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Poll: Would you use your real name in an online forum?

Conventional Internet wisdom says anonymity breeds bad behavior in public forums. Would you use your real name if it meant more civilized conversations?

I have been using online public forums for a long time. In fact, I was lurking in forums with a 300 baud dial-up modems on a Commodore 64 way back when. Of course, back then they were called electronic BBS systems (anyone remember Wildcat) and were usually run by some local computer user group or enthusiast. Trust me, insults and flame wars can still exist even when only traveling at 300-baud speeds.

The odd thing about being around public forums for so long is that I have become accustomed to the rather large noise ratio. Public forums are rowdy places and part of their charm, if you will permit the characterization, is that you have to look hard for the gems of knowledge that make the other garbage posts bearable.

With that being said, the recent story about Blizzard/Activision's attempt to instill civility into its forums by requiring everyone to use their actual real name when posting a comment, and then backtracking on the idea after users complained loudly, was very telling. The long established tradition is that participants in public forums have the "right" to be anonymous and they are not going to give up that "right" anytime soon.

You can read the responses in the World of Warcraft forums to see some of the arguments against using real names. Some are legitimate reasons and some are dubious at best - which sort of mirrors what happens in forums, ironically. Personally, my name is already somewhat public because of my position here at TechRepublic, so I do not have the same fears others may have. Of course, I have also developed a pretty thick skin. (Hint to the clueless: Calling a typical American male over 40, fat, is not much of an insult.)

Toni Bowers approached this story from the business perspective of knowing your users and, to Blizzard/Activision's credit, the willingness to admit you were wrong and change policies. I would like to approach the story from the gamer/geek/forum-poster perspective.

Would you use your real name in an online forum? Is anonymity that important to you? Why is anonymity so important, what does it accomplish? Would forums be more civil if the participants were not anonymous?

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About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

103 comments
The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

that you can track down some people just by the picture they use if it is non standard. More so if they host it on their on website.

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

Who would consider such a thing!? I always use a nickname in online forums. There is only one exception. This one. That is because of the nature of this forum. In my opinion, I chose my real name because of the nature of this forum and my issues with accountability on the subject of technical matters.

wdg3rd
wdg3rd

Although my real name isn't always my login name, I always sign with my real name. Yes, there is a price to pay. I've been on the No-Fly list almost since its inception. Ward Griffiths

rclark
rclark

When I started on this forum many years ago, the moderator suggested that I not, but I figure if you have opinions on tech you should have your name on it. But you get use to those who have opinions worth listening to. And the characters will be, regardless of their non-de-plume.

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

depends, on the forum Most of the time no. Technical forums I may, but others including political ones most of the time no, I use a alias since never know who is lurking out there to cause trouble just because I make a strong opinion about something. We hardly have many rights these days (they are privileges) so will tend to exercise as many rights as I can until they are all gone.

dmckinniss
dmckinniss

Maybe if there was a "please explain" with each choioce the %s would roll more to the balance of 33%, 33%, and 33%

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

on LinkedIn But DEFINITELY NOT on WOW!

jdclyde
jdclyde

Maybe not. in a day where employers are sneaky pricks that are willing to search your face/space for reasons to not hire you, you have to be careful what you put out there. A lot of the regulars know my "real" name, and most of them know the reason I don't have it out there due to some postings of a personal nature a few years back.

dknichol
dknichol

I always try to use my real name; or a form of it, as like here. If I am going to make a statement "comment", I want my name beside the words I write. What really bothers me is when I cannot use my name. My friends know my nickname(s), do you? Yours Really: Darren Nicholson

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Yep, I remember BBS's, Wildcat, and 300 baud modems very well. Anyway, I only use my real name on certain private, professional forums. Never on open, public boards. I have nothing in particular to hide. Nor do I engage in flame wars, etc. In fact, I tend to think that if all one can do is insult, heckle, curse excessively, and so forth it is a sign of of ineptness and a weak mind as versus a display of superior wit as some would seem to think. I simply wish to avoid every Tom, Dick, and Harry picking up on my real name and using it to bombard me with spam and so forth. It just makes life simpler. When I look at my Inbox for email and see that the sender has something like TechRepublic in the name, fine ... I know I subscribe to TechRepublic, and am known as Osiyo there. I'll open and read. Trusting that TechRepublic has filtered out at least most of the spam. (I use the pseudo-name Osiyo in all cases, on all forums, where I do not use my real name) But if I see email addressed to Osiyo, but the sender is NOT one of the forums or groups to which I subscribe ... it is unlikely I'll open or read the contents. My usual procedure is to just automatically delete it. FWIW, family, friends, and business associates know the pseudo-name I use and the forums I hang around. As I said, I'm not really trying to hide anything. Just avoid nuisance. Likewise, I don't do the Face Book thing, or Twitter, or LinkedLn, etc. People I want to know about my personal life, private life, etc know. I do have an online site where I post stuff like family pictures, etc but its closed and private and only people I personally know and trust have access. And I don't post a picture of me to appear on forum posts for a simple reason. Too ugly, no one would want to see it anyway. I'm generally not fond of pictures of myself in any event. I'm an old, ugly, knuckle-draggin Neanderthal. Uncouth, uncivilized, non-PC, and unrepentant about it. FWIW, the "Osiyo" means "Hello" in Tsalagi (Cherokee). Which I am. Well, half of me, the other half by blood being Irish.

