Real names versus reliable identity online

Interesting discussion about identity versus reliable identity:

Charles Arthur talks to the man who put the “e” into e-democracy – Steven Clift – about whether we should be forced to use our real names online. Plus Meg Pickard talks about anonymity and web publishing – is it a good thing?

You need to listen from about the half-way mark.

BTW I was actually having a look around to see if there was any further discussion of this concept of reliable identity, and came across these 2004 and 2006 class notes on Techno-Identity from MIT’s Sociable Media Group.

This part on individual identity is very relevant, so I’ve quoted it in full:

Without identity, there can be no reputation. In order for the history of one’s actions and of others’ assessments of those actions to become “reputation”, a few things are necessary. We must be able to identify the person, we must be able to communicate, and we must have some form of memory.

In the online world, identity, communication and memory cannot be taken for granted. Whether you can know who are the others in a space, whether you can communicate with them, whether the history orf their actions or of other’s reactions to them persists and is accessible – in a mediated envionment these are all matters of design. The creators of the environment can choose to incorporate them into the interface, to allow (or require) users to provide such information. Many do not. There are numerous forums in which anonymous contributors write; there a places where communication among participants is difficult or discouraged. In such circumstances, reputation cannot be a socially motivating force.

In the online world identity, the ability to connect an action to a particular person or a sequence of actions to the same being, is especially problematic. The crux of individual identity is the body, which is absent online. One way of establishing identity in the mediated world is to connect the online persona to a physical being. Sometimes this is straightforward: if I sign my writings with my real name, my email address and work place, I’ve provided clear ties to my physical world self, connecting the online persona to the real wold self.Yet sometimes it is less straightforward: what if 10 people are colectively creating a single virtual persona? Another way is to use history and reputation to establish an online pseudonymous identity sufficiently robust and valuable to have at least some of function of an embodied identity, in that harm to the pseudonymous persona is significantly costly. If I spend a lot of time and effort establishing an online persona, that persona can have a functioning reputation; however, its value is still much lower than that of the embodied self: I am likely to be much more willing to discard even a long running persona than I am to risk bodily imprisonment or harm.

Anonymity, pseudonymity and known identity exist on a continuum of verifiable connection to a single physical self. Anonymity means that there is no connection to a physical self and little persistence in time. Pseudonymity means that there is no connection to a physical self but there is persistence in time. A pseudonym can have a reputation.


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