(This item, originally posted upon my Google+ stream, is placed here for archival purposes.)
The practice of pseudonymous communication is a foundational cornerstone upon which much of American history and culture rests; it was and remains one of the chief mechanisms by which dissent and civic protest occur, and it is integral to the activity of engaging in civics as well as engaging socially in our country.
During the days of separation and independence from England, the founding fathers of our country engaged in the use of pseudonyms to communicate dissent and to both arrange and conduct activities central to the establishment of our country; chief among their goals was to assure “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for themselves and their descendants.
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, collectively writing under the pseudonym “Publius”, are credited with authorship of The Federalist Papers; they were far from alone in the recognition of the benefits and valid uses of the pseudonym; many of our major, political figures of the time engaged in this activity:
Did they do so because they were “disgusting, filthy, untoward, and prurient persons”?
Did they do so to engage in nefarious or otherwise detrimental causes?
Did they do so to trick or otherwise defraud people?
To a one, the answer, resoundingly, is, “No.”
Throughout human history, the pseudonym has been a stoic banner under which all manner of discourse proceeded that would otherwise have be forcibly silenced. It has served artists, authors, musicians, and philosophers as well as it has politicians; and in every such case, it has provided the means by which a great many instances of beauty, literature, symphony, thought, and social evolution/progress proceeded.
It is a fact: The pseudonym has a far grander, larger, and more salient role in our lives than the fearful, shadowy one depicted by certain pundits and by those with vested self-interest and great monetary cause for divesting us of them.
It is also a fact that restricting or otherwise constraining the pseudonym can and will have a detrimental effect upon all forms of expression; not merely because people wish to distance themselves from their opinions (though this is sometimes the case), but because, many times, the fear of negative or retaliatory response to their person because of their opinion chills their willingness to set forth any opinion whatever.
There are arguments which assert that the use of the pseudonym “causes” rude and uncivil behavior; but this argument is clearly demonstrated false in any number of studies, the most recent of which indicates that, in fact, it is the use of real names that is most likely to do so: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/jul/12/g
There are arguments that assert “only bad people want to hide their identity”; to which the simplest response is to point their eye back to the beginning of this post.
There are any number of fears, uncertainties, and doubts at work in relation to the many and titillatingly varied “what ifs” of pseudonymous communication. But, at the end of the day, there are far more instances and examples of how and why the pseudonym greatly contributes to and assists in the advancement of our engagement culturally, socially, and globally than that it detracts or endangers it.
As the creator of this item eloquently states (sic), “But what if I simply want privacy and a reasonable expectation that I can choose how and with whom I interact for reasons ranging from preference to social segregation of activities?”
You see, while the pseudonym has a wonderful and extensive history of helping our country evolve and grow, its common use is less purposeful, even as it is no less important — it gives “We The People” the ability to choose, change, and cloak our identify, the ability to manage our social lives as we like, and the ability to engage with the multiple collectives in which we operate selectively as well as to segregate them according to our individual needs.
Who am I to say that you should not be allowed to have this freedom in relation to your expression? I would not dare to do so. If you, as Mr. Scoble, believe any number of things about the importance of using your real name, by all means, use it to your fullest delight.
But let us turn the question and ask instead, “Who are you to say I should not be allowed to have this freedom in relation to my expression?”
With the above question, we arrive at the crux and my primary assertion on the matter of the use of pseudonyms in the context of any inherently social environment:
An appropriate policy in relation to names is one that is minimally invasive, mutually respectful, and above all, maintains as primary the right of the customer to choose if, when, and how they avail themselves of pseudonyms when engaging in this, an inherently cultural and social environment.
Google, all due respect, the simple reality is that your policy on this count absolutely, epically, and utterly fails.
Fix it. Soon. Please.