. Where upon disembarking, you head to the first bar for some serious libations. (And yes, I actually pulled out a real dictionary for this one)

I just thought your handle represented your basic life view. Something tells me it does.

With the exception of randal, I always found librarians to be mostly pleasant as long as I was quiet.

Life As I Know It Now said...

I could really use some libations right about now!!! :)