Is the username dying? Guest post by Josh Mackey
The following guest post by Josh Mackey of PeekYou takes a look at the growth of the internet and his theory that it’s time to leave usernames behind. What do you think?
What would happen if at a school’s talent show some parents stood up and started heckling the child playing the piano or dancing in front of them? “You’re awful!” or “You call yourself a dancer?” For one thing, it would never happen. And if it did, the rest of the audience would turn on the heckler and defend the 13-year-old performer. Even if every parent in the audience inwardly agreed that the child was talentless, they would keep their opinion to themselves for the time being and clap at the end of the performance. Why? Because of the negative consequences of behaving uncivilly—to one’s reputation and even to one’s standing in the community. Common sense, right? How come then common decency is thrown out the door in the case of Rebecca Black’s YouTube performance? Why can so many people not refrain from publicly ridiculing this 13-year-old girl trying to be a singer and songwriter?
What explains the essential difference in behavior when the medium is the Internet? What changes people when they interact online? Why do they behave so savagely so often? Could it be the anonymous username? Could it be that when they hide behind an alias, they feel invisible, and hence not accountable for their actions? Is the anonymous username the modern-day Ring of Gyges?
Going by a username instead of one’s real name is attractive to those who:
1) Value privacy above all else.
Sure, a username gives you some extra privacy, but of what use is such privacy? If you can’t publicly stand by what you do online because doing so would damage your reputation, then maybe just don’t do it. Show some integrity and stand by your comments on an Internet forum. There are legitimate concerns over privacy, I don’t deny it, but ultimately people need to understand that public identity and privacy are two different notions, and that you can declare who you are without violating your own privacy. It’s not even hard to manage. Simple steps go a long way; steps such as thinking twice before posting personal details, and keeping off the record birthdays, phone numbers, street addresses, medical and financial records, and SSNs. Disseminating this kind of information on the Internet can be disastrous to your privacy. Divulging what your favorite music bands or movies are? Not so much.
2) Seek free speech for political reasons
Free speech is another catch cry in behalf of the anonymous web, and sure, if you live in Iran, and wish to speak out against the government, then you have a case. But if you yearn for “free speech” as nothing more than a cover for bad-mouthing people while not exposing your identity, then your tirade about anonymity and free speech on the Internet doesn’t garner much sympathy from me.
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