there’s been some interesting things popping up as of late regarding the issues of identity in an online world ( a supposedly fake one), and this lil journal to myself is just a reflection upon what I’ve been thinking about in the past couple of days regarding it.
To be a person, to be an agent who responds to possible calls of responsibility and accountability requires that the said person “BE” that person.
There’s been some examples as of late where people pretending to be other than themselves have posted some rubbish in their attempt to advance their various online agendas. The technical term is “astro-turfing”, and it involves using “sock puppets” in order to express statements that the authoring user is uncomfortable expressing themselves.
Though I could see the utility of such a practice (if one were living in a soviet-style oppressive environment, using sock puppets and astro-turfing might be a pretty great endeavor..) But I don’t believe it to be a very good practice for those who hope to make a living using and creating the internet.
After almost 3 days of reading the givewell thread over at mefi, and learning way too much about non-profits, I’ve been deeply affected. If I had money, I’d be affected to not donate to givewell, and to tell all of my friends not to do as such, but since I don’t that is not really relevant.
How this thread more deeply affected me regarded how a person is supposed to purport themselves online.
Online, you are free. You can create as many usernames as you want, you could mask them all with crazy ip fixes, and be 10 people at once. You could be 100 people, all masked, pimping your own product if you’re smart enough. And people do it and get away with it, it happens. It’s only a small part of what the internet is.
It is unfortunate that every internet user is not made aware of this possibility, and unfortunate that we don’t all have to take a class on nigerian craigslist scams and various kinds of internet trolls.
But, things as they are, we endure them and just want to make the best possible world out of their reality.
I was moved to begin writing about this because I had had some troubles about my identity online. I was very worried that some comments had been made (some of them by me) which might ultimately tarnish my name.
My name? “name”? what is a f’ing “name” online? who are we all? who are we all online that we aren’t offline? and how is this valuable to any of us? why should we be concerned with a “name” in general, or online in specific, and why is this whole discussion warranted?
Though I’m not so sure as to how it applies in an offline world, I do think that usernames, and names in general, are extremely important in the online world. Names. Things people are held accountable to. Things people are regretful of sullying, or hopeful to improve.
There is accountability in a name, and, hopefully, care.
Recently I trashed a cool flash designer’s unique solution to a certain security problem, and probably without warrant. The communities’ head responded saying that he was definitely cool with the project I trashed. I woke up the next day thinking, whoa- I did’nt write that, I couldn’t have been so ignant.
But I was, I wrote it, we all do in our moments of excitement. Unreasonability is almost a necessary REQUIREMENT of excitement, and excitement (IMHO) is almost more necessary to the project of achievement.
SO I wrote a dumb comment, Papervision3d’s creator tells me I’m wrong, and I feel like a COMPLETE ass. Questions like “why did I write that”, “how could I have rephrased this or that to be more clear”, or “why isn’t it clear to everyone that what I said was so right” became immaterial.
What I ended up doing was to consider my place in the community and the value of the response I had given. I considered that I was just a community member, not someone on the inside. I determined that my response, though I found it to be correct and all, was not helpful. What I had said detracted from the communal effort to do cool things, what I said made myself the center of attention rather than the issue, and in doing so, what I said made myself look like a fool.
It was very difficult for me to re-read my message in the morning, and more-so to read the responses to it. I was flat wrong, and not only wrong, but also a jerk in doing so.
It took me a whole day to decide what to do. I considered not responding and pretending to hold to my initial view. I considered that I could imagine a place where I WAS right, and purporting to only be able to see that situation. I even considered renaming my domain, and my handle, and starting over in a very tight community. But I couldn’t abandon my name. It’s me, I’m responsible for me, I’m fucking me!
All in all, I considered many ways in which I could make it seem less un-cool that I had posted a very un-cool message, but none of them worked.
In the end, I decided to make a post to the list saying that my comment had been not only misguided and incorrect, but also not in the spirit of the community. I also sent an email to the original poster explaining the whole situation.
I’m sure everyone on the list probably still respects my contributions to it, but they also know that I am a person. They know I’ve screwed up, no less than anyone who knows me personally knows I’ve screwed up. And, not proud of it all, but at the same time it’s one of the most gratifying things to be open about.
I don’t want to hide anything, and I believe that any attempts in doing so (esp in this web 3.0 world) will fail. there’s too many smart, bored, connected people to deceive, and if you’re trying to do so you’ve insulted all of us. we’ll let you know when it happens.
though my wrong doings and failings all around the internet have caused me grief, I’ve never abandoned any of my names. localhuman, tasaunders, modern-carpentry, modernCarpentry… they’re all mine, and I’m fully responsible for any words written by them.
what’d be more interesting is a study of the reform of localhuman. look at his misanthropy here. insert a year or so. look at his goodwill here.
the difference between the two is simply experience and love. it’s been a long year, and it’s become so obvious to me that seeds you sow grow. I’ve concluded to only sow positive ones, and to encourage those around me to do so, and I think I’ve come a long way since my earlier self.
It would’ve been easy to abandon my mefi name and reputation. It’d be easy to pay another 5 bucks and get a clean slate. But there’s so much more worth it in lurking for a year, feeling sorry, trying to make up for past errors, keeping your name, and ultimately trying to correct other’s perceptions of it. with enough care and time, it is not difficult to pursuade others that you are engaged and that you care and that you belong to the same community.
This occured a night or two after the givewell thing, and I am very glad I had that night or two to think before responding.
I’ve realized from my time on Metafilter that, in the online world, in the world where reference is limitless and emotion is only restricted by the amount of feeling a particular user is feeling, you’d best be being nice all the time. There is no shortage of resources online to research user histories or remind the community of something horrible from the past.
Being a jerk online earns you a permament repository on the internet as having done so. Though it is not unheard of that people get over the fact that you were a jerk, it’ll probably not get you a lot of goodwill in the short or long term.
In the end, being online is not all that different than growing up in a small village where nobody forgets anything.
You can, if you wish, decline to opt in. Internet will rage on without you, and our small village will tell its stories to itself. But as the world changes, as we all have to deal with taking up online identities, and being responsible for them, I hope that we can all realize that we will be more accountable to those identities than we are to our own, real, personal ones.
Imagine the power of one cop reading your id and trying to determine whether its a fake with all his computers and cop-sense. Now compare that with 1000 interested citizens, some of whom are quite intelligent, and all of whom have more google-fu than your randomly selected USian cop. You think you could decieve the crowd? You think that you can run the village for a ruse?
On the internet, we all know as much about a user as a user would have us know. If you haven’t let us know all that much, we’ll probably ignore you. In the case that you’ve managed to be anonymous but still gain our attention, it’s probably a good bet that you haven’t betrayed your name by going anywhere to post stupid shit.