The election is over and while many ballots are still being counted, I'm left with an unresolved question: Why do people use anonymous names to post their opinions on forums like Patch?
I understand why anonymity can be important. Authors have long used pen names for publishing their works for a variety of reasons. People can be in danger for stating their true opinion in situations such as abusive relationships or living under a regime that limits free speech. Victims of crime can often remain anonymous in the media to avoid embarrassment or retaliation. There are many valid reasons for keeping your identity hidden.
So what about using a “fake” name to post your opinion in a comment section of a website? I can see some reasons where using a pseudonym is good idea. Perhaps you have a deeply held but somewhat controversial belief that you don't feel comfortable discussing outside your immediate circle. You might want to share your feelings and experiences but would only do it anonymously because of the fear of reprisals. That makes sense to me.
There is a fine line here. Anonymity on the Internet is the reason cyber-bullying exists. The notion that you can say absolutely anything without repercussions is a pretty powerful concept. It's easy to get carried away when you are free from normal social restraints. Statements that people would never make to another person if they were face to face suddenly become consequence-free. It’s a slippery slope.
The recent heated debates here on Patch (and other sites) because of the elections has brought this issue to my attention and compelled me to consider my feelings about anonymity on the Internet. I found myself giving more weight to the statements made by people who gave what appeared to be their “real” names. Arguments made by “fake” names were somewhat discounted in my mind, regardless of their position.
It was also my observation that some of the more inflammatory and insulting comments were left by anonymous writers. Not everyone who posts anonymously is guilty of this, of course. But it seemed to me that many of the more strident commenters were using obviously "fake" names. Are they that combative and condescending in real life? Or are they using the smoke screen of a pseudonym to act in a manner that they would never consider in a personal conversation?
Just to be completely transparent about this, I don’t use my legal last name here. It's hard to spell and pronounce so in many situations I use Smith, my maiden name. In my personal life, things like social media list both my last names and I use them interchangeably. Smith is the surname I was born with and identify most closely with. It’s not a matter of being anonymous; it’s more of a convenience and an expression of my personal identity.
So how do you feel about this? Does it matter to you if someone hides their identity when commenting online? Do you have a compelling reason why you use, or don’t use, your “real” name?