Social media is bringing people all over the world together. You can live in Canada and have chats with your "friends" in Australia. But do you really know who you're connecting with? Is "Trina Evans" really Trina Evans? Or is it someone else, hiding behind a mask of anonymity? And if so, is that a bad thing?
The decision of what name to use in your online activities can lead to some healthy debate. Some view anonymity of any kind with scorn. Others are proponents of anonymity. I happen to agree with those who believe in giving everyone a choice, even though I use my full name online.
I don't buy the argument of authenticity or transparency when it comes to using a real name in online interactions. Why not? Because anyone can apply a pseudonym to themselves and use it exclusively online and no one would ever know that the person they're interacting with is actually Jane Smith instead of "Trina Evans" as shown on various Web sites. (BTW, I'm not outing anyone - these are just names I pulled out of the air.)
The question of whether to use a real name or not has become a hot topic again since Google is requiring Google+ users to use a real name in their profile (Facebook has a similar requirement). One blogger I know deleted her Google+ account because of the real name policy. Annie presents a number of valid reasons for not wanting to use her real name - and the reasons might apply to anyone.
So, why would you need or want to be anonymous online?
Comfort levels around sharing personal information online differ from person to person. It can be about safety or privacy or general self-preservation. Maybe someone wants to comment on a blog post that relates to their work, but can't do so as themselves. Maybe someone wants to freely write about family and friends without it being connected to them. The site, My Name is Me (thanks, Annie) provides countless situations where anonymity/pseudonym use is appropriate.
I'm not one who believes that everyone who wants to remain anonymous online does so for nefarious reasons. Whether you agree with the reasoning or not, if anonymity through a pseudonym or non-disclosure of name is a choice made by any individual, their decision should be respected. The only caveat I personally have is that anonymity shouldn't be used as a shield for bad behavior. I'll allow comments on any blog of mine, provided they aren't spam, rude, degrading or worse.
My biggest concern with people who want to be 100% anonymous is that the Internet just isn't truly anonymous, unless you work at it and even that isn't a guarantee.
What are your thoughts? Do you think individuals should have the freedom to remain anonymous online?