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Who is harmed by a "Real Names" policy?

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This page lists groups of people who are disadvantaged by any policy which bans Pseudonymity and requires so-called "Real names" (more properly, legal names). Often theses policies attempt to reduce or eliminate the veil behind which online bullying, harrassment, and stalking can occur. However, there are unintended consequences to anti-pseudonymity policies.

This article is an attempt to create a comprehensive list of groups of people who are affected by such policies.

The cost to these people can be vast, including:

  • harassment, both online and offline
  • discrimination in employment, provision of services, etc.
  • actual physical danger of bullying, hate crime, etc.
  • arrest, imprisonment, or execution in some jurisdictions
  • economic harm such as job loss, loss of professional reputation, reduction of job opportunity, etc.
  • social costs of not being able to interact with friends and colleagues
  • possible (temporary) loss of access to their data if their account is suspended or terminated

The groups of people who use pseudonyms, or want to use pseudonyms, are not a small minority (some of the classes of people who can benefit from pseudonyms constitute up to 50% of the total population, and many of the others are classes of people that almost everyone knows). However, their needs are often ignored by the relatively privileged designers and policy-makers who want people to use their real/legal names.

Marginalised and endangered groups Edit

  • Women, who:
    • experience up to 25 times as much Online harassment as men, if they use feminine-sounding usernames[1]
    • may be taken less seriously in certain fora if their gender is known
    • may feel they have greater responsibility or have less confidence in certain contexts and spaces if their gender is known ("girls suck at math")
    • if they are mothers or intending mothers, may face additional hiring, pay and promotion discrimination
  • LGBT people, especially:
    • teens, 50% of whom experience bullying online[2][3]
    • living in regions which do not have anti-discrimination policies or where homosexuality or transgender behaviour is outlawed
      • some countries criminalise homosexuality, and a few (such as Uganda) have the death penalty
      • many regions permit businesses to discriminate (wrt hiring, providing services, etc) against LGBT people
    • transgender people, whose legal name (and sometimes the name they are commonly known by) may be the wrong gender
  • Children
    • Young people are often advised to use pseudonyms online for their own safety (sometimes by the same institutions that impose "real name" policies!)
    • Children are vulnerable to abuse or harassment by their parents or carers if they are discovered to be, eg, discussing views or feelings that disagree with their carers' religion or ethical system.
    • Regrettable posts from their youth may come back to haunt them later in life if they do not use pseudonyms.
  • Parents and carers at risk or caring for children at risk
    • parents and carers with non-mainstream views, especially religious, or practices, especially sexual relationships and sexuality (eg LGBT parents or polyamorous parents) who may risk removal of their children by social services, or loss of custody or visits to their children, or may not be elligible to become adoptive parents
    • parents and carers trying to protect dependent children from abusers
  • People with disabilities are forced to choose between disclosure or isolation. The more widespread information is concerning a person's disabilities, the greater the reality (not risk, but reality) of discrimination:
    • in the workplace
      • difficulty in finding employment due to actual or perceived needs for accommodations
      • reduced access based on co-worker and/or management discomfort
      • intrusive questions
      • devaluation on the basis that we must have had special treatment
      • increased likelihood of abuse, due to the difficulty in securing employment
      • for those with a mental health diagnosis, being treated as irrational and/or potentially dangerous
    • socially
      • intrusive questions
      • for those with a mental health diagnosis, loss of autonomy
      • for those dependant on carers, vulnerability to harassment and/or abuse
      • people with disabilities are less likely than temporarily-able-bodied people to be financially secure, placing them at increased risk from social predators
      • we are often different among ourselves than we are dealing with temporarily-able-bodied and/or neurotypicals. Our lives are so challenging that restricting our ability to spend time together to offline environments would be devastating to many in the community. Requiring us to use real names would leave all but the strongest of us with yet another barrier to integrating with those outside our community, which often includes co-workers and loved ones, who can feel hurt and rejected that we do not interact with them in the same way.
      • this last concern is especially true for people with social phobia (a.k.a. social anxiety disorder). A real names policy would render their only truly natural social venue difficult, if not impossible. Instead of having a place in which they develop connections that many leverage to function in the real world, they would be further marginalised and isolated.
  • Both:
    • the relationship between specific knowledge concerning a particular person's disabilit(ies) and resulting discrimination, and
    • the way in which that relationship functions to deny access to people with disabilities

have been so thoroughly documented that the US has enacted a series of laws protecting such information both before and after disclosure. A real names policy effectively negates those protections.

