Behind the Screen Name

I can remember the first time I got on AOL and had to think up a ‘screen name’ after being told it wasn’t cool to use my real name.  Dakinikat is actually my second screen name from there and it’s about 12 or so years old.  I used to go by Anais for a long time.  The Dkat moniker came after I started practicing Tibetan Buddhism and a relationship had ended.  It was my fresh start in middle age.  I used it to search out follow Buddhists on line since there wasn’t a huge community of them around me.  You’ll see many of them pop in here ever so often because we’ve all gotten so close from the first years in the AOL Buddhist Chat room.

I actually was outed about a 1 and 1/2 years ago in a blog that hated Obama detractors and Hillary Supporters.  It really bothered me then because the 2008 primary was so ugly and I had just started blogging.  I really didn’t want my political views known to  my students before they got to know me. I always like to taunt their opinions from all sides of the political spectrum and most of the time they have no clue about my political affiliation or they get it wrong.  I was actually warned when I started Sky Dancing not to put too much personal information here because there were people that would abuse it.   Now, you can find out who I am pretty easily through my twitters and my FaceBook if you’re really that interested. I still like the penname/screename and it tickles me when I talk to folks who know me as ‘kini’ or “daki’ or my IRL nickname ‘kat’.  I personally respect people that don’t want to be outed because of that adventure and a later one involving some of the same folks and Hillbuzz. There was an incident a few months ago and I used the opportunity to prod a troll by releasing information I had gleaned from the net off of his email which was hidden to any one but an administrator.  I didn’t totally out him, but he knew that I knew who he was and and he suddenly freaked.

So, what got me waxing philosophical about my screen id is this article in the NYT by Julie Zhuo, the product design manager at Facebook.  She has a piece today–‘Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt’–that talks about blogstalking and trolls.  It also talks about site managers and their attempts to control the troll populace.  There are the classic stories out there that just make you cringe over the behavior of your fellow human beings. (They’re ugly so I’m not putting them up here, you can read them there yourself.)  She even tells an old Greek Classic story about a man who could hide behind invisibility and took advantage of his status to do horrid things.  Anonymity on the web does provide a shield for rude behavior.  It also has led to illegal activity, so should it be actively discouraged?

Psychological research has proven again and again that anonymity increases unethical behavior. Road rage bubbles up in the relative anonymity of one’s car. And in the online world, which can offer total anonymity, the effect is even more pronounced. People — even ordinary, good people — often change their behavior in radical ways. There’s even a term for it: the online disinhibition effect.

Many forums and online communities are looking for ways to strike back. Back in February, Engadget, a popular technology review blog, shut down its commenting system for a few days after it received a barrage of trollish comments on its iPad coverage.

Many victims are turning to legislation. All 50 states now have stalking, bullying or harassment laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication. Last year, Liskula Cohen, a former model, persuaded a New York judge to require Google to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger who she felt had defamed her, and she has now filed a suit against the blogger. Last month, another former model, Carla Franklin, persuaded a judge to force YouTube to reveal the identity of a troll who made a disparaging comment about her on the video-sharing site.

But the law by itself cannot do enough to disarm the Internet’s trolls. Content providers, social networking platforms and community sites must also do their part by rethinking the systems they have in place for user commentary so as to discourage — or disallow — anonymity. Reuters, for example, announced that it would start to block anonymous comments and require users to register with their names and e-mail addresses in an effort to curb “uncivil behavior.”

So, the anonymity cuts both ways on the web.  Like I said, I’d prefer my students get to know me before they read any of my strong opining over here.  This is especially true when criticizing this president since it has frequently been framed as ‘racism’ and I live and teach in a community where I am the minority.

