Just a few loose ends on this lunch hour. Today is my eighth wedding anniversary, so I probably will not be online much this evening, but there are a couple of things lurking in my head which I will try to type out now.
Random: I finished Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei last evening in preparation for writing a review this week for Manga Recon, and it is one of those comics that makes me really, really wish I could read Japanese. Also, I’m really looking forward to completing my review so that I can finally read everyone else’s.
Also, someone’s comment early this morning got me thinking more about the discussion of online identity, specifically what I value most when I’m assessing someone’s credibility online. I replied in comments with my thoughts, but I’ll share them here as well.
When I’m conversing with someone online, what I find I value much more than a name (legal or otherwise), is my own history with the person and/or my previous exposure to his/her online behavior. For instance, someone who I have interacted with repeatedly over the course of several years, whether they use their legal name or a pseudonym online, automatically has more credibility with me than someone I have never spoken with before. This is not to say that the new person has no credibility at all in my eyes, only that I have a much clearer idea of who someone is if I’ve interacted with them before (especially if that interaction has been prolonged), and this automatically gives me more context for their arguments and for understanding where they are coming from. A name by itself means very little, regardless of where it came from (mom & dad or otherwise), without some kind of history behind it.
This also applies to famous names. Someone with a recognizable name who I’ve had the opportunity to witness interacting respectfully with others online (or otherwise in the world) holds more weight than one that is just a name. Neil Gaiman, for instance, is someone whose online behavior has inspired great respect from me. He has proven himself time and time again to be sensible, circumspect, compassionate, and kind, so anything he says automatically has exceptional credibility and value as far as I’m concerned. On the other hand, someone who has been repeatedly hostile with fans or is generally rude online (or otherwise) is someone I’m less likely to pay attention to. (And to be perfectly honest, I’m less likely to spend my money on their work as well.)
Writing this all out, it seems really obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, don’t we all tend to make judgments this way? I think it’s very natural to trust our friends (and friendly acquaintances) more than we trust strangers, even when that might not be the best idea. So if I’m more inclined to trust and value the opinion of “happygirl38” who I’ve known for five years than “Susan Smith” who I just met five minutes ago, where does that leave the power of names? Kind of nowhere, except in terms of who those names represent.
Of course, I’m probably more inclined to trust and value the opinion of “Susan Smith” of five minutes ago than “imadick04” who has spent five years proving repeatedly that he’s a dick. So Susan can take heart! :)
sistermagpie saysMarch 10, 2009 at 12:28 pm
Absolutely. It’s actually kind of funny because it gets you to question exactly what a name is supposed to be anyway. Does it have meaning because it can be found in the phone book or on government documents none of us will ever see? Or does it come to mean the interactions you have with a picture?
Like, I’m sure many of us have had the experience of knowing someone is a stranger because they only know your “official” name instead of the name by which you’re normally called. In fact I remember an exchange a few months ago about a fictional character where someone was saying that his name was [legal name] so he should be called that instead of his nickname. Of course, in that case it was just that they didn’t like the nickname, but it was funny that they would make an argument like that when there are tons of characters more known by nicknames—shortened versions of their legal name—than by their legal name.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 10, 2009 at 1:21 pm
Like, I’m sure many of us have had the experience of knowing someone is a stranger because they only know your “official” name instead of the name by which you’re normally called.
Ha, that’s a great point! And kind of hilarious about the fictional character too.
And yes, all of this really makes one question what a name really is anyway. It seems to me that a name means as much as whatever it represents, no more, no less. So if I use one name or another, it should have the same value that *I* have to whoever the other person is, whether that’s a little or a lot based on our mutual history.
Michelle Smith saysMarch 10, 2009 at 1:08 pm
Hee hee. Imadick04.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 10, 2009 at 1:16 pm
:D I was hoping someone would like that. Heeeee.
Andrea saysMarch 10, 2009 at 3:57 pm
I struggle with my online identity sometimes. But not really in the contexts the whole fight is about, really. I’m just…. waaay back when I started online my name was my real name because it was BBSes and it just didn’t seem right to use a fakie. But when it came around time to create an email address, I made it something else, just because I never thought it was a good idea to have your real name as your email address in the dark scary days of the interwebs. :) So I was me, and my email identity was jkpolk. As the years went by and I used jkpolk more and more places, forums, etc…it became way more ingrained in who I felt I was. When I joined myspace I put my name as Andrea/jkpolk. I didn’t feel comfortable using my last name openly. And I didn’t feel comfortable “just” being Andrea in a sea of Andreas. I was the JKPOLK Andrea, for pete’s sake. I was a special breed of Andrea. :) When I joined Facebook I used my whole name because that’s kinda what it’s all about. And I feel kinda naked without my jkpolk.