kitkimes41
kitkimes41

I'm 67, have been on boards and newsgroups as long as they have been around and have always used my real name (and now picture). I read groups to either learn something or try to help others learn something new, not to incite or participate in flame wars. Kit Kimes

NexS
NexS

To shut up those people who think that, somehow, somewhere, they are actually anonymous. Not only that, but the 'right' they have to anonymity. There are always ways (and yes, they may be complex - but ways nonetheless) to take your anonymity. Oh well.

Full Tao-er
Full Tao-er

I have posted to this forum with my real name, but my interaction here is very limited to tech subjects. On another forum I frequent, there is tech and much more that I comment on. Because I open up more about topics in general, I tend to prefer more anonymity there. It is not because I am hiding behind a pseudonym in order to behave in any manner I want, rather to protect myself and my family from unsolicited live contact. I don't believe this would be a problem, but I'm not willing to invite the opportunity. This very topic was brought up there also, and Facebook was often cited as someplace we post under our real names.

shryko
shryko

I use a pseudonym on most forums, where it's a single name, used consistently. This gives me a degree of anonymity, but it still lets me be identifiable. I tend to stick to just one pseudonym, though, if I want to be anonymous, I'll use a different one for the place I want the anonymity.

ScarF
ScarF

I use my real name only in online forums with limited membership acceptance, hosted by reputable companies such as Cisco, Microsoft or SAP. I care too much for my privacy to use it in public forums.

techrepublic
techrepublic

I have used my real name in some forums and even showed a profile picture.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

First of all, I do not differentiate between the various forms of on-line "speaking" or writing. An article is a blog is a comment is a commentary is an editorial is a forum ad nauseum; it's all public communication. A pseudonym is useful when commenting in areas where there is little control over the vitrolic. It's absolutely necessary when commenting in areas where there is severe political dissention as those who do not subscribe to the mainline majority often are socially and financially ostracized in an attempt to silence their opposing, and not necessessarily incorrect, viewpoints. I do use my personal name for many editorial comments in local and state newspapers. Especially when I wish to engage in reasoned discourse, use a teachable moment, present a personal anecdote to illustrate a point, or to issue a personal challenge. (So far no middle east terrorists have elected to test my nocturnal alertness or shooting abilities - Light sleeper, expert marksman btw.) For the gamer/geek forum-poster there's very little need for me to use my real name. The odds of my ever having someone hire or fire me based on my personal gaming and puttering around is slim to none, and I don't need the flaming idiot gamers subset stalking me in real life. On the other hand, I'd certainly enjoy spending a weekend at a resort eating, drinking, playing and talking with the guilds of players I play with, and many of the people I have professional discussions with in the I.T. field.

alfielee
alfielee

I already do & always have. I believe that nobody & anonymous have no say. They can speak but no-one credits their comments with any value other than other nobodys & anonymouses. Their viewpoint is hardly worth anything on the basis that they don't put their name to what they say. If they haven't got the guts to say it out loud standing alone in front of the world then their view is rendered pointless.

john3347
john3347

I 'most always register on forums, BBs, etc with my real name and use a portion of that real name as my handle. I always use the same handle. I do, however, ATTEMPT to refrain from registering on sites where my real name or other personal information would likely be used maliciously. Google is at the very,very top of this list, Facebook, Twitter, My Space (are they still in business?), etc., and online gaming sites, are all included in my list of "Don't even go there". So far, this strategy has been successful in keeping me out of "trouble".

Zahra B.
Zahra B.

