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Should Your On-line Identity Be True?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Because major players in the on-line world like Google+ and Facebook are insisting that people should use their real names (that is, reveal their true identities) there is a debate going on in the emerging global public sphere on the role of pseudonyms.  In what follows, I attempt to sum up the arguments for and against – as I understand them.

Yes, you should use your real name on-line

  1. It is a question of integrity. Mark Zuckerberg says: ‘Having two identities for yourself is an example of lack of integrity’.
  2. Getting people to use their real names on-line will enhance security and create a more trusted environment for us all, especially our children. Conversely, this is not good for pedophiles, thieves, spies and so on.
  3. True identities will enhance accountability. We are more careful when we act under our real names because we know that we might be held accountable for what we do on-line.
  4. When people use their true identities on-line the civility of discourse improves markedly. Insults and vituperations go down in number.
  5. Great for commerce. Businesses can micro-target, use precision marketing tools and generally boost on-line commerce when they know who is really out there on-line.
  6. Triangulation of identity will be easier. If entities know that is really you on-line, they can check your information against other sources like your credit scores. That way, checks can be quicker and people can get on with doing business more quickly.


No, people must be free to, if they choose, maintain anonymity on-line

  1. The internet is all about freedom. Nobody should try to impose controls. As a wit famously proclaimed, the whole point is that on the internet nobody knows you are a dog. That is the beauty of it, don’t ruin it.
  2. Anonymity helps citizens in authoritarian societies to have a voice without being crushed by the jackboots of state censors...or jailed, or killed.
  3. Fundamentally, being able to choose when to reveal yourself and when to conceal your identity is one of the great privileges of living in a free and open society.
  4. People can find you shockingly easily once you reveal your true identity on-line.  It threatens your privacy. Your on-line life can crash more easily into your ‘real’ life. Now, who needs that?
  5. Throughout history, creative individuals have created and used multiple identities: writers, singers, troubadours, political activists. Would our world not be horribly impoverished if this were to stop?


As far as I know, these are the two sides to the argument. Now, what do you think?

For more on this, please see:

‘From pixels to persona’.

‘More than one name but no lack of integrity’.

‘Privacy Fades In Facebook Era’.


Picture credit: flickr user Marcus Ramberg

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Submitted by Anonymous on
The strongest advocates of tying online personas to real people are, not surprisingly, those whose business models would benefit from being able to use (or abuse) that information. Integrity only comes into play where legal or social norms dictate an online persona should map one-to-one directly to an individual: banking and certain commerce sites perhaps. The weak implementation of privacy controls on most social network sites raises serious personal safety issues where users can't easily disassociate personal information from their online presence or control visibility where needed. In many jurisdictions, there are serious legal ramifications related to information passing from personal life to employment. Many employers consider religion, politics, and lifestyle to be things "best left at home," but single identity sites who randomly change privacy policies, like one particular offender, can expose that information to business colleagues and co-workers.

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