Anonymity and the Real Name Web

Do you share your personal identity online? Peter Steiner famously published his 1993 cartoon with the caption “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”, however as Aleks Krotoski put it in her article for The Guardian here, it seems as though the days when people were allowed to be dogs is coming to a close. Personally I’ve found that people are more likely to link their real life identity to their online identities, especially on popular social networking websites such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We live in an age where, as long as you know the name of a person, you can most likely find their online identities.

Services such as Facebook are pushing us towards this ‘real name’ web by forcing users to use their real names when registering and they’re not alone. Google+ was originally designed so that people had to sign up with their real names. But

To back her point she drew upon Plato, who said “[man] will always do wrong when get gets the chance”.
why? Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg famously claimed that “having two identities is an example of a lack of integrity”, suggesting that web users should have no reason to want to hide their identity, and that those who do can be seen as “up to no good”. Facebook’s product design manager, Julie Zhuo, argued in the New York Times that online anonymity also leads to antisocial behaviour, as anonymity allows people to “troll” and “flame” with little repercussion.



Trolling and flaming have been around for as long as people have been using the internet (Sternberg 2013), so maybe Facebook has the right idea in trying to implement this “real world” web and eradicate anonymity. Scholars such as Danah Boyd (2011) and Bernie Hogan (2013) have argued the benefits of pseudanonymity (where the user is still attached to a pseudonym) and anonymity, saying “real names policies aren’t empowering; they’re an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people” and suggesting that there are many viable reasons for users to segment their identities, a point I happen to strongly agree with.

Personally, I believe there are many reasons for people to want to segment their identity, such as being stalked or harassed online, being a whisteblower or, as is the case with myself, simply to maintain their own sense of privacy.


, 2012: Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?

Emily Van Der Nagel, 2015: Anonymity, Pseudoanonymity, and the agency of online identity; Examining the social practices of r/GoneWild

Janet Sternberg, 2013. Misbehavior in cyber places. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America.

Danah Boyd, 2011: Real names’ policies are an abuse of power

Bernie Hogan, 2013: Pseudonyms and the rise of the real-name Web


4 thoughts on “Anonymity and the Real Name Web”

  1. Hi Ed,

    Many thanks for a fascinating post. I particularly like the way that you describe the so-called ‘real name’ Web from the perspective of service providers such as Facebook (spawning from their invectives to collect as much data as possible for advertising etc.).

    I have a couple of questions that your ideas above have spawned for me. Firstly, you mention Boyd and Hogan and their critique of the drive towards the ‘real name’ web. I was wondering if you thought this would lead to new services that don’t require these details (i.e. 4chan) that would compete with Facebook et al? I would suggest that lack of information among the public mean that this is not possible.

    Secondly, would it not be beneficial, in certain circumstances, for one to create a consistent online identiy. Say you were trying to create a person brand for your products or want it to be easy for people to find your work online. My thoughts are that this links to the digital ‘resident’ idea we covered last topic.

    Thanks again for a great post!


  2. Hi Mark, thanks for your comment. Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been having trouble commenting/responding to comments, but it seems to be fixed.

    I completely agree with you, the problem of the ‘real name’ web is very niche. It would be very difficult for any service to tackle Facebook in any capacity, especially one which aims to combat the push for the real name web. I agree that the public doesn’t have enough information on the issue, but I also think many members of the public wouldn’t see it as an issue at all. Facebook certainly does make a good argument for the real name web, and when compared to services such as 4chan which do not require those kinds of details, I don’t think the public would be swayed in 4chan’s favour.
    I also agree that in certain circumstances, the diversification of one’s online identity is not a good idea. Those who rely on presenting themselves as a brand should strive to have a consistent online persona across all of their platforms.


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