  • Victims of real-world abuse and harassment
    • Survivors of domestic abuse (most often women and children) who need to not be found by their abusers
    • People presently experiencing domestic abuse, especially but not only those actively seeking help or planning to leave
    • Survivors of harassment and stalking, and people currently experiencing harassment and stalking
    • Victims of crime or private people associated with a newsworthy event (like the unusual death of a family member), who may be harassed for information by news media or the general public
    • People who have had an attack on their real name where someone has mounted a smear campaign to trash their public identity
  • People whose religious beliefs, lack thereof, or experiences place them at risk:
    • those whose religious conversion involved taking a new name who have not legally changed their name
    • members of any non-majority religion (or no religion), who may experience discrimination or persecution in the real world if they disclose their religious beliefs online
    • people who wish to disclose experiences they encountered in a religious community, but fear real-world repercussions for doing so
    • people who are questioning their religious beliefs
  • People whose names subject them to discrimination based on race, religion, cultural and/or socio-economic bias
    • for example, anyone named "Mohammed", who might fear harassment/discrimination as a Muslim
    • names associated with being from a poor or lower class family or background
    • names associated with a particular nationality or race
    • names associated with a particular (often older) generation
    • names associated with any non-majority religion (e.g., Starchild)
    • online, names have undue importance, as the belief that "on the internet, no one knows you are a dog" is especially enduring, despite being profoundly incorrect. Many people with names which attract such bias wish to discuss anything from fishing to PHP without having to deal with often incorrect assumptions about their background, let alone:
      • comments being dismissed or judged more harshly
      • greater difficulty with networking, e.g., in the US, people with white-sounding names are more likely to get job interviews than people with African-American-sounding ones[4]
  • Prominent people and their families
    • Well-known figures who wish to discuss perfectly innocuous hobbies -- say, knitting or skydiving -- without their real world identity impinging on the discussion. (e.g., Michelle Obama wanted to join a gardening forum.)
    • Authority figures who wish to explore matters outside of their own areas of expertise without their reputation getting in the way (e.g., Paul Krugman wants to join an information design forum)
    • Children or relatives (with same last name) of well-known figures who may wish to lead private lives (e.g. "about your last name, would you happen to be related to...)
  • Anyone in a marginalised group who might be "outed" in some way:
    • maliciously, by someone trying to hurt that person by putting a rift between them and friends, family, employer, clients, etc
    • innocently, by a friend inquiring after their health or their new partner, etc, in a venue (especially a searchable one) associated with their real name

People with direct identity concerns Edit

  • Activists
    • Political dissidents, such as those involved in the 2011 "Arab Spring" uprisings
    • Those involved in highly contentious political activity, around issues such as abortion, civil rights, etc.
    • Anyone with political views (however mild) that may be unpopular or discriminated against
  • Whistleblowers, government and corporate
  • Identity theft: A common security question used by many banks, even today, is "What is your mother's maiden name?" This is easily ferreted out if you know that John Smith lists Mary Smith as his mother, and she lists Joe Wilson as her brother. It's much harder to ferret out if "GeekJohn" lists "Knittin' Kitten" as his mother, and she lists "Joe Not the Plumber" as her brother. A policy of real names allows for the collation of identifiable personal information that can then be used to commit crimes against that person.
  • People who may be in danger from organised criminals if identifiable:
    • witnesses of crime
    • law enforcement personnel and people who work in the prison system
    • former gang members, their relatives and/or acquaintances
  • Jurors or witnesses in a high profile trial
  • People accused or convicted of crime, who might be:
    • harassed by victims and friends
    • hounded by the media or the general public
    • shunned online
  • Prisoners and former prisoners, criminals and former criminals, who are attempting rehabilitation or who have already paid their debt to society,
  • People who need a safe space to experiment with their identity because they are uncomfortable with it
  • People who worry that their account may be suspended or terminated because they do not know if their name will pass policy tests.

