So sophie's written a post that delves deep into the how-tos and implied benefits of remaining at least "pseudo-anonymous" in light of gotchas! like this (which not-so-incidentally, spawned this not-so-little gotcha!) that crop up every now and then in new installments of our favorite show, Teh Internet: SERIOUS FUCKING BUSINESS.
Speaking only for myself - because I have a deep-seated need to get this issue out of the way - and not to get all punny, but "pseudo-anonymous", to purists like me, is a misnomer at best - just plain wrong at worst. Here, have a definition.
- 1. not actually but having the appearance of; pretended; false or spurious; sham.
- 2. almost, approaching, or trying to be.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm not pretending to be real.
To cover def. #2, is what I post almost real? Approaching real? Trying for real? These questions could make me laugh until I cry because it seems like an awful lot of trouble to be false on purpose just so people won't guess I'm being real. I mean, wtf - that's almost mind-bending.
To be more precise, I would call what I do here acting in a way that's semi-anonymous. I think most people who've gone down the "obvious or perhaps not so obvious" fake name route do it pretty much the same way I do.
While I often want to share more - both for the sake of clarity and to prevent being, as I sometimes am, completely misunderstood - by no means do I currently feel I ought to share less. I don't go to bed at night and lie awake and doubt I should share what I have.
After six years online, I'm pretty much post-agony about what I've shared. I figure plenty of people not only attach real names (often first and last, even middle) to everything they have online and then connect those to Facebooks, Twitters and other online spaces (FourSquare comes to mind), they also prominently display street addresses, employer names/locations and personal phone numbers.
Many of these people are much more controversial/just plain well-known than I am, yet every morning when I get up, as far as I can tell, there they are, still alive and in one undisturbed, blissfully intact piece. Which leads me to believe it's not the end of the world, obviously, to put everything out there.
Now I speak from a place of relative sanity, safety and protection because I've tried to plan my online spaces to my benefit from day one. I never did want people to look upon my real name in any online space where I'm just being me and say unto themselves, "Ah yes, I remember her quite clearly from [high school] [grade school] [the parking lot behind the 7-Eleven the day I tried to knock her teeth out 25 years ago] [my last or current job], etc.
I have no interest in connecting with any of these people. If I did I would just do so. I have no interest in them finding or connecting with me. So for that reason I chose to go with what Sophie calls "pseudo-anonymous" and what I call "semi-anonymous" posting from the start.
The advice Sophie has on how to go about such things is correct: even your pseudo- or semi-anonymous name can run your butt into real life problems if you post from it at any point, in posts locked or unlocked, that your real name is, say, John Smith and/or that your home address is 123 Any St in Ohio and/or your phone # is bla-blah-blah and/or that you work for ThisEmployer at ThatLocation, or so on.
Similarly, if your DW is named pseudo-anonymous.dreamwidth.org but on your profile you give out the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, then seriously, you might as well just get a rename token and change your journal's name to johnsmith.
If you want to remain semi-anonymous, then yes, put your real and not-real names into separate baskets, and make sure those baskets don't even touch. If you don't care so much if your real and semi-anonymous worlds collide, then no one else should, either. Keep an eye on things to make sure it's not causing issues you might not otherwise be aware of, but do what feels best - and safest - for you.
If you're asking if I've been lax about keeping real and semi-anonymous names in separate baskets, the answer is yes. I once used my first personal, non-AOL email address on Anti-AOL's profile page - "personal" as in my best friend and boyfriend both emailed me on it, and one of those people had no idea about my "AOL can blow me" blog for a good five years, until it finally hit me he's going to Google my email address someday so I'm just gonna kind of casually mention that I own this stupid thing now and get it over with.
I've performed other acts of stupidity, the worst being giving my name to a well-known blogger who turned on me shortly thereafter and probably turned half of a certain city in CA on me as well (and yes, this isn't the first time I've mentioned that, but it's probably the first time I'm not going to delete the mere mention of it).
He'd given me his real name - and yes, it was really his real name - I know that because I Googled it and what I found matched unique things he said on his blog under his semi-anon handle quite well. So did the pictures (which proves Sophie's point: it's better to keep your semi-anon space[s] devoid of personal info unless you don't care what people can figure out by looking in Google). We were both kind of hot-headed to begin with and I knew that even going into it, which made the whole thing kind of dumb. I was perfectly naive on how that would turn out.
I've given my real name to other online souls, too. The guy who ran AOL Sucks - the blog? He had my real name (we exchanged emails on and off one summer - but he was pretty cool, overall). The owners of a few older tech blogs have my name - but I got along with them rather well. So did a few former LJ buddies. I don't regret those exchanges for the most part. I simply chose them more carefully in light of my first gaffe.
What my time online has taught me is to be careful - just not too careful. I guard who I am to avoid interference, but I also share as much as I can without knowingly risking unwanted drama from known or unbeknownst weirdos. But I wouldn't want to become too careful since it would probably suck all the joy out of being here.
So I say take any advice you want on being semi- or pseudo-anonymous, but when you start taking so much of it that being online stops feeling good, maybe it's just time to call it quits.