Thursday 26 November 2009

Pseudonymity AKA privacy.

When people all start agreeing with each other too much I get a bit nervous..... and that’s why I try to disagree with everyone, where at all possible...

I have been a keen follower of Botgirl’s blog since I first saw her work in September last year at New Caerleon. Her work on multiple identities and the psychology of virtual existence has been inspirational and helped me formulate my own thoughts on the subject.

Recently Botgirl has announced her RL name and status and caused a fair few post centered around the anonymity question. That is fair enough, that’s her privilege. To me it was a bit like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings turning to camera and saying..”My real name is actually Ian.” It did nothing for me.

I am very bored of blogs where articles about SL people add their AKA’s. Like.... “Baggins Frogspawn, AKA Maria Rabinowitz, is now...bla bla bla....” (both names are fictional before you run to Search, tho Maria will probably sue...).

There are two main reasons for this... firstly I have enough trouble remembering one set of names (my bio-RAM is overloaded and no implant/upgrade available..) let alone two. I have friends on Facebook (which is really boring the pants off me at the Wars and Stupid Farms are not what I want to spent my time doing or how I want my personal info spread in hyperspace...) yes...friends on Facebook who I don’t know...too many names, too much info...

Secondly... the suspension of disbelief is fully respected in film, theatre, puppet shows (big in some cultures) and fiction, why is it not as accepted in SL?

The loss of belief in Santa is a passing of innocence which doesn’t happen instantly, there are years where children accept that Santa/daddy is a dual identity like when I go the the theatre and accept Hamlet/actor as an entity. I’m a grown up, I can accept that the person standing in front of me may not be 7 foot tall in RL, may not have two heads, Duh!! but they have in SL and I enjoy it.

Now, having ‘come out’, as indeed Dusan Writer has, Botgirl has had a rather positive spin on her new dual status reminding me of a convert’s enthusiasm.... and when people all start agreeing....

Her most recent post however conceding that “ Public pseudonymity IS compatible with the quest to live with integrity” altho she implies that full disclosure is necessary for a meaningful friendship.

Integrity is the best reason I know for NOT messing up SL with the trivia of RL. “ Integrity as a concept has to do with perceived consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcome.” (wickidpedia)

...and I seem to remember that a common comment in Dusan’s discussion of the subject centered around the idea that ‘transparency’ (giving your real name) would be great for VW as more honesty would prevail.

Well, I think that both of these points are rubbish.

Revealing my identity, which I now see as a mistake, to a couple of friends has done absolutely nothing to improve my relationships with these people, they would have been just as good had I not done so, and one, I feel, has suffered because of it. As for honesty ...duh! ...Bernard Madoff......that was his real name.

Like the example I gave above with Gandalf it disturbs the flow of the action and it takes 6 months or so before things return to normal and the RL “facts” fade into the muddied waters of my memory banks. I lose interest, luckily....

Far worse than these individual foibles is that ‘realism’ is a geek ideal that has seeped into the very culture of VW’s. the beginning a load of geeks got together to try and make a 3D avatar that looked as human as possible, they refined and refined. Their measure of success was... how life-like, how ‘real’ could they make this world. This aim has now infested the Boys philosophy. Their aim is now to make SL a copy of the Real World and have Real Meetings in Real Boardrooms..... and probably Real Names......but I digress (as usual) and my view that NPIRL is not an option but the ONLY option for VWs will have to be the subject of another post.

For several hundred years it was accepted that society had a dual nature, every person/household had a public face and a private realm. The division of labour was such that the wife was queen of the private realm (which included finance) and the man would go into the public realm and talk philosophy, war and other BS in gentlemen’s clubs and stuff. It worked, not perfectly, nothing ever does.

SL is a public realm, every word you say, every thing you do, etc. is recorded, and I think that my pseudonymity is a healthy privacy.