You can see throughout our commenters here that there’s a mix between screen names users and people who riff on some version of their real names.  We do screen all first time commenters for signs of spam and nastiness, but I’ve gotten so used to screen names I don’t give them a second thought.  What I want to know is does it make any difference to see the name vs. the screen name?  Is there a difference between reading Digby’s opinions and Jane Hamsher’s when you can put a face and a name to the latter?  I’m still bemused by the  stories of shock when Digby was revealed to be Heather, a woman.  My other question is wondering if there’s a different standard for front pagers and down pagers?  Still, I agree that some of the most virulent stuff comes from the folks that can successfully maintain anonymity.

Will lifting the veil of anonymity promote civil behavior or stalking?  I’m curious about what you think..

64 Comments on “Behind the Screen Name”

  1. jmacwa says:

    I thought Digby’s real name was Heather?

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Digby’s real name is Heather Parton, not Jeralyn.

  3. Dario says:

    I think it’s a good idea to have several screen names to leave a scattered footprint in cyberspace.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    I don’t feel any differently about bloggers after they reveal their real names. I don’t think it makes a difference, but if you reveal your real name, it’s easier for trolls to trash you or stalk you.

    • dakinikat says:

      That’s always been my concern. Is that they will use it to do harm to folks they disagree with. My experience with RTL people still haunts me and that was a long time ago.

      • newdealdem1 says:

        Thank you for this post, Dak. It’s good to see others concerned about this “to post your real name or not to post your real name”. I agree with those who say try to avoid posting something personal because you may have an opinion and are passionate about it and someone may disagree with your comments over time and is crazy enough to do you harm.

        But, I can tell you from experience that if someone has a gripe with something you said and want to get back at you and has hacking knowledge, they will do so whether or not you use your real name on the internet and then finding your real name after they hacked you.

        Thiat happened to me. I was posting on a couple of boards that weren’t political boards but having to do with a couple of TV shows a few years back. And, I was opinionated but never in a nasty way as some others were but I held strong opinions (as I do in my political commentary) as were others about the actors, the show runner and the writing itself.

        Someone who didn’t agree with my commentary (and this didn’t happen overnight. I was posting about the TV series once in a blue moon as it was on the air for a few years) and most likely hated my guts to do this, hacked into my computer.

        I ran a program that was recommended to me by an IT person I worked with and found that this person input some malware on my PC which allowed that person to keylog the PC.

        This means that they were able to know when I logged onto my computer and were able to read all my e mails and whatever else I typed (bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc) as all of my keystrokes were transferred over to their computer.

        The way I found out what happened was that on two different blogs my posts were reposted but not by me and this sick nut locked me out of my own account.

        The first time it happened, I thought it was a fluke or system glitch and foolishly paid it no mind except to mention it to someone who advised that I should contact the blog owner and let them know what happened.

        I did just that but they couldn’t find anything wrong. A few weeks passed, and I posted a short comment on another blog (this one a huge blog where the Admins don’t respond) related to that TV series and it happened again: my post was reposted a short time after I posted it.

        The next time this happened was worse because I could no longer sign onto my account. That’s when I knew for certain someone hacked me and stole my password, changed it so that I could never post again using that screen name. And, the person was smart enough not to post anything using my screen name. I was being cyber stalked. I felt violated as if someone came into my home to steal from me while I was away.

        I don’t have to tell you how spooked I was and fucking furious that this could happen to me and over a gd TV show because I disagreed with whomever it was I disagreed with.

        That is the conclusion I came to because I checked all my credit card transactions (which I did as a habit anyway), my bank account, etc and they didn’t steal my identity. I changed my bank account passwords without using my keyboard. I also canceled my credit cards, getting new ones.

        This was all done not to steal my identity which is bad enough but to scare the bejesus out of me that they were watching every move I made on my computer.

        There are sick people on the internet who would do you harm. And, for such an inconsequential reason over differing opinions about nothing really important to begin with and it couldn’t get any worse if they disagreed with you over a more substantial reason, like your political or religious beliefs or opinions.

        I should mention that at that point I was using an older Dell model and was also using IE which I don’t use any longer. And, although I had what I thought was good security, McCafree, it turned out I didn’t and learned the hard way just how inadequate it was until this happened and I ran the malware program.

