11.8 Identity, Accountability

I said earlier that I strongly encourage people to use their real names in online conversations. But I do recognize the need for anonymity in certain situations, and I would never support the too-frequent calls for its outright banning.

My reason for preferring real names is accountability. The quality and trustworthiness of what we say and do is enhanced by our willingness to be accountable.

There are middle grounds between absolute name verification and anonymity. Online, we can use pseudonyms—made-up names—that are attached to a single e-mail address. Many online comment systems insist on registration using this method.

After all, who are you? Actually, you are many people, at least in the sense of how you deal with others in your life. You show one part of yourself to your family. You show another to your colleagues at work. And you show still another to your friends outside of home and work.

The systems for pseudonymity are still crude, though, and subject to gaming by spammers and others who want to pollute our experiences. They need to improve.

We also need to create online identities for commercial purposes—identities that guarantee merchants that we can pay but that shield all other information from being sucked into their computers. The technology exists to make this possible, but it hasn’t been put into the marketplace in any consistent or robust way.

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