Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
[NOTE: This is not the poll, it is preparation for the poll.]
Well, I have to say that I have learned a whole lot already in this project. In preparation for an upcoming poll on the use of names in posting, I’d asked for reasons why people post either pseudonymously or under their own name. I was very surprised at the number and the wide range of reasons people put forward.
In order to make sense of it all, I have divided them up into general categories. I think that what I’ll do with the poll is ask the questions about the categories. I’ll include the examples so that people can make informed choices. In general order of the number of responses, these are the answers to the first question:
WHY DO YOU POST UNDER A PSEUDONYM?
The category that got the most answers was
The Issue is Privacy/Security From General Retaliation / Fraud / Spam
In this category I tried to distinguish the issue of the specific subject matter (climate change) from issues regarding privacy or retaliation in general. The comments were:
- Stalking is always a concern to a female.
- I was stalked by a spaced out woman. A narcissistic poisonous toad from high school.
- I have been attacked for my views.
- I am pleased to get some protection from the cloud of gnats hovering around the net.
- I am the sole support of others.
- I’m concerned about putting any personal information about myself on the web for any reason.
- I believe in the right to privacy
- A substantial reason in the UK is the current state of defamation law.
- I post anonymously to avoid ad hominem and personal attacks from a co-worker, who is a rabid militant anti-religious, pro-CAGW atheist/zealot (not a nice guy).
- I cherish my privacy.
- Having been personally harassed (phone calls, sugar in the gas tank, nails in the driveway), I’d rather avoid dealing with more crazies.
- Even if the risk is only slight, countless others are refusing to take the risk, so why should I?
- I don’t know who might read the post and what they might do with it.
- It would be easy to connect up my posts, email address and ultimately my credit cards. Spam and fraud would then follow.
- I have someone constantly Googling my name.
- Metaphorically speaking, I have relatives in the old country …
- I am concerned about identity theft.
The Issue is Freedom to Express Myself
In this category were a variety of statements that the person found it easier to express their opinions when using a pseudonym.
- I can say things that I would be embarrassed to say in person.
- I feel able to express more confident views if those statements aren’t personally attributable to me.
- It is like putting on a superman suit, you can say anything, be anything and fly anywhere. And if any-one with kryptonite strikes you down, what does it matter, tomorrow you will be Clark Kent.
- I find it easier to express negative views when I post anonymously.
- The anonymous nature of the blog site allows people to speak more freely.
- I have blown my credibility using my previous handle. It is time for a new public identity.
- It allows me to “compartmentalize” my opinions on very different subjects.
- Posting anonymously offers an opportunity for crowd-sourced criticism before having my name attached to a bad idea.
- I have no strength of conviction or lack intestinal fortitude.
- I enjoy “trolling”, stirring things up.
- It’s a chance to let out my repressed wild and crazy inner personalities.
- To express things I wouldn’t have courage to express otherwise, the same reason many students are hesitant to put their hand up in class.
- I’m posting for relaxation – not “publication”.
The Issue is that the Web is a Permanent Record
In this category people pointed out a number of issues with the permanence of the electronic record. The comments were:
- To be honest, I also say some pretty stupid things, occasionally, especially when imbibing the suds.
- A future employer might have issues with some of the things I post.
- Who wants to be responsible for my stupid ramblings when I am involved with Jack Daniels? Not me!
- I want to maintain plausible deniability.
- I don’t want people / future employers / opponents to be able to research my previous statements.
- What you say on internet is searchable anywhere and forever.
- It could interfere with getting a security clearance.
- I don’t want current comments being dredged up in a possible future political campaign.
- If a potential employer or anyone else for that matter searches for me, I want them to see my CV or work
- I plan to run for president and want to be able to change my opinions as may be convenient.
- I don’t wish for my thoughts and comments from years gone by to turn up whenever someone does a search on my name.
The Issue Is The Specific Subject Matter of Climate
These were people for whom the issue was that stating their views on climate would cause them problems.
- It may cost me business/lose me funding.