        I dumped that PC and now have a new notebook which is protected up the kazoo but I’m always cautious where I go on the internet and I have a security program that let’s me know ahead of time if the address I’m clicking on is dangerous. It also constantly checks for viruses and malware, etc.

        I have become more weary of people now than I ever was before and I was weary before.

        So, please do what you can to protect yourself as much as you can from someone like that sick asshole who did what they did to spook me or just to protect yourself from hackers looking to steal your identity.

        Anyway, I appreciate this post by Dak as it gave me the opportunity to discuss what happened to me with this online community because I never did before anywhere else. I was a bit embarrassed that this happened to me in the first place so it’s taken me a while to be comfortable to share it with others.

        It’s taken me a long time to trust people online again and it’s a good thing that I will never be as trusting or as cavalier about these things ever again.

        So, please, peeps, always be aware that there are sick, deranged and nasty people out in cyberland who will do you harm without blinking an eye. So, please protect yourself as much as you can.

        • dakinikat says:

          Wow, what a story!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

          • newdealdem1 says:

            You bet, Dak. It’s really important that we all protect ourselves and be aware every moment we’re on line that there may be someone lurking who is looking to do someone harm for whatever stupid reason. I think these people must be powerless in their own lives and that is the way to have power over someone else, however temporarily. They are also amoral and don’t give a rat’s petut about anyone’s privacy or right to privacy.

    • mablue2 says:

      I see it like BB.

      Most of the times, I really care only about what people write.

      There are many reasons people chose to stay anonymous on the web. I just get aggravated by people who used their pseudonym on the net to viciously attack people, start some blog war, or post some vile comments. These are absolut assholes and low-life.

      I just remembered the outing of publius from Obsidian Wings by former Bush DoJ official Ed Whelan. Hilzoy of the same blog had a great post about that sorry event and the use of pseudonyms on the Internet.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      Yes, BB it is easier for those crazy people to stalk you if you use your real name. But I had one stalking me (freaked me out big time) and she did so much harassment using my other screen name (which is from my fiber art shop) and followed me everywhere. It was a nightmare, that is why after having an account on wp for over 2 years, I had to start over with my Minx screen name. I still have my real name readily available, it is something that no one can truly hide from computer savvy nut cases…and there are plenty of them out there.

  5. pdgrey says:

    My screen name came of keeping my passive aggressive husband from reading my e-mail to my sisters. The entirety of my life is defensive I hate to admit. I have turned a lot around, but living with someone who uses words as a weapon is draining. My screen name came from the book I never finished. So if you ever see a book with the author P.D. Grey, That’s me.

  6. pdgrey says:

    OT, brought this up from Tuesday reads, I didn’t want anyone to miss it. OK, this was just to good to pass, I’ve always said, “he’s a lily liver little chicken pants that sleeps on plastic sheets”.

  7. pdgrey says:

    Well, me trying to bring up both comments didn’t work ,so here is the rest. “Ed Henry just said that it’s true that President Obama apologized for failing to be bipartisan and promised to work harder to find common ground”.

  8. gmanedit says:

    Stalking. I don’t want my opinions out there for, say, potential employers, or harassers. I’m in the phone book; it would be ridiculously easy to find me. I remember the nastiness of 2008 and don’t want to bring in into my home.

    If pseudonymity was good enough for the Founders, it’s good enough for me.

  9. The internet is such a conundrum. The option of anonymity helps foster a lot of discussion and endeavors that couldn’t flourish otherwise, and imho it’s an essential option for people to protect themselves from abuse, but it also gives cover to the actual abusers too. The access to info… good. But I always think of those pro-anorexia websites as an example of the side effect of the internet. Or the totally creepy stuff on facebook and youtube with people publicly airing their physical/sexual assaults of their peers. I don’t think the internet is creating any of these problems… but it amplifies them to an extreme that I don’t think anyone could have completely grasped in their mind’s eye before the rise of the internet.