In my dancy fandom, when it became clear I needed to start watermarking my pictures because people kept stealing them (*grumble*), I never thought twice about what would go on the pictures. I could not be anything but jkpolk in my watermark. I’m not even really sure why. Maybe because my creative side is mostly only expressed online. And it feels separate from my real life identity, because people who know me for years and years or even just meet me in person often have no clue or indication that I DO have a creative side. That’s my jkpolk side. That’s where she sits.
I made NO sense. But that’s my silly relationship with my identity.
p.s. do I lose credibility if I repeatedly call you a ho? :)
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 7:55 am
1. You are absolutely a special breed of Andrea. :)
2. I completely, utterly, GAH to an extent I can’t even properly express relate to your relationship with your jkpolk identity. It makes *so* much sense to me, because that’s how I feel about you-know-who (my longtime online identity, not Voldemort) too. She was me, just as much as Melinda Beasi or Melinda Klump ever were me, in a little bit of a different way because I felt like I had more control over who I was as her? Does that make any sense? Like, in “real life” my destiny was so much controlled by other people (or so it often seemed), but online I could be the real, whole me? Something like that? Now I’m kind of trying to claim my life back for myself, which has a lot to do with why I’m now blogging only under my real name. Not that there was anything bad about the old name. It’s just time to move on.
3. I think you might actually *gain* credibility from that. ;)
Grace saysMarch 10, 2009 at 5:02 pm
Gah. I should *not* have clicked to go read the comments on the previous post. Urge to kill…rising!
The thing is, too, that how do you know Susan Smith is someone’s “real” name? The fact it sounds like a real name doesn’t make it real, and even if it is there’s often no way to verify this. You’re absolutely right that what matters is not the name itself, but the history, the behaviour.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 7:57 am
Yeah, I’ve wanted to make that point too, but I’ve been afraid of making it seem like I don’t trust that people are telling me their real names when they say so. But totally. Susan Smith could just as easily be a troll or a sockpuppet or just a plain old pseudonym, just like anything else.
Ed Sizemore saysMarch 10, 2009 at 7:03 pm
Congrats on the anniversary!
I guess I’m the odd man out on the internet identity discussion. I’ve never used a psuedonym. I’m not clever enough to come up with something I would want people to call me. Plus, I’ve always been of the nature that what I say I stand behind. Good or bad, I’m willing to live with the consequences of my words and ideas. I just never wanted to be accused of hiding behind a user name to say things I wouldn’t say in my own name to your face. I do understand wanting to protect your identity, now more than ever. So I don’t fault people for being cautious about revealing their identity on the internet.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:03 am
Thank you for the congrats! :)
I’m glad you came into the discussion, because I’ve been hoping someone like you would.
You know, I used a pseudonym (the same one) for almost 15 years, and even though it was kind of randomly chosen in the beginning, it became such a strong aspect of my identity that even now, though I’m not using it anymore, it is inseparable from me. And I’ll probably continue to claim it on various websites, etc. as a username so that nobody can go around pretending to be “me.” Heh. Even with the pseudonym, I wasn’t very smart about protecting my identity in my early days on the internet. Obviously now I’ve thrown all that away anyway (as I mentioned in a comment to the other post, according to the internet, I am the only “Melinda Beasi” who has ever lived, so once I reveal my name, all privacy is immediately lost), but many people knew my real name and lots of personal details about me even when I was using a pseudonym. I don’t know how smart that was. I’ve seen so much malicious behavior on the internet, especially in fandom.
You know, we’re really all making it up as we go. Some people think it’s brave to use your real name, some think it’s stupid. I think it’s probably a little of both. :)
Ed Sizemore saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:58 am
“You know, we’re really all making it up as we go.” That is the wisest way to look at all of this. The internet brought about a new way for people to communicate and relate to each other. Figuring out all the implications is going to take more than just one generation.
Of course, this is what makes manga like Ghost in the Shell so exciting. Guys like Shirow were toying with these problems before most of us were aware there even was an internet.
Personally, online, offline, I treat it all the same. It’s just easier that way. I’m not smart enough to leave by multiple ethical systems or multiple identities.