As a full and fairly rounded individual I have to agree with Bryn who said... “I do not want to become just another AKA.”

soror Nishi AKA soror Nishi



  1. i agree wholeheartedly, sistah. i entered into a fantasy world and now it has become somehow more real, but not quite... botgirl's recent missives have been irking me. i don't want to know who is their typist (tho i often catch myself gossiping about it.) when i hear the *real* voice and find out the *real* story, i find myself losing the sense of the magickal. i lose the illusion. when i came here, i agreed to suspend my disbelief and i for one choose not to get it back. soror, your notions about what SL should or could be are inspiring and infectious. i couldn't agree more with you that there is an insipid ridiculousness to the idea that we have to re-create reality in this, our own small slice of the Metaverse. and there is no imperative that somehow gives those who decide to AKA, the moral high ground. sistah, keep up the philosophical. i like it when you are up here in the aetherial. and we do see eye to eye.

  2. Good to hear your take on this!

    To me, there are at least two types of integrity. The definition you mentioned from Wikipedia has to do with how others perceive your actions (or those of a character in a creative work.) It is quite possible to have integrity of outer activity, while being untrue to your own current beliefs, thoughts, values and feelings. What I meant by integrity was "to one's self be true." And assuming someone is evolving and learning, this translates into some "out of character" changes from time to time.

    I absolutely do not think that everyone SHOULD be completely transparent to the whole wide worlds, nor believe that you owe anyone information about your identity. But I also don't think I or anyone else has an obligation to make "suspension of disbelief" easy for people.

    Anyway, I think there is plenty of room for many different approaches to living a virtual life and I'd love to see more thoughtful discussion on the topic (whether I agree with it or not) like your post.


  3. Totally agree. I was disappointed in and a bit ashamed of Dusan for waffling then deciding to break the circle, and I said so in his blog (I have the utmost respect for Dusan, btw).

    Personally I think he let what's-her-name (which I can't remember and don't want to research) and her ilk pressure him into publicizing personal information because they made a "total disclosure" rule for the group he wanted to participate in. He couldn't bring himself to buck the rules so knuckled under. But that is often a bad move and all the self-explanatory angst coping after the fact that many display shows that to be so. Myself I would have told her to shove it. People who make those rules for associating with them in-world have no clue about the psychology of wanting to be in-world in the first place. It's to ESCAPE the mundane and create a NEW paradigm for yourself. A unique opportunity that one is totally foolish to throw away for dumb clucks who don't get it.

    People who have more than half a brain intuitively understand that an avatar represents and therefore IS the person animating it. They are one in the same. A person without integrity in biological life represents him or herself digitally the same way, just as they do in blogs, or chat, or anywhere else they interact. When I say "I" I mean Caliburn Susanto. That is all you need to know to deal with me in-world because you ARE ALSO in-world. If you were in my office, or in my home, that would be the venue of interaction and the avatar would be irrelevant. But when you are in-world then it's my avatar that is available to you for interaction; only that. In-world the playing field is level and I am my own creation on it, regardless of someone else's insecurities and suspicious nature.

    And before yet another bore pipes up with "well if you think I'm doing business with a pseudonymous persona you are mistaken!" my response in advance is who the hell cares?? Who asked you? Who NEEDS you? Not us. Go away! We aren't investing our time and money in a virtual world to please your insecurities, we are there for our own amusement and enjoyment. I prefer to give the benefit of my services and time to more intelligent entities than those whose gut response is [translated] "I don't deal with people I can't grab hold of and sue into the ground if I feel like it." Again, who cares?

    I see all the comments and blogs that you see and I have the same response mentally to them as you expressed above. However (until this moment, as I also have respect for Botgirl and she sent me here) when I see them I ignore them and move on. I don't engage that conversation anymore. It's passe. I'm sick of the argument; I got sick of it back on Extropia.

    [pant][pant] --Finis :-D

  4. More rubbish.
    First define the context and purpose of using avatars and virtuality.

    The term "SL" alone just means nothing.It's a smokescreen. SL is a virtual world but in no way should all virtual worlds be "Second Life"

    People DIDNT INVEST in the man Bernard Madoff, they invested in "the title of former Chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange " and an impressive but fake set of return's documents.

    No one met Bernie-- only his avatars. He knew what power that gave him over others, We know what power you'd like too, but we're onto you now.;)

    Come clean.