- I work with clients/customers or in a market where skeptical views are not welcome.
- I don’t fancy being beaten to death with a lump of coal in the middle of the night.
- I do a fair bit of sub-contract work for companies that have bought into the green dream, so I’m invoking my very own version of the … uh … precautionary principle 🙂
- I wish to keep my views and general discussion on climate (and science more generally) distinct from my professional life which has an element of being public.
- A rabid green has haunted me in other forums.
- I have to make a living proffering engineering services to some of these “green” industries, so I can’t risk getting blackballed.
- I’ve experienced prejudice in the workplace
- I work with people who believe Albert Gore is a scientist.
- If I posted under my own name, it would be tantamount to expressing my political views to all and sundry and in my industry that would convey a lack of professionalism.
The Issue is Judgement Of Ideas and not Personalities
These people felt that if they posted pseudonymously people would judge their ideas, and not judge them personally:
- I want readers to judge my comments on their content, not their provenance.
- I don’t wish to disclose my formal qualifications, or lack of them, or that I am in a different field.
- My identity does not validate or invalidate the contents of my post. Too often credentials are used instead of a sound argument.
- Using my real name is just asking for ad hominem attacks.
- I don’t want to be associated with my job when posting on technical subjects.
- I have worked for oil companies, mining companies or agribusiness and it would likely be held against me.
- I am concerned that my age, gender, ethnicity, educational level, etc are factors that can affect the people who read a comment and many of them unfortunately then respond in a biased way.
- It’s good that no-one on the internet knows if you’re a frog.
The Issue is Governmental/Organized Retaliation
For these people, the issue is organized retaliation or reprisal from the government or other major organization:
- I post anonymously for the same reason I do not register a gun.
- Trust no one.
- Greenpeace said “We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many, but you be few.”
- I’m not even half as paranoid as I should be.
- Didn’t Zorro and the Lone Ranger wear their masks because of things like this?
My Pseudonym Is A Significant “Nickname”
These people feel that the pseudonym under which they post has significance:
- I use a moniker because it describes what I am and how I see the world in 3 words.
- It’s traditional since the beginning of the web to have a handle.
- People will recognise my handle and recognise what I stand for.
- I think it is fun to call myself by my handle.
- I enjoy putting forward an identity that says more about me than my name.
The Issue is Restrictions On My Freedom To Post
These are people who have external restrictions on what and where they can post:
- In my country you could be targeted by the consensus people.
- I am an executive in a company incorporated in the U.S. As such, I am legally responsible for anything I say in public, and anything I say is by definition, company policy.
- It has been explicitly stated that unapproved public posting (on any website) would be a bad career move.
- Many companies have policies against talking to the media without authorisation – usually for the obvious reason that the employer doesn’t want employees holding themselves out as representing the company if they’re not authorised to.
- I am under an implied contract to never make public pronouncement under my name that might in any way embarrass or disadvantage any segment of a multifaceted corporate endeavor.
There are Issues With My Real Name
These people pointed to various problems that can arise when they use their real name:
- I have a common name and use a pseudonym so that I can search for my postings.
- I’m not British / American, and for an English speaker my name is difficult to remember / sounds weird / carries a silly pun / leads to misunderstandings.
- it would be entirely possible to get a stalker, and some poor innocent victim(s) could be hounded unfairly.
- Google my name and you can find many people. I would not like to get any one of them in trouble.
- My name is the same as a wanted criminal / bad person.
This is a catchall category.
- I feel more comfortable posting anonymously, but I’m not sure why.
OK, so those are the categories for people who post pseudonymously, along with the examples. If there are problems or things mis-categorized or better categories, please let me know.
Next, here are the categories that came up in response to the second question, again in general order of number of responses:
WHY DO YOU POST UNDER YOUR OWN NAME?
It Is An Issue Of Honesty / Responsibility
The most common response said that when posting under their own names, the issue was one of personal honesty or responsibility. The comments were:
- If I write something, I’ll stand for it, or I would not write it.
- I feel that by posting under my own name I am showing I am willing to be open and honest about who I am, what I do and why I believe what I do.