Subject-related considerations Edit

  • Health:
    • People seeking physical or mental health support. Disclosure of their health status places them at risk of insurance difficulties, employment discrimination, etc.
    • People with or recovering from substance addiction
    • see also Disability section in Marginalised groups
  • Sex and sexuality:
    • People who speak frankly about sexuality
    • People who wish to find out information about marginalised sexual practices, eg
      • People involved in BDSM and sexual fetishes who choose to keep their sexual practices private but need to be able to ask for help/advice/safety information
      • Polyamorous people or those involved in other styles of non-monogamy
    • People, especially children, seeking information on birth control or abortion
    • People seeking sexual partners, especially those seeking casual or extra-relationship sex.
    • Authors of erotic fiction (amateur or professional) whose day jobs or family stability could be threatened by the disclosure of these works, and/or who don't want members of their readership seeking them out.
    • see also LGBT section in Marginalised groups
  • Legal:
    • People who discuss current or past drug use
    • People who write Fan fiction, make Fanvids or remix or mashup video or audio, which may fall into a legal grey area
    • People in lawsuits, or who are considering bringing them, who wish to discuss the associated matters (or some narrow aspect of them) without fear of (perhaps unknowingly) prejudicing their cases
  • People who wish to discuss others without harming those discussed or the relationships involved:
    • people who discuss difficulties with their relationships
    • people who discuss their children
    • pseudonyms are especially important so that the material cannot be discovered through search
  • Anyone whose hobbies or interests place them at risk:
    • considered inappropriate for their gender or age
    • commonly mocked or looked down upon, such as Furries, roleplayers, Fan fiction authors, and nudists
    • people who are involved in several hobbies and/or interests at least one of which has a history of bias against the others, who do not wish to be defined by their interests.

Employment-related Edit

  • Those who use professional pseudonyms, including:
    • Rock stars such as Lady Gaga, Prince, etc.
    • Novelists and other writers using pen names, eg. George Eliot (historial example) or JK Rowling (contemporary example)
    • Sex workers
    • Members of religious orders (eg. Mother Teresa)
  • Those whose employment means they need to not be found online (and in some cases family members of these people):
    • Social workers, mental health workers, etc.
    • Teachers (and other school workers such as librarians, counselors, coaches)
    • Judges and others in the legal profession
    • Serving members of the military, those currently deployed, etc
    • Journalists or publicity people who may not want to be contacted by anyone and everyone
    • Academics:
      • in some fields and jobs face some pressure to not speak on subjects on which they aren't published experts
      • contents of their blog may be used to judge their tenure case[5]
      • as students, their supervisors may regard all of their intellectual output as belonging to supervisor-directed research[5]
      • blogging or other online activity may negatively impact their careers[6]
    • Union activists
    • People working for intelligence agencies
    • law enforcement and private investigators.
    • Clerics and other religious leaders
    • Public employees (who often are "protected" by laws forbidding them from discussing candidates for office, or in some cases by policy preventing them discussing party politics at all)
    • Bank and other financial industry employees
  • People who work on controversial topics, for example, they work on militiary-related tasks, they experiment on animals, or they perform abortions, who may be tracked down or targeted for violence if they give clues about where they live.
  • People with employers who place restrictions on online speech:
    • Those with employment contracts which forbid any publications (even, say, blogging about something completely unrelated)
    • Those with professional or ethical guidelines restricting online activity even if not banning it entirely.[7]
    • More informal pressure against being seen as "speaking for their employer" (often applies to, eg, people who work for well-known large companies)
    • Company owners and CEOs who are usually not allowed to have a private opinion - all their online activity is considered speaking for the company.
  • Those whose employers have publicly searchable online directories (such as members of state or city bureacracies, or universities and public hospitals) who do not wish to be contacted at work­—or have their supervisors contacted—by people who want something that is totally unrelated to their work.
  • People who wish to discuss or seek advice about or simply vent about problems they are having in their workplace
  • Job-hunters, who do not wish employers to see their personal information and activities, or who might wish to discuss their job hunt without alerting their present employer
  • People threatened with "I'll contact your employer" blackmail by online opponents or harassers

