Pseudonyms and the Rise of the Real-Name Web
In J. Hartley, J. Burgess, & A. Bruns (Eds.), A Companion to New Media Dynamics (pp. 290–308). Chichester, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Forthcoming
17 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2013
Date Written: December 1, 2012
Despite their ubiquity, pseudonyms are an under-theorized element of online participation, as is the use of real names (or names commonly used to personally identify someone). This absence has become especially acute in recent years as sites listing an individual’s real name have become common. This shift towards real names is not merely a technical convenience, but a specific political turn. As pseudonyms are often associated with Internet trolling and cyberbullying, it is useful to track the use of pseudonyms in history and to consider many of their positive functions. Ironically, pseudonyms help to solve a problem that Facebook creates – the single heterogeneous audience, i.e., the collapsed context.
I describe three classes of pseudonyms: functional, where pseudonyms denote a specific social or technical function, such as eight character names or official titles; situational, where an external motivating force compels people to hide their real name identities (and of attributes) and personal, where an internal drive to adopt a different persona makes pseudonyms useful. I then describe how these uses operated in a pre-web 2.0 era, and how their use persists.
Keywords: pseudonyms, nymwars, real-name, social media, social network site, Facebook
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