Digi Domi

Sharing my passion for technology and learning.

Pseudonym or anon?

on February 11, 2014

Anonymity and the social web are almost synonyms. The question of whether this is right or wrong often comes up in relation to bullying, protesting, whistle-blowing and even education. Reflecting on this topic one morning I asked myself a question; are people more likely to interact (nice or mean) using a pseudonym than anonymity? A study by Disqus suggests that while 35% of commentors in it’s study remained anonymous, 61% chose instead to use a pseudonym. Based on the finding of Disqus we can consider that this might suggest people are not hiding behind a lack of identity (anonymity) but rather creating a new identity. It is possible they are doing this express valuable but controversial opinions they may not other wise feel comfortable doing so, or to attack people.

Already studies show people setting up fake accounts to abuse themselves, so why not do the same to abuse someone you know? Even a loved one? People might enjoy letting out their anger on others under a new identity? Perhaps this would then allow you to act the hero, standing up for the other person under your real identity. There can be many very complex reasons for people wanting to use a new identity for bad reasons – but as I’m not a psychologist I am just speculating here.

Of course pseudonyms don’t always have to be used for dark reasons. It can be used by those in censored areas of the world to express positive ideas, or even just by people who might feel they can’t express idea because of their gender, culture or background. Just like Mary Ann Evans used the pen-named (pseudonym) George Elliot to get her works published, others might still they are taken more seriously under a separate identity. So far I haven’t even touched on the much more simple concept of escapism. Sometimes people just don;t want to be themselves any more, they may not be in an extreme situation, but just need a break for 30 minutes to be another person.

This idea of anonymous and pseudonymous use of technology is also a thought I’ve had recently in regards to assessment. We have all sorts of policies and issues around anonymous assessments, but perhaps part of the problem is that we need assessment to be pseudonymous – so we know who to give the marks to- rather than totally anonymous. Therefore all endeavours to hide the students entity from ourselves entirely are in vain. It is also important to consider that prolonged anonymity can be detrimental to the ability to give feedback as part of an ongoing discussion, which better reflects the learners journey. 

Identity has always been a complex issue, and the advances of technology only serve to put it under a microscope. The line between online and offline is both distinct and blurred, with people able to leave comments that are untraceable or carry their alternate identity into real life. Personally I think most people prefer to be someone when communicating with others, even if that someone is not their usual self.

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