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Anti-Social Networking for Beginners

My Google+ account got suspended last week, because, as with most Social Media platforms, I was using the identity of "Faceless Man" rather than my actual name.

Apart from the slightly confusing nature of the appeal process (which seemed to assume that you thought they were in error, rather than allowing for the possibility that I might agree to give them my real name, or at the very least a less obviously fake one), they were quick(ish) to respond to my request to re-evaluate, and I am now back in Google+ with no restrictions.

But, here's my thing about the whole real name vs pseudonym debate. I use the names "Faceless Man" and "Anome" online for a couple of reasons. The first is that when I first got a computer account at University that allowed for me to change my name, I was reading Jack Vance's Durdane books, and I was taken with the idea that someone looking at a list of people who were on the system couldn't actually see me, but knew I was there. Hence "Faceless Man".

"Anome" comes from trying to register for online services with meaningful usernames. All reasonable convolutions of my name, initials, etc were taken. So I was reaching for something that would be unique, and, recalling my "Faceless Man" persona, I used "Anome". I have managed to use that on almost all networks I have joined (that allow names under 6 characters, otherwise I either used Anome17 or Hazinf, depending on what it was for - I think the only places I didn't manage to secure the "Anome" identity were a Jack Vance forum, and Wikipedia).

Anyway, the fact is that, online at least, more people know me as Anome or Faceless Man than by my real name. If I want to carry across followers from Twitter or other networks, it would be better if they could find me easily. And while I don't mind some of them now knowing my real name, there are others that I'd rather didn't.

On the other hand, going by Faceless Man is a bit jarring when dealing with people I know in "real life" who mainly know me by my real name. Some of them may not have been able to find me, or may be reluctant to friend me due to the odd name, or might think I'm just being a complete tosser over the whole thing. Then again, there is a subset of these people I don't want to connect to (for various reasons), and I don't really want my work colleagues seeing some of the things I might say about them to my friends. (Some of them would be OK with it, and may even agree with me, but one needs to be careful.)

What I guess I'm trying to say, in a round about fashion, is that I want to control my online identity and experience. I want to interact with my peers online on my terms. I don't want to be forced to interact with my friends in a less than open fashion because I'm worried that it might cause me problems at work. At the same time, I don't necessarily want to needlessly expose my employer to public scrutiny over what's particularly annoyed me that day. I want to interact with the people I know from various online forums as Anome, and my friends as me. (Although, to be fair, "Anome" is me, just by another name.It's not like I have multiple identities or anything.) However, Google+ and Facebook seem to think I shouldn't be able to do this.

Now, I'm not against the idea of giving Google my real name and contact details. I understand they might have reasons for needing that, and I am willing to give such information if the service is worth it. I'm just not as OK with giving that same information to anyone who wanders past. There are ways they could both ensure that each profile belongs to a real person, and hold them accountable, without having to force them to use their real names on their outward facing profile.

So, perhaps we need (yet) another social network. One that allows me to control how different groups of people see us, rather than what they can see. If we take the idea of the Google+ circles, I want to have a circle of friends who see me as my real name, and a circle of other people who see me as Anome or Faceless Man. This on top of the other features of the circle idea.

It's not just about privacy. It's not just about controlling who can see what. It's also about controlling who you are. Being the identity you choose for yourself, not a sort of fake identity halfway between who you are and who you think you're supposed to be.

Maybe I'm the only person who feels this way (I am a bit odd), but I don't think so. I know many people have no problem at all with being completely open about everything to everyone. Good luck to them, they can be themselves everywhere. Some of us, however, want a bit more control over how others see us, and interact with us. And that's not a bad thing.

Reader Comments (1)

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