I understand people creating online pseudonyms to protect themselves and also as a way to recreate themselves. Watching other people work out how their going to live and create identities online will be interesting. Seeing how the online community evolves and sets up rules of behavior to deal with these new realities will also be interesting. Both the form and scale of intellectual intimacy and immediacy are new. There’s already a small library of books by academics documenting cyber life and trying to sort out what it means for both individuals and social networks. It’s all too big for me. I’ll leave it all in more capable hands like yourself. I take comfort that people like yourself are out there admit the flow of discussion.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 9:59 am
I’m not sure how capable I am here, but do certainly love to discuss things like this. :)
You know, I think we do all these things in “real life” as well, it just seems different because it’s so deeply ingrained. We naturally filter certain things about ourselves for certain people or groups of people in our lives. We don’t talk to our employers about our hobbies our our sex lives (except in the most general, surface ways, and that still depends on the employer). That’s not considered appropriate in most work environments. We don’t talk to our friends about our company’s confidential financial information. We don’t talk to casual acquaintances about much of anything, except for whatever is relevant to the circles in which we know them. Books at the book club, dogs at the park, knitting at the stitch n’ bitch—we filter our persona with others so that it is appropriate to the setting and to the level of intimacy we have with each person. Everyone does this, and people who don’t tend to be considered mentally unhealthy. The internet is just another place, another circle of acquaintances, another forum, and those who use the internet a lot tend to have many circles they interact in at different levels. One of the few things that is easier to filter online than it is offline is the names we identify ourselves with. It’s a unique element of that particular kind of communication. But it’s really just offering another way of appropriately filtering information. And since everyone else online has the same capability, it is wise to consider that when deciding how/when/where to give out certain information.
I’m the same person online or offline, regardless of what name I’m using. I have the same opinions, the same temperament, the same issues, and the same opportunity in each situation I encounter to try to be the best self I can. Sometimes this can seem easier online without particular issues in the way—body image, prejudice, preconceptions based on age, race, gender, sexuality, economic class, etc. The internet provides a way for people to meet without those things being immediately apparent, and that can be very liberating in some cases, and allow a person to shed his/her own insecurities and expectations and interact in a way they maybe *wish* they could in “real life.” I don’t think it’s a matter of having multiple ethical systems (or at least I know it isn’t for me), but more about freeing oneself from some of the negative trappings of face-to-face interaction, which can sometimes then turn around and help a person overcome those things in “real life.”
I keep putting quotes around “real life” because I have never understood what wasn’t real about online interaction. We’re all still real people talking to other real people.
Anyway. As you can see, I have many thoughts. :)
Ed Sizemore saysMarch 11, 2009 at 11:10 am
Oh boy, now we’re getting deep and I’m not a great swimmer. But I’ll try to add a few thoughts.
It’s the real world because we’re embodied beings. Like it or not, our body is integral to who we are. For example, it’s proven that testosterone changes the brain structure of infants in the womb. My linguistic abilities might have been a part of my being born male. If I was born a woman, I might still be excellent in math and science, but struggle with reading comprehension and writing well. I can’t escape the reality of my body and the limitations it places on me.
You and cmshaw are both well-adjusted, stable people who use the internet to augment your life. You’ve chosen to be consciousness in creating your online identity and that identity to some degree is an extension of your real personality. That need not be the case. There are plenty of well documented cases of people creating new personas online that are radically different from the real person. That’s why I say the internet poses new challenges for social networks. I can spend years in an online relationship with a person and all the information I know about them could be false. The person I think is a 40 year-old white male living in Arizona with a degree in psychology could really be a 15 year old Hispanic female living in Brazil. Now you and I have met in person, so there are limits to the lies I can tell you. For instance, you know that people aren’t going to mistake me for Jessica Abel. It’s dealing with these surrealities of the internet that are posing and are going to continue to pose challenges. Look at Amazon.com. They added a feature where they verify if a person using an author’s or celebrity’s name is in fact that famous person. So if I try to post as Alan Moore in response to reviews of Watchmen, you can tell that I’m a poser and not Mr. Moore himself.
The internet also changes the flow of information and communication. Before, if I wanted to interact with Neil Gaiman, I would write a letter to DC or wait to meet him at a convention. Authors who choose to have websites are now much more accessible to their fans and, by extension, their critiques. Also, when an author posts something I can respond immediately. On the other hand, the fan community is much more accessible to authors and, by extension, their lawyers. Before, fanfic and fanzines had a limited audience and distribution. If no one told an author a fanfic mailing group or fanzine existed, then he/she never knew and really had no way of finding out. Now, you can have Google search out all the online groups that write about you or your works in one way or the other. This is creating new issues of copyright protection. Untangling what is fair use on the internet is something that is still going on.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying using a pseudonym on the internet is wrong. I have no problem with people wanting to protect their identity and privacy. Wether you use your real name or a psuedonym, the questions of identity and relationship are the same. People like yourself and cmshaw should be commended for being responsible cyber citizens.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 11:27 am
I think you’re swimming fine! Plus, you’re making some excellent points!
