User:Christine Bush/PseudonymPolicy/Archive

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ARCHIVE: How CZ Might Benefit From Thinking Differently About Digital Identity

This was an exploratory, DRAFT proposal. The author will be performing this research off site.

> Caution: Bold Text Ahead. Dear Reader, please note that this article uses bold text. While its author acknowledges that in some contexts, bold text can be construed as "yelling", she also wishes to reclaim this useful text style for the purpose it served for centuries prior to the advent of online discussions, namely to draw the reader's attention to key phrases and concepts, thereby making content easier to scan.


   This is a draft for a policy which has not been proposed and which does not entail suggesting the implementation of anonymous contributors. This draft is interested in exploring the ways in which CZ might grow its contributor base by offering alternative means of registering with us using carefully considered criteria, primarily based around the concept of pseudonymity.

   Pseudonymity is not anonymity as popularized by the radically open nature of the Wikipedia project. Pseudonymity acknowledges and respects the fact that everyone has a real name and that not everyone is privileged to use their real name in crafting their digital identity. It does not prevent anyone from using their real name. It also does not preclude verification of their legal name. Nor does it necessitate revealing one's real name.

   I would like to thank everyone who has informed my thinking during the early stages of this research. I regret some of the events it has entailed based on a naive assumption that work done in one's user namespace was autonomous. I advise others not to repeat this mistake.

Working Proposition

   Author Representative suggests that our current real names policy[1] could be improved to reflect recent research regarding the importance and formation of digital identity.

Arguments Against

  • Wikipedia
  • Bad experiences in past
  • Might not be appropriate for scope of project
  • Concept of "reputation" relies on real names
  • Goes against founding principles
  • Community not interested in change
  • No resources to implement a change in digital identity management

Arguments For

  1. The current policy is reactionary, defining itself as much by what it is not as what it is. This discourages participation rather than inviting it and serves to undermine that which it seeks to provide: a sensible, "mature" alternative. There is general agreement that CZ needs more contributors, so it does not make sense to continue enforcing an unnecessarily restrictive policy simply to avoid the opportunity costs of anonymity when there is a well-established third option: pseudonymity.
  2. Real names policies do not reflect a nuanced, informed understanding of the nature of the online environment. Surely this is something CZ needs to convey to potential contributors. Judith Donath is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard and is the author of “The Social Machine, Design for Living Online.” Her WIRED magazine article, "We Need Online Alter Egos Now More Than Ever" is clearly applicable to CZ: "Insisting that people use their real names online to prevent trolling and ensure civility ignores the fact that using real names online is quite different than using them in person."[2]
  3. A real names policy is indiscriminate and, in some cases, unfair.[3] The list of persons potentially discriminated against is not insubstantial: gay and differently gendered persons, women who must exercise caution with regard to currently or formerly abusive spouses, as well as authors, entertainers, journalists, or bloggers with an established reputation using a pseudonym.[4]
  4. There are benefits to using pseudonyms, including the ability to leverage established virtual identities on other platforms.[5]
  5. A pseudonymic policy does not prevent contributors from using their real names if they choose to do so.
  6. The main argument for enforcing a real names policy has thus far been because an organization such as Google or Facebook wants to become an authoritative identity provider to other sites.[6] This is clearly not part of CZ's mission.
  7. The proposition that knowledge with a provenance is somehow more valuable is very difficult to defend and in some ways flies in the face of the tenets of the collaborative production of knowledge. Should someone cite a CZ article in a paper, contributors' and editors' names are not cited. Why then should they be required? All that is actually entailed in our mission is credentialing of editors, and credentialing does not itself compel a real names policy.
  8. CZ relies on Discussion pages and encourages Forum discussions to thresh out its content and policies. Wiki software enables, and our policies encourage, your "signature" on these comments. Lest we forget, these conversations become immediately discoverable by anyone, including: potential employers, family members, government agencies, competitors, or persons without your best interests in mind. If we desire frank discussions of important, sometimes controversial topics, then it is obvious that doing so when logged in under a pseudonym encourages such activity more than doing so when logged in under your real name.

  1. Why Real Names Are Better by Sebastian and Yamakuchi
  2. Why We Need Online Alter Egos Now More Than Ever by Judith S. Donath
  3. I've Been Suspended From Google+ by Skud.
  4. On Pseudonymity, Privacy and Responsibility on Google+ by Kevin Hinckley (also via The Wayback Machine)
  5. Why The Nym Wars Matter by Dan York
  6. It’s official: Google wants to own your online identity by Matthew Ingram


Digital Identity Management

Also see