    • dakinikat says:

      I’ve found that people that are timid do really well on the internet. The anonymity helps them be more outgoing but I’ve also seen how people that have issues in IRL with aggressiveness or things like that can also go way over the top.

      • yeah. I’ve also seen some people just snap and start spamming sites with 100s of angry messages in a very short window of time. It’s like they’re in some kind of a trance.

    • Pips says:

      When I started commenting on a journalistic/media blog, that I had been reading for some time, and they insisted on a full name (which is kind of silly anyway), having noticed that female commenters weren’t always met with the same kind of respect as men, I chose a male name.

      I’ll never be able to prove it, but I sense that my opinions are more respected than they would be, had I used a female name. Besides it’s kind of interesting how I must to a certain degree hold back on being … female. Not too much “feeling”, no feministic agitation, no smilies. 🙂

      • pdgrey says:

        Good point, which is why the “P.D.” for me.

        • Pips says:

          You know I tried that at first but was rejected. I complied (well sort of, heh) but not without pointing out first, what they could be misssing out on by looking back at: e.e. cummings, J.D. Salinger, H.C. Andersen, C.S Lewis, J.K. Rowling, W.C. Fields … J.R. … E.T.!
          Lol, they never replied!

  10. Sima says:

    I go back and forth about this. I think if I didn’t have much of my business on the ‘net I’d be far more open about my real name. As it is, I’m pretty easy to find anyway.

  11. Pips says:

    Hmmm … some random thoughts:

    To me it makes no difference what moniker other commenters use, full name or not, though I do prefer a name, any name, to initials – unless it’s accompanied by a recognizable gravatar.

    I like it when other commenters show their face, but would never “out” myself that way. And I’m sure that a pretty/handsome face (not even necessarily the commenter’s own!) could easily “win me over”, but the true winners will always be the ones with a great sense of humour, no matter the name, moniker, or avatar! 😉

    About the “trollish” behaviour, I stopped reading comments to newspaper articles long ago. Not worth it. But I cherish comments/commenters on the handfull of blogs I frequent – and yes I can be hurt by mean comments just as I have been thrilled and humbled with the appreciative ones.

    So I don’t buy the “it’s only pixels” approach anymore. After a while you do tend to feel that you know your co-bloggers, and is taken aback by hurtfull comments even when they are not directed at me. Just as if it were RL.

    Oh, and the name Anaïs is beautiful.

  12. pdgrey says:

    And getting back to names and passwords, I was hacked at my Bank Of America account in May of 2008 when I was using my credit card to send money to Hillary. It’s kind of funny now, it wasn’t at the time, someone used my card and sent me the complete set of “Girls Gone Wild”. It took me months to get my account straight. Four months later, I closed my account, the abuse from the bank was worse that the damn DVD’s. I have sometimes made a mistake and used my real name, Dianna, but it didn’t bother me. I guess if I was writing to expose something important I would be careful; But people who use anonymity as trolls to make their points drives me crazy. A good case subject, ABG.

    • dakinikat says:

      Yeah, good case subject. It’s like the power of ANON compels him! But, on the other hand, you really don’t want some psychopath after you and knowing all your details either.

  13. pdgrey says:

    Ahh, the gravatar, I thought about it after seeing the beautiful faces of the people I “speak” to here. I go back and forth on this one. Sometimes I want to join the group so “my friends” can see who they are talking to, which is a courtesy. And then because of my profession, a musician, where people may recognize me, I’m not sure I want people to know everything about me.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      Yeah, the gravatars are helpful to me…I recognize posters from them, however sometimes they can be intimidating. I like having some sort of personal thing that reflects a little bit of personality. (like MABlue and Sima and others who comment on SD) My gravatar is a picture of my mother, wearing a “make your move” t-shirt, smoking in a No Smoking Zone, at a Dr. Hook concert…

      • Pips says:

        I too recognize posters from their gravatar, even the “readymade” that e.g. TC uses. Then coming here with the square, harder to differentiate – and less personal – gravatars something funny happened. My perception of a commenter suddenly changed, even if ever so slightly, if someone who used to be, say yellow, was suddenly blue. As if the personality changed too, lol.