You know, this is probably going to sound funny considering how much I’ve talked about the wisdom of being cautious online, but I think I tend to assume that most people are telling the truth about themselves (more or less), and the ones who aren’t are in the minority. Which could be way, way off. Probably I’ve reinforced this for myself by choosing to interact in online mainly in circles where people are more likely to be like me and cmshaw. And *that* may sound funny when you know I’ve been involved in things like Harry Potter fandom, where, yes, there is a lot of sketchy ground, but if you confine yourself to circles where people are pretty obviously grownups who are polite, insightful and well-spoken, you can also be relatively certain that they are also mostly sane, and if they are lying about themselves to some degree or another it is about controlling their own experience and not about harming *you*.
There is a lot more I want to discuss that you’ve said, but I’m out of time! More later!
cmshaw saysMarch 11, 2009 at 1:53 pm
if they are lying about themselves to some degree or another it is about controlling their own experience and not about harming *you*
That fits with my experience as well — the only cases *I* can recall of people being “found out” as have presented falsely online is when people have tried to scam money via those falsehoods (Victoria Bitter, most famously) or people who claim to know celebrities personally. And even those cases are not of people I’d known personally; it’s always friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend or fandom_wank. The rest of the time, either we’re all telling the truth or — and I think this is a lot of it — we’re not actually telling much of anything about our offline lives, so there’s nothing to *be* a lie.
(I’m not counting teens who lie about their ages to get into adults-only communities. That’s a whole different question.)
(I’m also not counting fanfiction plagiarists, another different question.)
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 2:40 pm
Ahhhhhh Victoria Bitter. I was glad to be far outside of that, that’s for sure. Oh, and in the category of crazy but harmless, do you remember that girl who said she was communicating with a (living) celebrity via her sister who was a medium? That again was outside my immediate circle, of course.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 2:49 pm
Okay, I’m back. I think I don’t have anything to add just now about the relationships between authors and fans (and fanworks), because I think you’ve stated things pretty well without me.
Here’s a question to you: Let’s talk about the 15-year-old girl in Brazil who is pretending to be a 40-year-old man in Arizona… so personal information she’s given about herself is false. Does that automatically eliminate the validity of her ideas? Somewhere (here or in the last post) sistermagpie talked about how ideas should stand on their own, regardless of the source, and I am pretty sure I agree with her. I mean, even if the girl is lying about herself, whatever thoughts and opinions are coming out of her head are still *real*. So if she makes a logical point about something, and I can say, “hey, that’s a really logical point” or if she has a great idea and I can recognize it as such, how much does it matter that she’s lying about her gender, age, or location? Is there not still value in her thoughts?
What do you think about that?
Ed Sizemore saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:05 pm
Granted the ideas presented stand on their own merit. Like you, I find ad hominem attacks the refuge of the stupid.
The problem is that relationship I’m trying to built with that person can’t stand on such falsehoods. I’m trying to put too many thoughts in one paragraph. (See I bad writor) Part of the problem of the internet is that it’s great for communicating pure ideas, but building relationships can pose identity problems. Douglas Groothuis’s book, The Soul in Cyberspace, presents a few heartbreaking examples of people trapped by their own lies.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:13 pm
I absolutely agree that there can be no relationship with that person, and perhaps for people like you and me (and probably most people I interact with regularly) who actually want (expect?) discussion online to be meaningful beyond just the exchange of pure ideas, there is little value in that interaction.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 2:59 pm
Also, okay, I’m going to bring this up because it’s bothering me, and I may regret it because I like you very much and the last thing I want to do is get into an argument with you. But… you’re not saying that women are inherently weaker at writing and reading comprehension than men (or weaker in the brain in general) due to a lack of testosterone, are you? I can’t imagine you would actually say that on purpose, so I’m assuming you’re not, but could you just confirm that for me?
Ed Sizemore saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:10 pm
Good Lord, no! I don’t think math, science, reading, writing, etc. are gender based. Too many counter examples in the history of the world for such foolishness. Sorry to cause confusion.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:14 pm
I was certain you could not have meant that. Thank you for clarifying! The world now makes sense again. :D
Ed Sizemore saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:21 pm
I don’t know if the world makes sense, but I hope I’ve redeemed myself.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:30 pm
I’m not sure simple misunderstanding requires redemption, but you have definitely erased my sudden (unjust) doubt!
Completely off-topic, I am using these comments to procrastinate on writing a review. I mean, I’m writing it, but it’s going slowly, and I’m suddenly discovering that the simple knowledge that everyone else has already reviewed this title is nearly as intimidating as having read them all (which I did not allow myself to do). *sigh* Oh, why must I be such a slow writer?
