Pseudonymous, Anonymous, or Real Identity?

We talked about transparency in government last week. Let's talk about transparency in internet interaction this week. Which is better, for most people on the internet to be anonymous, pseudonymous, or use their real identity? Or is it best for there to be some combination of options?

Real Name Policy ruled illegal in Germany
A German court ruled that Facebook’s real name policy is illegal and that users must be allowed to sign up for the service under pseudonyms to comply with a decade-old privacy law. The ruling, made last month but only now being announced, comes from the Berlin Regional Court and was detailed today by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (abbreviated from German as VZBV), which filed the lawsuit against Facebook.

According to the VZBV, the court found that Facebook’s real name policy was “a covert way” of obtaining users’ consent to share their names, which are one of many pieces of information the court said Facebook did not properly obtain users’ permission for. The court also said that Facebook did not provide a clear choice to users for other default settings, such as to share their location in chats, and it ruled against clauses that allowed Facebook to use information such as profile pictures for “commercial, sponsored, or related content.”

More authentic, more true to themselves?
Reddit, the self-described “front page of the internet,” may have a key tool in its arsenal as Americans begin to question their relationship with social media: anonymity. According to Steve Huffman, the site’s co-founder and CEO, “privacy is built into Reddit.”

All that’s required to create an account and post on any of Reddit’s 1.2 million forums is an email address, a username, and a password. You don’t need to tell the company your birthday, your gender, or even your real name. As Huffman put it on Thursday…, “Reddit doesn’t want the burden of personal information ... and is not selling personal information.”

Huffman argued that anonymity on Reddit actually makes using the site “more like a conversation one has in real life” than other exchanges on the internet. “When people detach from their real-world identities, they can be more authentic, more true to themselves,” he claimed.

Huffman gave as an example a subreddit called StillTrying, a forum for couples who have had trouble conceiving children. He posited that such a community wouldn’t exist on other platforms. At least one such group does, in fact, exist on Facebook—or at least did in 2015—but, unlike StillTrying, it was visible only to members. Everything on Reddit is visible to anyone with an internet connection, so it’s conceivable that Reddit could be a resource to a greater number of people than groups on other sites.

Unlike many other anonymous social networks, including Whisper and the now-defunct Yik Yak, the namelessness of Reddit does have its limits. Redditors maintain one consistent identity through their usernames, with an associated score called “karma” that tells other users how often they’ve been upvoted or downvoted—essentially a proxy for how informative, trustworthy, and civil the community has found them in the past. “People care about their reputations on Reddit,” Huffman said on Thursday. “There’s some stake to it.” He said that, in general, these reputations motivate Redditors to keep their posts more civil than the comment sections of other sites, which he called “toxic,” “agro,” and “off-putting.”

Reddit’s favoring of aliases over actual personal information could help it avoid data-breach scandals like those that have befallen Facebook, Yahoo, and Equifax in recent years, or tap into users’ most sensitive identities. But it also undeniably introduces vulnerabilities into the site. Reddit is notorious for hosting trolls and bullies. (Huffman himself once told The New Yorker, “I consider myself a troll at heart.”) A subpar Reddit karma score may not be enough to deter some would-be harassers, especially those posting mostly in groups filled with like-minded users who are happy to upvote offensive content.

“We are extremely proud to have created this enriching experience where people can be themselves,”  Huffman said. The question is whether these anonymous online personas are really the selves we want to be.

Facebook's Real Names Policy
Facebook is a community where everyone uses the name they go by in everyday life. This makes it so that you always know who you're connecting with.
。Your name can't include:
。Symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, repeating characters or punctuation
。Characters from multiple languages
。Titles of any kind (example: professional, religious)
。Words or phrases in place of a name
。Offensive or suggestive words of any kind
。If your name follows our standards and you're still having trouble changing it, find out why.

Other things to keep in mind:
。The name on your profile should be the name that your friends call you in everyday life. This name should also appear on an ID or document from our ID list.
。Nicknames can be used as a first or middle name if they're a variation of your authentic name (like Bob instead of Robert).
。You can also list another name on your account (example: maiden name, nickname, professional name).
。Profiles are for individual use only. You can create a Page for a business, organization or idea.
。Pretending to be anything or anyone isn't allowed.

On the FB real-name policy controversy wikipedia page there are a number of incidents where people's actual names are not accepted by FB

Authenticity vs. Accountability
When the screen inviting you to submit your documents pops up, Facebook offers this explanation: “We ask everyone on Facebook to use the name they go by in everyday life so friends know who they’re connecting with.” Asking a few trusted contacts to verify someone’s authenticity should clear up any confusion, no documents required. Facebook says that’s not a solution it’s pursuing at this time.

Instead, the new party line is, “Having people use their authentic names helps protect our community from dangerous interactions.”

Put simply, the company is conflating authenticity with accountability. That’s not unreasonable. Facelessness can beget some pretty disgusting behavior (of course it’s worth noting anonymity and pseudonymity are not the same things), and it makes sense that people would behave themselves when their identities are attached to their actions. But behavior on the Internet is fraught and murky, with some suggesting malicious behavior actually has very little to do with anonymity.

Facebook has not provided any data suggesting the authentic name policy is reducing online behaviors such as bullying and harassment. If the data are supportive, why not share it? And if the behaviors are the problem, why not simply police that and not the names? It feels like the company is using a sledgehammer when what it needs is a scalpel.