  5. Very interesting post.
    I have been doing a lot of thinking on virtual identity for my Masters Thesis which is about the avatar and identity.
    To be honest, this will never be just black and white. Having a Second Life" affords anyone to be anything they want at anytime for any reason. Some people may want to disclose who they are, some people may want to live under anonymity.
    It is completely up to them and I don't believe there should be any prejudice against it.
    In that respect real world politics are coming into play.
    Having a second life, offers people a way to live how they want. If someone wants to recreate reality, then so be it. If someone wants to build a space that is completely virtual and NPIRL, more power to them.
    That is why I love Second life, because we all have the freedom to chose.
    No one should be judged based on their choices.
    Gracie Kendal

  6. @codeBastard, thank you. :))

    @wizzy, yes, as subsequently posted there is no moral high ground to be gained through disclosure, and the inference that there is was part of the inspiration for my posting.

    @Botgirl Questi, thanks for your comment, I feel I need to post again re. integrity, I am not as precise in my wording as you. :))

    @ Caliburn Susanto, well, I couldn’t agree more. I am soror Nishi and, as you say, anyone who can’t deal with that should ask themselves.. why?

    @anonymous, hysterically funny, I laughed for a good 5 minutes.

    @ Gracie Kendal, yes, I agree totally there is room for all nuances of user in VWs which is why, when one thought stream seems to try to dominate, I feel it necessary to pose the counter-argument.

  7. I have to agree soror, when everyone starts to agree I get uncomfortable.

    What boggles my mind is when really complex personal choices get boiled down to right and wrong. There is no universal truth here. Instead, there is a big bubbling mass of grey identity goo, through which we all choose to swim.

    I respect whatever choice others make for themselves and I marvel at those who seem to be so very certain about these issues. I am often confused as hell, I admit it. I have no idea where the clear line between my human self and Chestnut is at all. She is me and I am her and we are all together? For me, none of this is simple.

  8. Excellent post, and comments!

    Save for one very narrow situation -- emotional intimacy -- I don't care about a person's "meatspace" name, appearance, age, gender, or anything else (well, maybe the time zone they live in, which has a direct effect on when our in-world presences overlap). They are who they appear to be, most especially by what they say and how they say it. Regardless of the 3D bells-and-whistles (and of the voice option, with which I was enamored for a while and have since abandoned), we still interact through the written word. That has -far- more power to reveal someone's inner nature than "coming out" does.

    I agree: "...pseudonymity is a healthy privacy." Sometimes it can be a vital necessity; other times it can be a tactic to emphasize that the action more important than the actor; sometimes it's merely a whim. Remember that the practice of taking a pseudonym has centuries of precedent in literature and other public writing. Do we discount the worth of the works of Mark Twain, George Sand, or James Tiptree Jr. because they were published under "false" names? Were the Federalist Papers any less important to American history because Hamilton, Madison and Jay submitted them under the common pseudonym "Publius"?

    I think (to paraphrase Botgirl's blog post) we are ready to move past the navel-gazing stage of "Am I my avatar; is my avatar me?" and accept that the answer is "Yes." Names don't matter. Words and actions do, so let's look at how -- and why -- our presence in the Metaverse expresses us, how it changes us, how we change it, and what we want to do with that.

  9. @ Chestnut, yes, the right/wrong thing is my main concern. Without respect for other peoples choices we will end up divided instead of united.

    @ Lalo, thankyou, I used your last paragraph in my next post, certain that you wouldn't mind.. (crosses fingers).....:))

  10. It is interesting the Linden Labs made the choice that EVERYONE must have a virtual identity different from their family and given names. I think that decision creates a more immersionist world than would be there otherwise.

    My virtal world identity issue that I am somewhat confused by is the interaction inside of Virtual Space of my two primary avatars.

    Can separate avatars run by the same person share the same groups and general spaces as each other without running into problems down the line?

    Which friends should they share? And if all friends are not shared, when, whether or how do you 'break it' to the friend of your other alt, that you are in fact a different character representation of the same rl person.
    That is a really interesting issue that involves breaching of trust in some cases. I have yet to fully resolve this issue.

    What do others think of this 'in world' identity issue?

  11. Well, Scarp, I think that's a fascinating question.
    I personally think that separate avatars, like characters in a book, have separate lives, separate friends too. The fact that the author has created both/all is not really important, especially not to the friends of the avis.

