Thursday, September 08, 2011

Your name is not your identity


So many of the claims in favour of "real names" online aren't about the benefit of knowing someone's name, but about knowing someone's identity. Western society has been quite good at conflating the two, so that provision of a name is viewed as equivalent to the provision of an identity.

They aren't actually the same. A supporter of using real names online once gave me an example where anyone would supposedly want a "real names" policy in place. Suppose I was seeing a doctor. Obviously I'd want to be able to see that their real name, not a pseudonym, was on a real degree indicating that they were a real doctor, wouldn't I? My response was that as long as I knew they were a real doctor, I didn't need to know their real name. Your name is not your identity.

The obvious question leading off from that is: how do I know they're a real doctor? And can you know this without requiring the doctor to reveal their name in public? I say that public disclosure of real name has historically been part of the process by which such verification of an identity claim has been done. But there is no reason why it has to be. Your name is not your identity.

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