There’s a lot of discussion going on at the moment around the issue of using what some people call “Fake” names on the Internet, particularly around Google+ which has outlawed them, as has Facebook, although on Facebook you can set up a Fan Page under your “Fake” Name. On Twitter you can call yourself whatever you want, and they don’t seem to have any problem with it.
“Handles” as they are known by experienced online users, is something that goes back to online forums before there was any such thing as social media. It was understood that you could call yourself anything you wanted on a forum or a support network, in fact real names were discouraged to protect you actually…. The reason you might have used a “handle” was your own business. It might have been for privacy, so that you could express yourself with more openness, it was rarely so you could participate in bad behaviour and not be traced. If you behaved badly on a forum you would be kicked off….no need for a real name.
Most forums on the Internet still ask you to create your own user name, it is really standard practice. On forums you are respected for what you contribute, not your PHD or your real name identity its a level playing field which is just great!
However with the rise of social networks being used not just for support groups or discussion and sharing ideas, but for business, a whole bunch of Internet community “noobies” have entered the system. People who don’t come from a background of online community experience. They view the use of handles with suspicion, some of us would say they “just don’t get it”
Google say that their reason for not allowing “Fake” names on their new social network Google+ is that they are in the business of identity…they want the real names so that they can mine and track your real life data. This policy has really got up the nose of millions of users of the Internet who have been identified by their online handles for years in some case 30 years! Many people are better known by their handles than their real life names!
I definitely fit into that category. Although I have used my real life name online with my Jazz Singing persona, I had an online forum “handle” that was a version of my real life name which dates back to 1995, My “Fake” name of Paisley Beebe, which was created for Second Life in 2006, is by far the better known name on the internet. Just do a search…Because I’ve been active in online communities for a long time, choosing a handle for Second Life was no big deal.
In the last few months, I’ve had a change of career, from a primarily online one to an offline one. I won’t say real life one, because to me both careers are real life. So I’ve reverted back to my real life name on social media for this new business “Digital Breezes”, whilst still being known as Paisley Beebe in my Second Life circles.
The suspicion about “Handles” I think is primarily from people who have only just come online in the last 3-4 years. As soon as I see someone who claims they don’t trust handles or “won’t work” with people who have them, I think…noobie…I may be wrong..but that’s what I think. Yes, like some are judging US for having “Fake Names” I’m judging them for not having the online history to understand.
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In the entire 15 years I’ve been interacting with people on the Internet, I have yet to have been really conned by someone with a handle. The bottom line is in my experience there have been equally as many people I’ve had to block over the years for abusive behaviour who abuse under a real life name or under a “fake” name, I haven’t been aware of more abuse by “Fake Namers”.
You Can’t Really Hide Behind a “FAKE” Name
The reality is that If someone breaks the law, or cons you online it is far too easy these days to identify that person, even if they do go by a Handle. Even the hacker boys from Luzsec and Anonymous haven’t been able to avoid the law by using Handles and all the security and smarts they would have used to avoid being traced. Having a real life name doesn’t exclude you from bad behaviour or illegal behaviour, and having a “Fake” name doesn’t mean you won’t be caught. Its a total misnomer to think that.
There are many, many people who have legitimate reasons for “Handles”, and chose them originally for many legitimate reasons. The least of all to be able to get away with some illegal operation. Everyone is traceable on the Internet..handles or no handles. Sometimes its for security very serious security. But if someone really wants to find you…they will.
I’ve always liked handles, they often show the true personality of the owner much better than their offline name, and they can be wonderfully creative. And for me its always been the content that’s important, I don’t, and never have had to know the true identity of many of the connections I’ve had online. If I don’t like what someone does or says, I block, or un-follow.
I think its a shame if the Handle culture of online communities disappears because some people who have no background in how it originally worked decide you are not legitimate with a handle, without at least trying it out and seeing the benefits.
Privacy and Handles
For my kids handles are essential! it protects them online, as it does many adults who want the freedom of the Internet and don’t want to be discriminated for example for playing Minecraft or World Of Warcraft, when that might seem juvenile in some professional circles.
The Internet is such an open place. Where once what we did in our private life was private, if you liked to play dress up games at home with your wife/husband it was your business! If you like to play ” The Sims” or “Second Life” on your own time, well then you should be able to do that privately also.
If you don’t want to do business or associate with someone who goes by the name of “Sparkle Fairy Frou Frou”, then you just might miss out on interacting with the most creative and talented producer in the film industry or an amazing developer that could help your business. As a media person in Second Life I interviewed nearly 500 users of Second Life. And I knew what some of them did and who they were in offline life. And let me tell you, some of them had the funniest most ridiculous names online, but were serious players in real life. Wealthy, Famous, Academics, Teachers, Social Workers, Industry leaders and great Artists. Having an open mind and understanding of online culture opens so many great possibilities that having a closed suspicious misunderstanding of handles will prevent.
Culture and The Internet
For us Internet oldbies, (and I’m still a middle aged Oldbie, there are heaps older than me!) it kinda feels like you are the original inhabitant of a country with its own imperfect but endearing culture, and then some Johnny-come-lately rich loud mouthed foreigners come in and start to tell you to change your names to something they can pronounce…and they have no idea that they are asking us to do away with a part of our culture that is so important to us, its not about hiding!
I’m sorry, but if you are going to judge us by our “Fake” names we are going to judge you for your noobie cluelessness…shrugs. Don’t forget we were the nerds you laughed at and reviled…now you want in?…now you want to join us? We are not going to roll over and let you steal our culture not without a fight.
Let me know your take on this in comments!