Forget about using my real name. I have no problems about forcing people to use only one alias, which would make most immature behavior reduce quickly. A single alias per person makes it easier to track down repeat offenders (for moderators) and use peer pressure to reduce unsavory comments. But, let's face it, do I want my boss to know how much time I spend in Guild Wars or that I was posting during work hours or playing during lunch time when permission wasn't expressly given? Do I want my mom or my friends (or, again, my boss) to know about my minor health problems that don't and won't ever affect them? Or, imagine I wanted to get pregnant and spent some time posting on fertility/pregnancy boards. Would I want my boss (or future boss if I were looking for a job) to know that I might get pregnant anytime between next month and never? I've already been told by a department director (not mine) that if a woman advertised that she was trying to get pregnant, she would most likely be passed over for a promotion for the sole reason that she was pregnant. The assumption being she would take advantage of the full parental leave (almost a year in Quebec). Never mind the fact that the parental leave can be shared between parents in any way they wish (6 months together, 2 months for mom and 10 months for dad, etc.) hence the name "parental leave" and not "maternity leave". To be fair, the question was never asked if a man would be passed over if his wife was pregnant. In a semi-professional setting, such as this one, I don't mind sharing my identity. In a personal setting, though, I try to keep my identity and personal life separate. There's a reason why my Facebook page is basically empty if you're not my direct "friend" (even "Friends of Friends" get severely limited access).

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

Yes, I do use my real name or email address on forums in which I participate. If the forum is the kind where I'd be afraid to post my real name, why would I want to be there anyway? If I want to post something on a forum, I am willing to take responsibility for my words, and explain to anyone who misunderstands. Without body language cues, misunderstandings do happen -- even here. But I will listen to reasonable criticism -- I'm good at what I do, but I'm not perfect -- and ignore the illogical, emotional type of response. I'm not worried about anyone harassing me with words. Sorry, I forgot: Signed: Michael "Murf" Murphy

sjdorst
sjdorst

I don't use my real name, but I use the same handle across almost all forums, and a search on my handle will easily reveal who I really am! The only category of place where I use a different - and more anonymous - handle are forums where there are a high number of "I think you're full of *** - you should " responses to thoughtful posts. I occasionally want to add a thoughtful comment, but I don't want to reveal myself to those type of people, so I use a different, anonymous handle.

valduboisvert
valduboisvert

or how much unaware you are about bad things that may happen if you expose your identity all over internet. In simple words is just a personal preference.

The COBOL Wizard
The COBOL Wizard

Always, if it's a forum I can contribute to and whose contributions from others I value. Otherwise, it's not worth being there. I don't usually say anything that I'm ashamed to claim credit for and I'm not really "afraid" of someone else knowing "who I am". However, I always use a "pen name" pseudonym along with my real name to build following. Besides, being in the IT consulting business, I already have profiles "all over the place" (LinkedIn, ITToolbox, FaceBook, website, etc.) with name, address, phone number, e-mail, and lots of other details. I don't "pay" for advertising, but I want potential clients to "find" me. I prefer VISIBILITY and VISION to EXPOSURE or ANONYMITY. Chuck Shorter, VMI '67, IBM '07 IT Architect/Consultant aka Ye Olde Goate "Olde Goates don't 'fade away', they just 'butt out'."

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

Speakers Corner in London, lesser similar spots world-wide - neither speaker nor heckler required identification. Vox Populi. The All-Seeing "Pole" - Governments can be raised or razed by the whims of an anonymous few. Besides, we are here at TR, at the pleasure of our hosts, who set what rules they wish. So I beleive in choice and prefer to judge by the words and consistency rather than other criteria. Of course, some would see it differently. The South Australian government, who would stifle ALL political comment without identification, is but one. "[i]Who cares?[/i]" and "[i]Where?[/i]", you may well say, but governments worldwide keep an eagle eye out for supporting precedent in such things.

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

Depends on the forum (please explain): I barely use any real info. registrations for forums, news letters etc. have very little real info.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Certain sites I would not have a problem with having to use my real name. However on the other hand there are places I don't want to be personally identifiable for reasons such as controlling what shows up about me when a potential employer puts my name into Google or Pipl. Am I trying to be dishonest? No, but I also believe there is a separation between my personal and professional life and unfortunately the people who are responsible researching hires don't necessarily make that distinction. Edit: Also I dislike spam in my email, voicemail, SMS or my physical mailbox. To this purpose I often use the minimum possible information on social sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and so on.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Mark needs to retrench. Maybe, Mark needs to draw back and settle with himself as to how diverse, and how duplicitous, we all are. He certainly is not.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

My pseudonym, given me by me, is my name. As is that name given me by my parents. etu useless sentence

seanferd
seanferd

In some forums, especially those like Blizzard's, and especially if you have a rather unique name, I wouldn't. Particularly if you aren't the young white male hetero jerk type, a type which tend to dominate fora like that. Knowing your name, there is always one of these who will take their crap into the real world (it can be bad enough in the forum). I certainly wouldn't want to be stalked and attacked by these morons. (Which is exactly why women are one of the most vocal groups opposed to this.) Not to mention, they are pulling your name from billing information. I wonder what Blizzard's network security is like? On top of all of this, even Blizzard is showing reluctance to reveal the real names of their employees. I wonder why?