People whose "real names" are more complicated than you think Edit

  • People who legally have only one name (a mononym), as is common in certain cultures/countries such as Indonesia and Afghanistan[8]
  • People who legally have three or more names, including
    • people with suffixes, such as "Jr."
    • people from cultures with have multi-word patronymic[9] or matronymic[10] names, or other styles of multiple surnames[11]
    • people who use one-word honorifics[12] (eg. "Mrs Smith", "Reverend Smith"), or more complicated honorifics as are common in Burma[13], or religious or cultural honorary names
    • people with Western names who have middle name(s) or initials that they consider an integral part of their public/usual name (in the Western world, none of the following forms of best known name is terribly rare, especially in written address: "John Quincey Smith", "John Q. Smith", "JQ Smith", "J. Quincy Smith")
  • People who are known by a subset or modification of their full legal name, including
    • People who go by their middle names
    • People who go via a shortened (diminutive) version of their legal name except in the most formal of contexts (eg. "Sue", "Susie", or "Suzi" instead of "Susan")
    • People, most commonly women, whose parents legally named them a diminutive (eg. "Patti" or "Suzi" rather than "Patricia" or "Suzanne"), who reclaimed the full version of their name (typically for all uses beyond the family) but continue to use the dimunitive with their family. Requiring them to change their name legally would harm their family. Requiring them to use the dimunitive beyond their family would harm them economically.
    • People who took their foreign partner's family name upon marriage, and are legally required to go by it, even though it uses separate naming schemes for different genders (surprisingly common in Europe); e.g. Peter Gorbatschowa (male with Russian female family name) or Petra Thorbenson (female using Swedish male patronym as family name).
  • People whose parents chose to give a different first name on their child's birth records from that which they want to actually call their child. For example because they wanted the child to have a choice of which name to use once they've grown up.
  • People whose names are longer than your system permits (eg. when children's surnames are a combination of both parents' surnames).
  • People whose names are shorter than your system permits.
  • People whose names use characters that your system doesn't permit, including
    • People whose names are written in a character set other than the Latin alphabet
    • People whose names are written in the Latin alphabet, but use diacritic characters not supported by your system, which can happen in more languages than you think: French, German, Danish, Swedish, Czech, Polish, Vietnamese and others, including the real name of a pope.
    • People whose names contain apostrophes, hyphens, periods, spaces, multiple capitals, etc.
    • People who have legally changed their name to something which might not look like a "real name" to you, but legally is (e.g. names containing numbers, like 3ric Johanson, or names without capitalised letters)
  • People whose names contain strings that your system has been programmed to reject, eg. "porn" (a common sequence in Latin character transliteration of Thai names).
  • People (often non-Westerners) whose legal given names do not look like "real names" to people not familiar with them.
  • People whose names do not appear to match their identified gender in the culture, even if it does in their culture of origin (for example, men named Kim, Jan, or Michele, women named George or Dylan).
  • People whose legal name "seems like" a pseudonym because it is a common noun in English, or a Western name not used widely by cultural natives, for example Kermit, Rainbow, Ping.
  • People whose legal name may be mistaken for a pseudonym due to having a name (or part of a name) that just happens to be identical to the name of a pop culture fictional character. Dr. Benjamin Spock for instance may have had a temporary problem with the system. There is also a real life actor named James Kirk. And there are now people who legally change their names deliberately to match that of fictional characters. There are several Luke Skywalkers in existence.
  • People who are married, if
    • They legally changed their name when they married, but continue to do certain things under their birth name (eg. use it professionally, due to accrued reputation)
    • They chose not to change their name when they married, but may do certain things under their partner's surname or a combined surname
    • Their marriage and/or related name change is not recognised in their jurisdiction
  • People who have different names in different countries/legal systems, including
    • People whose name is written in different character sets or is spelled differently in different jurisdictions
    • People whose name is considered difficult to spell or pronounce or seem, who have adapted their name to their new culture (eg. Piotr to Peter, Ivanova to Ivanov[14], as well as adapted names which may be less obviously related, like Étienne to Stephen)
    • People whose name is not recognised as valid in some jurisdictions
    • People whose marriage and related name change is not recognised in some jurisdictions
  • People who live under a certain name, but have not changed their ID to match it. This is accepted under common law in many countries, as long as not done for fraudulent purposes. For example:
    • Transgender people in the process of transition
    • People whose cultural or everyday names almost never appear on their ID (for example, 90% of the population of Hong Kong use their English rather than Chinese name)
    • Anyone preparing to change their ID in a common law country, because often they must provide evidence of being known under their new name before name change decrees can be issued
    • People from places where people have multiple names depending on context or speaker
    • People who do not like their given name, or do not feel it represents them as accurately as their chosen name, who may not have changed their ID due to, eg, cost or family considerations or inability to do so in some jurisdictions
    • People who have ID in more than one name, which is possible in some jurisdictions
    • People whose name is regularly mistranscribed or misspelled even by officials, and who thus have different spellings or variations of their name on their IDs
  • People who have changed their name with all the authorities and the authorities have accepted the name change and use the new name but have not changed their name legally.