        And the story behind your gravatar is wonderful! Love it!

  14. Teresa says:

    I used to comment on a photography site (Dpreview) as a woman. My opinions were never valid, mostly ridiculed. If I had a problem, it was always user error. Oh I shoul d mention I was praised once for a suggestion, something along the lines of “the little lady has a point”.

    Then I changed my username to imply I was a man. Suddenly my opinions were valid, and many of the users had the same problems/issues I had. Even when I was trashed, I was trashed as an equal rather than a mere woman.

    Oh, and my photography was better liked.

    The internet is great because it’s the one place where a woman doesn’t have to be the “lesser” sex, at least if they pretend to be a man. Sad as that is, sometimes it’s a bit of a relief.

    • dakinikat says:

      I completely believe it. I send all my journal articles in with initials instead of my first name.

    • dakinikat says:

      Speaking of which … check this out.

      A recommendation letter could be the chute in a woman’s career ladder, according to ongoing research at Rice University. The comprehensive study shows that qualities mentioned in recommendation letters for women differ sharply from those for men, and those differences may be costing women jobs and promotions in academia and medicine.

      Here’s some examples of words used to describe women that don’t go over well at all:

      “We found that being communal is not valued in academia,” said Martin, the Elma Schneider Professor of Psychology at Rice. “The more communal characteristics mentioned, the lower the evaluation of the candidate.”

      Words in the communal category included adjectives such as affectionate, helpful, kind, sympathetic, nurturing, tactful and agreeable, and behaviors such as helping others, taking direction well and maintaining relationships. Agentic adjectives included words such as confident, aggressive, ambitious, dominant, forceful, independent, daring, outspoken and intellectual, and behaviors such as speaking assertively, influencing others and initiating tasks.

      • Pips says:

        So being affectionate, helpful, kind, sympathetic, nurturing, tactful and agreeable, helping others, taking direction well and maintaining relationships aren’t positives! Ohhh kaaay!

        Wonder if that is the opinion of female employers too? Must read that article.

  15. Boo Radly says:

    I like seeing the pretty faces of bloggers I admire but, from the git go – it concerns me greatly. It just seems like the more attractive they are and then, the more intelligent too, adds greater risk to their safety. So many weird maladjusted people.

    I appreciate the sharing of information and it makes no difference to me about real names or faces. It’s content that keeps me reading. I’m a private person by nature – shy except when I see what I perceive as a wrong. Life has taught me a lesson which is if you are perceived as having too much of anything – no matter how wrong that perception may be, people with problems will seek you out. Those who are up to no good and think they will not be held accountable – once again I state the very obvious(water is wet) – they just lose all restraint.

    ABG making points because he is ANON? 99.9% of his points are entirely bogus. He would certainly be saying the same thing even if he signed Albert Bob George and it was real. At first I though it was several different people posting under that sig but they all have the same level of spewing bupkis. Bupkis is not a threat – boring, yes.
    I’ve probably missed your point.

    I can very well see why professional people would want and maybe need to be ANON in our LABEL driven society. Anyone who uses ANON as a shield to protect them from being held accountable for despicable acts – moral or legal – needs to be outed.

  16. Branjor says:

    Scary stuff. All things considered, I guess anonymity is still best.

  17. Ann says:

    Years ago I started on forums and acquired a few stalkers. One concerns me greatly, so even though I have a blog I only use my first name (which is about as common as it gets) – no pic, no last name. All my information is private.

    It bothers some people as they like to “see” who they are “talking” to, others just want the information I am willing to share, and respect my privacy.