    I believe we should have the confidence that real friends are grown-ups and know that amazing and unusual things happen in this environment. If they don't find it rather amusing, then......why ?

  12. soror ~ Not only do I not mind, I'm flattered :) Thank you!

  13. soror - if a close friend of yours is introduced to you in an alt form is there an obligation to "hey I am also so and so?"

    How about if you are introduced toa good friend's alt by someone who knows the RL identity of both avatars and the only person who is "in the dark" is you? Is there any obligation on the part of those who "know" to disclose "the truth"?

    Not that anything like this has ever happened to me and not that I was hurt by it or anything. Mostly I am curious about what other people think about such situations, where one person's desires/choices can hurt a friend. What are our obligations to each other?

  14. My "Two Bits"

    As a person interested in the sociology of communities be they real life or virtual I find these discussions quite valuable. To me they often seem to center on what is real and what is virtual… or to put it another way… what (it means to be), where and how a person is truly authentic. For me I tend to be uncomfortable with the words Real or Virtual. I prefer to think of my reality as encompassing what we commonly refer to as a Real World AND Virtual Worlds. In my profile I make a statement. It is: …” Despite popular belief, sl and rl do intertwine… in you… to deny this is the height of hubris”.

    I wrote that after my first year in sl… having gone thru the typical sl drama in being surprised by the emotional intensity of the experience. I was very careful how I phrased that statement in my profile. Why? Because it was an expression of my (there is only one me… with many modes of expression) belief that life is a quite messy affair. Just as I respect, but am wary of, folks who insist on a separation of RL from SL. (As in… “What happens in SL stays in SL.”) I also respect, but am wary, of people who insist on being “real” or entirely transparent upon first meeting me. Life for me is far too messy for such black and white thinking. For me it just doesn’t make sense.

    Any form of my existence intertwines with all forms of my existence. Some days I can be very Buddhist like and see and feel my existence as part of some larger whole, but then other days I feel quite separate and even fractured. Why? Because I am human… and as a human... I live in a world that is full of shades of grey. Although, when I am at my best I prefer to think of it as being full of color… mixing. This mixing is what makes my life delightful and challenging.

    So what am I saying?… I guess I am saying that what you get is what you perceive AND that what I project is what I perceive. It doesn’t matter if I am at work in a meeting with my staff discussing the latest curriculum tools we have to learn or if I am swimming thru soror Nishi’s build at Soup Magoo with my friends (BTW that is such a beautiful and enchanting build!) In the end, for me, I am in charge of what I project about my identity and other’s are in charge of what they perceive about my identify.

    To me… exploring this dance of projected and perceived identity is the whole point of human interaction. This is why getting to “know” someone is such an intense experience. The concepts of: Identity, authenticity, trust, freedom, fantasy, creativity, privacy (and many more)… all flow from the fact that we exist in relation to others. And that Relation is what creates the Metaverse (as in Many Universes).

    How's that for some fuzzy logic :)

  15. @ Chestnut.....My personal view is that alts have a life of their own, they are different aspects of my psyche, and deserve to be taken seriously.

    I also think, as I said to Scarp, that we have to treat our friends as adults who know how SL is, to feel that one has to protect them from confusion is a bit condescending.

    As I wrote i the next post I think it is actually better to be kept in the dark, it gives a more immersive experience.

    This urge to "confess" reminds me of a line from Joni Mitchell, probably misquoted here....but the idea is good..." a cop, like a church (?) like a mother, you want me to be truthful, then you lay it on me like a weapon and I need your approval....."

    Our obligations are really to play nicely...:)))

  16. @ Robert.... thanks that's a lovely comment. I think it is messy, and there's no answer. I am totally fascinated by the revelations of parts of my psyche (and others) as they become manifest.
    I have only met one person from SL in RL, but I have asked others about people in RL..."what are they like?" and the answer is almost always ,.."oh, just like they are in SL".... there is no difference. It is, I think, one multiple life.

  17. Another aspect of this topic that I seldom see discussed is the reverse dimension: disclosing a virtual identity to physical world friends, colleagues, etc.. In my case, although Botgirl was completely pseudonymous for a year and a half online, the identity was never a secret from close human friends and family.