AV .
AV .

Then I can feel free to say whatever I want. If I want to rant about my job or anything else I can do it without having it tied to my real name. Thats important to me because some of my real life business associates also frequent TR. They don't need to know anything more about me than what I want them to know. I don't think it makes a difference if someone uses their real name or not in forums. If you're an uncivil idiot, you will still be one no matter what you call yourself. AV

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I decided I wasn't comfortable with being anonymous. If I posted it, I'll take credit or blame for it. This is the only forum I participate in. While I have a LinkedIn account, I don't do much with it. I assume Twitter has deleted my inactive account by now.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

What's nice is that there are enough famous Nick Nielsens that I don't show up until you get to page 5 of a Google search. You get mountain climbers, authors, television presenters, photographers, business executives, and composers, but not me. The further you go, though, the more I'm there.

mr_m_sween
mr_m_sween

...This is the most interesting point for me, being both a gamer and avid forum goer. I'm reminded of the infamous John Gabriel greater internet jerkwad theory. Normal Person + Anonymity + forum = Total Jerkwad So what will happen if part of the equation is removed? Will the roaches scurry away like a shoddy apartment when the lights are turned on? Will actions and hate posts start to translate to real life violence? Consider my morbid curiousity piqued. However, the world of warcraft forums are the worst possible place to do this experiment. The PvP mentality that many of the players operate with and the griefing/obsessive behaviors that are shown in and out of the game do not bode well. I can easily see someone getting ganked, tracking the username to the real life name, then trying to find them on facebook just to make them miserable. Also on the table is the gold farming industry in mmo's. I remember years ago when I first heard of this. It was a guy, his name was Rob on my EQ server, he farmed gold, leveled characters, and sold them to help make ends meet. Times are tough, you do what you have to. It was known, it was fine, sure it was dubiously legal, but it was just one guy. Then companies got into the deal, and aggressively hacked accounts to get out their gold and items to steal and resell for profit. I know that story is a bit of a tangent, but we know for a fact that accounts are being hacked for profit, I cant help but wonder about the wisdom of adding more personal information in that situtation. Especially since the forums dont require a user account to view the posts last I checked. If they go that route, I'll likely keep an eye on the forums simply to see how things go. I dont see myself rejoining the game itself so I likely wont be creating an account.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Happens when you open your door in the morning. You can no more control that, than you can control what goes here. Means, some other means must therefore be made afoot -- which takes more doing than you promote here. Hide under your bed, otherwise.

harryolden
harryolden

In some forums I do and others I dont it all depends on what the forum is about. I travel all over differant countries and it could be a problem in some for the answer I give in the forum, I have been warned about this. Some people do want to meet you and I do not want to see them I can help them but not in the other sence.

ARFred
ARFred

I agree. If one desires credibility one remains civil and honest.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

At Speakers Corner and other 'traditional' public soap boxes, both speaker and heckler could see each other and be seen by everyone else around. There may not have been name identification, but a regular speaker's face could be told from those of others.

Darryl~
Darryl~

Like you, this is the only forum I participate in and am, for the most part, comfortable with the people I converse with here knowing my name and I don't mind taking credit for comments I may make in various discussions.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Well, actually, I changed my approach. I think the 'Palmetto - Charlie Spencer' moniker was too cumbersome. I reverted back to 'Palmetto' but edited my profile to include my name. Even though I live in Lexington, I left my location as Batesburg because that's where I work. Doing that allows me continue telling myself that this is a job-related site and I'm here for the professional interaction.

seanferd
seanferd

You aren't anonymous, you post regularly under the same pseudonym. You are not being a sock puppet. You are easily identifiable as Palmetto. Anonymous is unidentifiable as any particular forum entity. People who only post as Anonymous (or Anonymous Coward) on forums where that option is available, or who continually nym-shift to mislead others, are basically anonymous. But welcome to TR, C.S. Palmetto. :) ;) edit: I almost forgot - Jay Garmon was just discussing this recently on his blog.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

'normal person' thing... Normal is term invented by social scientists to pigeonhole us. :|

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I repeat, it speaks of motive. Obviously, to some, a deliberate action is more threatening than an arbitrary one. You are deliberate.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

with the added bonus of being able to review previous comments, posts and MO. How else would we remember and recognise your contribution Palmetto as such a nice person? :)

Jaqui
Jaqui

there speaks a slashdotter. :D or to use the short form /.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

As it turns out, Nameless One was the realest, truest name he ever had :p

mr_m_sween
mr_m_sween

....if we dont define what normal is, then how can claim to be superior?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Just find a way you're better than your neighbor, even if it's only in your own mind. That's how I do it. B-)