    I tolerate no trolling, spamming, or stalking on my blog. I can smell it millions of pixels away as I was a moderator on a very large forum for many years before settling into the “quieter” life of a blogger.

    • dakinikat says:

      Moderating is always difficult. I draw the line at mean comments. There are a lot of creepy people on the web. Also, a lot of people with big time issues. I’m hoping people find out enough about me through my writing but some folks are never satisfied.

  18. affinis says:

    This is a really difficult issue. I don’t think there’s any question that anonymity facilitates flaming, trolling, etc. On the other hand, in addition to the potential for outright harassment, posting under one’s real names can create problems for career/job prospects (e.g. for people critical of Obama in academia = highly enriched for Obots). Also, using a different handle on a different site could allow one’s comments/information/arguments to be considered on their own merit, etc.

    I’ve contributed a bit to Wikipedia (an enterprise that I have some ambivalence about – e.g. one of their principles is that truth/validity cannot be used as a criterion). Wikipedia has an enormous problem with anonymous socks – resulting in all kinds of trolling, vandalism, inappropriate insertion of personal viewpoint into articles, etc. I wasted a bunch of time this past year dealing with someone (anti-Semitic, racist, hyper-religious Christian) who proliferated hundreds of socks in attempts to insert his viewpoint into articles. I also exposed Gerald Posner’s use of multiple socks to try to remove negative information (about his plagiarism/fabrication scandal) from his Wikipedia article. Basically, anonymity renders Wikipedia extremely dysfunctional and ultimately limits the trustworthiness of its content. Personally, I’ve concluded that any such enterprise should only allow contribution under real names.

    I’ve ended up with about four different handles on different sites (one handle was assigned to me by a blogger and the other three all are riffs on a common theme related to my professional work). I tend to disclose a lot of info in my posts – I think it would take minimal effort to tie together all the handles and my real-world identity. I’ve also had two significant items criticizing Obama published under my real name (they both contained original research and were making important factual assertions, so I didn’t feel comfortable hiding behind a pseudonym) – the one that would raise the most hackles is no longer available online, which is probably for the best professionally (but I recently found that several elements of it had been appropriated, with distortions, into a posting by a right wing nut). I’ve also had the odd experience of discovering that when I google my real-world name, one of the items it pulls up is an anti-Obama letter posted at a blog, where my name is found nowhere in the letter or elsewhere on the blog site. Moreover, none of the passages or sentences in the letter match content published elsewhere under my actual name. So I find it very strange that Google is somehow able to connect the letter to my name. I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of having my real name posted online after e-mailing a blogger offline to criticize her posts – she blogs under the name TexasDarlin and she’d just started with the birther crap. I e-mailed her to point out that her Photoshop “analysis” was incorrect (e.g. that a seal was clearly visible in the birth certificate image, etc.) – rather than abandoning their insanity, they put up a modified claim, and in the post thanked me for my “contribution”, as though I agreed with them!

    I guess overall, I think anonymity is important or even crucial in some circumstances, but perhaps its use should generally be discouraged if there’s no countervailing reason.

    • dakinikat says:

      Wow, what an interesting set of experiences!!

    • Sima says:

      I guess overall, I think anonymity is important or even crucial in some circumstances, but perhaps its use should generally be discouraged if there’s no countervailing reason.

      I agree with this (said the semi-anonymous Sima).

      So I did a google on my real name, just to see. My goodness there’s a lot of programming links that it brings up. And all my farm webpages and stuff. Takes till page 3 to show up the goat stuff, and at the bottom of page 4 is the first hint of archaeological stuff. That’s sad. I need to bring that up some. Ohh, and my cheese stuff shows up on page 4 too. Hehe.

      Anyway, I love the name Sima. There are people all over the world who know me by this name through gaming (I started in about 1990 and still talk to some of them today, 20 years later). So I’ll keep it, and if you all want to find out and use my real name, fine with me. If I get a stalker I’ll get the linux geeks onto him/her.