While choosing an alias to login to E2, I began to think about the pseudonyms we use in online communities such as E2.

A screen name gives you the freedom and anonymity to do and say things that you would not do in real life. This allows people to converse about very sensitive subjects without having to worry about what people think of you, since they do not know the real you, just this etheral version of you. I have read many nodes that contain very personal write-ups. Some were written by people I know in person. For this reason, I am unsure of what to put into my write ups. I imagine many people feel the same way. I keep a lot of my private life private and I think I would like to keep it that way.

When I choose an alias, I am reluctant to create a new name for myself. I feel that if I am not using my real name, I am not myself. I realise that this is what some people want, they are looking to be someone else. I had several attempts at choosing a name to use in Everthing but they all sounded geeky. I am a computer science student and am probably more geeky than I would like to be, which is why I rejected these names. I would have used my real first name if it wasn't already taken (and it almost invariably is, even though it isn't common) so I had to resort to one of my middle names*.

While people sometimes believe themselves to be secure in the knowledge that they will not be 'found out' while hiding behind their alias, this is not always the case. Law courts can demand personal information from the administrators of online communities if a user is accused of a crime. In order to prosecute, the court needs the legal identity of the individual. For instance, AOL were ordered to reveal the personal information of the person suspected of releasing the Melissa virus. Many online services do not demand personal information when you sign up but most ask for an e-mail address. This can, of course, be a false address. Examples are services like Hotmail and Yahoo. These give users anonymous e-mail addresses, which some people abuse. However, it is still possible to trace such an e-mail since forwarding information is kept in the header.

This also brings up the issue of free speech on the Internet. At what point, if any, does free speech become unacceptable? If a user breaches a confidentiality agreement by releasing information anonymously, they can be reprimanded according to the contract they are under, but only if their real identity can be found. What of libel? I have not frequented many online communities over the years I have used the Internet and consequently haven't be 'flamed' for anything but from what I have heard, upsetting the wrong person on the Internet, even by doing something simple like asking some simple question that could be found in a FAQ, can result in strings of abuse and threats.

Since this is my first node, I consider it a work in progress and will update when I have more thoughts on the subject. I am by no means an authority on this subject.

* After being here for nearly two years, I asked if I could take the name I originally wanted because the owner had only visited E2 for 15 minutes and never returned, and nate kindly did that for me. So now I can be myself again.

You don't need an alias to be hidden on the Internet. Even if you use your own first (or even full) name, who's going to know it's you? If you're from the US and I'm from New Zealand, how is knowing your real name going to make you more familiar to me? You're still a faceless, voiceless, odourless collection of text on a screen, hailing from a physical existance far away in a place half way across the world. On the other hand, as you rightly point out, if you choose to hide your real name it can still be found out by various means.

No, I don't think aliases are about hiding at all. I think, if anything, that they are about creating a new identity and advertising that. About bringing new facets of yourself to the fore. If I meet someone on the net who uses the alias "Kitten", I can safely assume they are fond of cats. If the go by "Skywalker", they're likely a Star Wars fan. This helps round out a personality in this text based world in a way that "John Smith" never could.

a PS to what TheLady wrote

For me, an alias is not about hiding, either. I use them to 'create a name for myself' that is specific to the context in which I am using it. It is nice to be able to shrug off some of the things people will associate with my name, in the same way that it is nice to be able to leave my body behind in written or electronic communication. An alias for me is not about false impressions, it is about incomplete impressions that give me a chance for a fresh start.

Of course you can create an alias like 'kitten' or 'skywalker' that associates you with an interest of yours. But I rather use aliases to start with nothing, so others will judge me by what I write or do, not by associations brought along by my name.

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