Ed Sizemore saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:38 pm
I’m a very slow review writer myself. There is the occasional expection to the rule. So take heart, you’re not alone out there. That’s why my goal is one review a week. Anything more is bonus material.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:44 pm
(this is actually a response to the comment below, but I have not successfully been able to get my blog to allow more than ten comments in a single thread)
That actually does make me feel better. Though I sometimes have difficulty producing one full length review per week. I’ve blamed this on lack of time and energy (my job is fairly life-consuming), but I suspect I may just actually be even slower than you are. :)
cmshaw saysMarch 10, 2009 at 10:37 pm
This, I think, is what’s been getting me so frustrated about this part of the imbroglio! Anonymity and pseudonymity are in fact different — this, for example, is not an anonymous comment; it is a comment *signed by my name*.
Ed Sizemore saysMarch 11, 2009 at 3:48 am
That’s true, but on the internet you can use a pseudonym to be anonymous. Especially, since I can go to Yahoo, Gmail, or any forum and establish an account under any name I want and without any proof of who I really am. So I can go on the NBC forum and write nasty comments all day and there is no way for anyone to trace them back to me in the real world.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:13 am
You are absolutely right, of course. Any name can be used to hide a person’s identity for malicious purposes, even the ones that sound like “real” names. Which is why, for me, a mutual history means more than a name.
I think some of the discussion here and in my previous post has been hampered by my unwillingness to really get into the details of the flame war that prompted it. In that case, the people being dismissed due to their use of pseudonyms were all using longtime pseudonyms that were as identifiable within their fandom communities as “Ed Sizemore” or “Melinda Beasi” are here. The names had long online histories like my old name and cmshaw’s there. So people are coming to comment here, some with knowledge of the whole bru-ha-ha commenting from that perspective, and some, like you, coming in fresh. I’m hoping this won’t lead to any serious misunderstandings between those commenting.
cmshaw saysMarch 11, 2009 at 9:28 am
So I can go on the NBC forum and write nasty comments all day and there is no way for anyone to trace them back to me in the real world.
I think the point is, though, that the so-called “real world” is not where your reputation matters.
If I went onto a forum and wrote nasty comments under my name of cmshaw, sure, maybe you couldn’t link that back to my legal name, but you could link it back to the name I’ve been using for the last ten years — so that’s ten years worth of reputation I’d be trashing by signing my name to those comments! And that seems, to me, to be the very *opposite* of anonymity. Doing something like that would have *worse* repercussions for me than using my legal name. If I trash my reputation as cmshaw, I can’t just get another one; “cmshaw” has meaning as a name because of all of the people who know me. If I made a different name, it would have no meaning and I would have no trust until I established myself as a person with that name, which is something that takes a long, lonely time — and I’m not going to do that. I’m going to stand by the words I say as cmshaw.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 10:13 am
This has been an issue that has bothered me in that whole scifi fandom situation. The idea that our longtime online names are casual in some way—like we could just throw them away without any thought, after so many years of interaction with people, building up mutual trust. It really bothers me that anyone would suggest that. I mean, seriously, for those of us who maintain most of our important friendships and hobbies in an online forum, throwing away a longtime identity like that is as drastic as fleeing the country under an assumed name. You lose everything, and have to start all over again. It’s not something lightly done.
Sure, I left my online name behind to post here instead and interact using my legal name, but it’s not like I trashed that identity and fled in a sea of flames. I still protect that name and its reputation, and half the people who interact with me online now are people who first knew me by that name. Those relationships are valuable.
Grace saysMarch 12, 2009 at 11:53 pm
But saying your name is Ed Sizemore is not any proof of “who you are”, either, just because it sounds like a “real” name. (Which, let’s face it, in these discussions “real” almost always means “white/western/traditional”, which is a huge problem in and of itself.) And in fact a username can be more unique than many “real” names. My LJ is kyuuketsukirui and if I post with that, there’s never going to be any confusion that it’s someone else, whereas there could easily be other people named Grace commenting somewhere (which is why I sometimes use megchan or kyuuketsukirui for things, even though I don’t consider them names or nicknames).
You can stand by your words whether you post with your legal name or not. The history behind a name is what’s important. If you want to stand by your words, then do so. It’s as easy as that.
Melinda Beasi saysMarch 11, 2009 at 8:14 am
Of course, as Ed mentioned, a pseudonym *can* be used for the same purpose as anonymous commenting, and with the same effect, but there is a huge difference between that and a longtime, consistent pseudonym like yours! In that case, it is, indeed, your name!