People with long-standing pseudonyms Edit

  • Open source software developers, who often use persistent, long-term nicknames in their development work
  • Bloggers
  • Gamers such as those who play World of Warcraft or other MMORPGs
  • users of Second Life and other online environments
  • in some countries, such as Japan, online pseudonyms are the norm in all circumstances
  • Authors writing under pseudonyms offline as well as online. Authors use pseudonyms for many reasons, among them: 1) to hide their gender (science fiction publishers insisting female authors of hard scifi adopt male pseudonyms before signing them is a contemporary practice. Playboy magazine hid the gender of female authors); 2) to protect the privacy of family and friends; 3) to protect their day job; 4) to present an image; and 5) to brand the work, if the author writes in multiple genres.
  • People who have used a name for so long that members of their social circle think the name when they think/speak of/meet/discuss the person

People whose "real names" are extremely common or extremely rare Edit

  • People with common names (for example, in many English-speaking countries, "John Smith"), who might want to use a more distinctive nickname or pseudonym so people can find them more easily.
  • Baby name fads ("Susan") result in adult name clusters (often in college) so extreme that all common nicknames and combinations of initials are quickly exhausted, leading to creative pseudonyms. Without the use of the nyms, communication within the community breaks down. Those nyms often stay on (as the problem follows each individual through their life) and becomes their true name.
  • People with rare names, who don't want their every little online activity to be blindingly obvious and connected to their legal identity.
  • People who share the name of someone very famous or renowned, who at best may face silly jokes ("Bill Clinton, huh?") and at worst may be repeatedly confused with the famous namesake (including facing hostility for their actions) or banned for impersonation

People who are comfortable using their uncomplicated "real names"Edit

  • People who use their real names most of the time, but who also wish to use less-traceable identities to discuss particular subjects, as outlined above.
  • People who cannot recognise their friends by their real name but can recognise them by nickname or pseudonym.
  • People who are comfortable using their real names but who wish to communicate with family or friends who are not.
  • People who are comfortable using their real names but wish to be exposed to diverse, taboo, or marginalised ideas, which may not be as available in a community with a real names requirement.
  • People who are comfortable using their real names and perhaps would prefer that others generally use their real names but believe others should have the choice to use their preferred names.
  • People who feel pressured to police their friends' name usage.

References Edit

  1. http://www.physorg.com/news66401288.html
  2. http://www.livescience.com/6199-cyberbullying-rampant-lesbian-gay-teens.html
  3. http://www.parentdish.com/2010/03/10/half-of-nonheterosexual-youth-say-theyre-bullied-online/
  4. http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/mullainathan/files/emilygreg.pdf
  5. 5.0 5.1 http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2008/10/why_would_anybody_want_to_blog.php
  6. http://www.hackeducation.com/2011/07/25/should-students-use-pseudonyms-online/
  7. eg [1] issued by the British medical association which strongly suggest that doctors not have public profiles in social media due to the potential for patients to find them and subsequent erosion of professional distance
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mononymous_persons
  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patronymic
  10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matronymic
  11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_naming_customs
  12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorific
  13. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burmese_name
  14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Married_and_maiden_names#Russia_and_some_Slavic_countries

See alsoEdit

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