“These tensions are igniting an increasingly common desire to explore pseudonymity, shedding irl identity to move across the internet more freely. Importantly, pseudonymity is distinct from anonymity. Platforms like 4chan, where you cannot create a username, are anonymous. Platforms like Reddit, where you post under a consistent moniker, are pseudonymous. A pseudonym can garner history and reputation, but is distinct and separate from the “real” person behind it…
…The promise of pseudonymity is alluring; it’s a chance to shed an irl identity that may be outdated or overcautious for an opportunity to explore unencumbered. Despite the ability for famous pseudonymous profiles to garner popularity and reputation, they are separate from the person behind the account, a form of self-expression that is accelerating as more people experiment with alts and navigate the web unknown…
…Pseudonymity is not an “either or” choice—teenagers have “finstas” alongside their real accounts, while Twitter alts can send personal tweets from a different handle. It’s not a question of whether online pseudonymity will become widespread. My former colleague and the other explorations of obscured identity we’re seeing across the internet show that, in some ways, it already is. Real names might come to be just one in a collection of assumed identities. In some ways, the internet is giving us the tools to formalize what we all already knew: we contain multitudes. Pseudonymity provides an opportunity to express ourselves differently, exploring online spaces and ideas without the weight of maintaining a singular consistent way of being. Pseudonymity may also provide the chance to reshape our lives, separating personal and professional and finding different meanings in these newly separate parts of our lives. It’s possible that by becoming unknown, we become more ourselves.”-Fadeke Adegbuyi, “Our Pseudonymous Selves
The Past, Present, and Future of Online Identity.” Cybernaut. December 8, 2021
I think the author misses the point of pseudonymity. When you are young and don’t know who you are, you might want to use pseudonymns online to explore your identity. But, I think most people start using them because they’ve been harassed online or because they have learned from watching online lynch mobs try to destroy people that don’t agree with their point of view.
In my case, it started with a little piece of online trolling, where a group had described themselves in one way, and I wanted to point out some uncomfortable truths that made it look a little different. It still makes me laugh, and there’s something interesting in the fact that the original post I was responding to did not last, scrubbed from the Internet, presumably for lack of relevance.
But, in the years since, I’ve discovered that pseudonymity allows me to make comments on topics like family estrangement, transexuality, arguing for the right of castration, and so forth that are kind of strange and not arguments I would make to most people. Pseudonymity provides a layer of protection, not only for yourself but for others. When you talk about your own life experience, you are talking about the people in your life too.
For me, what’s important is the ideas, not the gossip. You don’t need to know who I am or who I am talking about because most of the time, I’m making a larger point that has nothing to do with either. Identity, in many circumstances, not only limits what you are willing to say, but the details of who you are get in the way of what you are saying.
For example, if I were castrated in some kind of freak accident, then the argument for castration would read very differently. If I were a rogue doctor performing castration surgeries, this would make it different still. I’m none of those things, but the point is that they are irrelevant to the argument. Trying to figure out who I am and why I might be making it means you are trying to engage with something other than the argument being made.
Figuring out who someone is often isn’t that hard. The question pseudonymity raises is whether identity matters as much as we commonly think it does. It’s clear on reflection that who we are often gets in the way of whether we can be heard. Maybe if we get away from who we are, people will be more interested in hearing what we have to say. Or at least, judge it by the merit of its content.