    Anyone care to share how they handle talking about (or not disclosing) their avatar identity to human friends?

  18. One more thought: I guess when it all comes down to it, the old song is right:

    "It's all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself"

  19. @ Botgirl: Discussing 'avatar' and 'virtual world' to most of my rl friends gets a glazed over look and an immediate tune out (after the initial introduction to virtuality).

    Other than that, knowledge that at least one of your virtual identities is an opposite gender gets the reaction of you being sexually suspect in some way. (Either Pervy, or identity challenged)

    @ soror: Let me relate an actual story of my revealing to an avatar friend that 'I' and my alt avatar were both the same rl person. Their reaction was one of disappointment. Mostly because they had one friend instead of two. I find this an argument for non disclosure to others.

    It is probably the closeness of the relationship that should determine disclosure of alt identities I am thinking.....

  20. Botgirl, you are right there is a dearth of conversation about the dynamics of disclosing in our physical worlds that we also inhabit a virtual world. For me it depends on context and mood. In my professional life I… public education and social work… rarely disclose much about my personal life. This is due to a lack of context and relevance. In the context of my family… while my involvement in sl is not hidden, I find it misunderstood, either accepted as just another game I play, complete with all the judgments folks have about adults ‘wasting’ their time in play.

    With friends I find I speak of SL fairly frequently. Someone might speak about their interest in architecture… and before I know it I am telling them about my friend Miki in sl (A German architecture student) and blabbing away about mathematics, etc. How this is received often varies, as does how I deliver it. If I don’t know the person well, but am invested in getting to know them, I may say “a friend of mine” or leave out where I met her. This of course speaks to my insecurities related to how I will fit in amongst their attitudes and preconceptions of virtual worlds.

    Of course these Public, Familial and Private lives overlap. And when I 1st disclose my involvement in sl to someone I have to acknowledge I am making a leap of faith related to how my disclosure will impact their opinion/trust of me.

    However, when I do speak directly about sl, I often find it an invigorating conversation. Of late I have been rattling on about how Play is developmentally important to not only the growing mind, but how even in adults Play literally will shape the brain. If you are interested - the National Institute For Play has some great information. (

    In my opinion I think we as adults learn NOT to play and I find this unhealthy. While I do have to be responsible – pay my bills – contribute to the greater good – I find I am better at being responsible if I make time to Play. While I wish building, exploring friends and places, not to mention surfing, etc… in SL did not need scientific justification – it is handy to have… :)

  21. @ Botgirl, yes, same as Scarp, I have mainly given up, it's probably because there is no common ground rather than the nature of VW's. I am considered "interested in computers" and the conversation rather wilts.

    100% agree you have to please yourself, there's no one else you see in the mirror every day.

    @ Robward. My best pieces of art work are done with a playful attitude. It is a 'place' where unconscious and conscious Me join and delight in their Beingness.

  22. I've been messing with identity for decades as part of my direct marketing occupation. Perhaps that is why I am comfortable with selective pseudonymity across social media and virtual environments. My behavior is driven by two principles: first, "when in Rome" in my groups of trusted friends and colleagues, I am happy to disclose my RL identity and link up on other social networks; second, I view selective disclosure as a transparency opportunity in an information age where nothing is private. I would rather "out" my ManyMe self than be outted by others, so in a sense my pseudonymity is defensive.

  23. So much interesting discussion in these comments!

    I'm planning on putting some of my RL photography into an SL gallery soon, and have been trying to decide whether to include a link to my Flickr page, which is part of my RL identity, or not. I still can't make up my mind.

    On the whole I agree that pseudonymity is a healthy privacy. I think of people I meet in Second Life as their SL personas, and I don't really care one way or another whether they provide information about who they are in "real life". Although I must admit that I really don't get the whole thing of SL relationships in the sense of dating someone on SL.

  24. @ Sapphire: It's pretty simple, really. You meet someone, you like each other enough to want to spend more than mere "random meeting" time together, so you arrange to get together for shared activities. That's called a date, last I knew.

    Now, if you meant something like serious emotional involvement... It's a lot easier if you don't have a significant RL person, but it happens frequently enough that I believe it's just as "natural" as a RL relationship.

  25. Yep.

    Never believe you are immune.