- If I can’t be willing to put my name to what I think, I won’t post it.
- I can’t lie with a straight face.
- I say what I mean and am terribly honest at it.
- I’ve had my own name a long time and have grown attached to it.
- I have to stand for what I believe as who I am, otherwise what I say is all posturing.
- I consider my self responsible for my own opinions.
- It’s a matter of clarity and honesty.
I’m Free To Disregard Opposition
These people recognized that the were operating in a hostile environment, and are free (for various reasons) to choose to ignore that:
- I am retired, and don’t care if people read what I post.
- I’m confident enough in who I am to not be concerned about what others think of my opinions.
- I don’t fear professional retribution as most of my peers hold similar views to mine or are just plain disengaged from the topic of global warming.
- I’m in the “I don’t care” crowd.
- I am totally uninterested about what other people think of me.
- Because I don’t follow th herd.
- Since my work is not publicly funded or grant funded, I’m at liberty to say what I wish without concern of losing my job.
- If they want to google my name, they should do it if they don’t have better things to do.
- I don’t post anonymously because I have a martyr complex.
It Is An Ethical Question
For these people, it is a question of personal ethics:
- A person of worth will stand up in their own name for what is right and against what is wrong.
- If such things as climate change are important we should pony up and admit where we stand.
- I dislike anonymity on principle
- A screen name feels like hiding behind a false front.
- I consider it a basic aspect of decency not to say or do anything to which you would not sign your name.
- I grew up a cowboy, and criticizing someone from behind a mask of anonymity feels like shooting someone from ambush … and a cowboy can’t do that, it’s in the contract, ask Tom Mix.
- I feel uneasy posting anonymously.
- I have never not posted with my own and real name. Why would I do otherwise?
- I prefer to say what I think and feel anyway without hiding under a cloak.
The Issue Is Standing Up To Intimidation/Fear
These people say that they post under their own name because they are standing up to intimidation:
- I refuse to be intimidated by the dangers of the world.
- It would be cowardly for me to hide behind an alias.
- I would rather walk free in the sun, than skulk around, frightened of my own shadow, tugging my forelock at the Econazis.
- I always sign my name. I believe that it is cowardly not to. I am a devout Catholic and a AGW sceptic.
- If I have too little courage of my own convictions to sign my name to my opinions, why should anyone pay attention?
- It’s a statement that I will not be intimidated.
- I think it is cowardice to post anonymously.
- Courage is what is needed right now, if you have something to say and if you can, then put your name to it.
It Acts As A Brake On Excessive Behavior
These people highlighted that they act less responsibly when they post pseudonymously.
- I am much better mannered when I have to take responsibility for my words.
- My claims tend to extravagance when I post anonymously.
- Using my name forces me to keep my posts measured and decent.
- I started posting under my real name after making an ass of myself anonymously in a blog comment section.
There Are Social Benefits from Knowing Each Other’s Names
The benefits to society were the main issue to these people
- I believe it is simply good manners to identify yourself when talking to people.
- I think that in the long view we as a society get along much better when we know each others names.
- I use my real name after getting involved in a serious debate turned web based research project with several people who had to live down the consequences of being called killer wombat, Mr buggles and mudge!
I Have No Problem With A Permanent Record Of My Statements
These people are aware that the web record is permanent, but they are not deterred by that:
- I feel free to change my opinion should I have reason to and will defend or dismiss my former opinions accordingly.
- I have no concern about people reading my opinions a decade from now.
- I want to be able to claim ownership of my ideas.
So that’s the categories for the poll as they stand now. A few general comments.
First, I was surprised by the wide variety of responses to both questions. I would not have thought that there were that many reasons. Even divided into categories there are still a lot, and very interesting reasons.
Next, I plan to add the following questions:
- Career (Industry/Education/Science/Health/Student/Retired … what other careers?)
- General AGW position (skeptic/supporter/still considering)
What else would make the poll more interesting?
My thanks to everyone for their contributions to date, the poll goes forwards.