Publicness, Persistence, and the case against Real Name policies

6 Aug
Identity by fotologic

Identity by fotologic

Or, If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no record of it, did it really happen?

Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic recently published the piece “Why Facebook and Google’s Concept of ‘Real Names’ Is Revolutionary” in which he presented what may be a novel argument in the debate over real name policies on the internet by showing that real name policies affecting everyone, not just disparate minority populations.

While real name policies do seem to make sense for probably 90% of users (they protect us from trolling and spam accounts, they help us to make sure that we know the people with whom we’re connecting), they’re a real (obvious) problem for a minority of people.  Unfortunately, in the case of the real name debate, the poster child for the minority population is a teenager questioning his sexuality… not someone that the powers that be want to rally behind.  (Off base fears about gay recruiting, egads!)

Identity by fotologic (2)

Identity by fotologic (2)

But, Mr. Madrigal shows us how real name policies affect all of us.  He gives the scenario of walking down the street and yelling, “Down with the government!”  If you’re not famous and not surrounded by anyone who knows you personally, as soon as you and the bystanders walk away from the area  there will be no record that that statement ever took place.  (And now we get around to that subtitle: If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no record of it, did it really happen?  For our purposes here, I guess not.)

He goes on to explain that, in real life we take audience and context into account when we decide which statements to make and how much to share.  As he says:

“There is a continuum of publicness and persistence and anonymity. But in real life, we expect very few statements to be public, persistent, and attached to your real identity. Basically, only people talking on television or to the media can expect such treatment. And even then, the vast majority of their statements don’t become part of the searchable Internet.”

Labeled by Christi Nielsen

Labeled by Christi Nielsen

Personally, I’ve long accepted that everything I say online is part of the searchable public record and that I may one day be asked for account for a flippant statement that I’ve made online.  (I’m pretty sure that this blog has dashed any future prospects of running for office…  Seriously, Maggie O’Toole for President, 2040… I would have been great.)

I live a pretty moderate life.  And I think that I have pretty moderate opinions.  But sometimes even I end up on a website or discussion forum that I wouldn’t want the whole world to know about.  (“What’s you deep, dark secret Maggie?  Why won’t you tell us?”  Nothing deep or dark, but everyone has secrets.)

My Identity Day 303 by ♥KatB Photography♥

My Identity Day 303 by ♥KatB Photography♥

When I’m reading about a topic that I don’t want “on the record” and the site asks to connect with my Facebook account before I leave a comment, I back right out of there.  And that’s too bad.  Because maybe I could have contributed something to the discussion.  Maybe I could have learned something.  Or taught something.  Or made a friend.

Questions of the day: What do you miss out of by being always on the record?  Maggie for President – would you vote for me?

MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole.  Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

3 Responses to “Publicness, Persistence, and the case against Real Name policies”

  1. Paul Leroux August 6, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    I have always signed my full name to everything I’ve ever written and published. Hasn’t come back to haunt me yet. And yes, Maggie, I’d vote for you in a heartbeat, if I were American.

  2. Rayme Wells of A Clean Surface August 6, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    I don’t think I miss out on anything. I suppose it is possible that some potential employers do not want to hire someone who publishes online, but on the other hand some potential employers might look at my blog and think, hey she seems like an confident and educated person with good writing skills. I would rather work for the latter employer, so I’m fine with it.

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