With “calls for restrictions on Internet anonymity growing” (and rebellion against real names policies also growing), I am hoping there will be more conversation about who is actually silenced in online interactions and why.I was thinking about Kathy Sierra the other day, whose excellent blog Creating Passionate Users never did return after she was harassed and received death threats coupled with the publication of her address and social security number. People using “fake names” made those death threats — but people using pseudonyms don’t have a monopoly on harassing people. And this list of people who are most harmed by real name policies is just as much a list of those who are most vulnerable to online harassment and intimidation. Suppressing pseudonyms is mostly just another way to silence people, maybe especially people who have been harassed. But maybe there are other possibilities. Sierra’s harassment started on a site that refused to shut down users who were harassing her. And the site’s culture strongly supported bullying. And maybe the users who made death threats could have been identified by the site owners.
Or maybe not. But there is a difference between forcing everyone to use legal names, and revealing information about someone when they make death threats against someone else.
Corporate real names policies aren’t really about protecting vulnerable people’s identities or interests; they’re about protecting corporate interests. But in addition to supporting the use of pseudonyms, are there other ways to encourage respectful interaction and reduce harms to people who might otherwise be silenced?