If You Can Find Out My Identity, I'll Donate $100 to the EFF

This is playing off of this post on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/netsec/comments/7u9mx/hey_reddit_think_its_easy_to_link_an_online/

The joke of course is that my name is plastered all over this website and the web in general. I was planning on donating to the EFF anyway (and, hey, so should you.) But it got me thinking about identity online.

Several months ago, I began using my real name on the web instead of screen names. I have a Reddit account, a Twitter account, a YouTube and Facebook and LinkedIn profile, and others that I’ve probably forgotten about by now.

I blame Joel Spolsky and Paul Graham. I wanted a piece of the blogosphere pie that came with not only writing software but writing about software. I wanted to pump up the number of hits a Google search for my name would return. It was pure ego, but also a bit more than that. It was a formal, professional context that I traded my anonymity for.

At first, I didn’t find anything wrong with it. I wanted to be accessible, I wanted to be transparent. I could always generate new identities. It’s comforting that the electronic veil option is still available to me. But it’s a hassle to keep generating throw away accounts to the same websites over and over again (I’m a fan on 10 Minute Mail.)

Second, I didn’t think putting myself under the public eye and in the public record would be so terrible. I became more sensitive to other people’s views, and a bit more open minded. I’m less likely to make a sarcastic quip against someone that I’ll regret days (or months, years, and most likely, deades) later. And I think this new patience and restraint has improved my character.

But I also worry that its having a chilling effect. And being confronted with a permanent record (a real one, unlike the one your high school told you of) has dulled many of my passionate outbursts, and not always for the better. What is certain is that the quantity of my online participation has dropped. I’ll type out comments, read them over, and then delete them. And I’m still uncertain how often this self-censorship happens without my awareness.

One things for sure: my sympathy for celebrities and other well-known people has increased. I still have the comfort of being a faceless though not nameless guy with a website, instead of any measure of real popularity. But the pot shots from an unending parade of online assholes still manages to get under my skin sometimes, no matter how thick my skin becomes.

When I first started making videos about atheism of YouTube, I received several several bits of hate-mail and one not-so-serious death threat. What unnerved me about this wave of people who had such vitriolic feelings towards me was that they could also figure out my real name. Anyone I see on the street could be an unhinged stalker. It’s unlikely, and I think about it very rarely. Usually at two in the morning when I’m about to fall asleep.

My advice to anyone who would take this route: I’d go for it, after some thought. I feel that it has made me a much more magnanimous person online in the way I treat others. But then again, I haven’t exactly had psycho lovers or paparazzi relentlessly calling me or picketing outside my home. And I don’t have the same problem that female bloggers face for simply being “teh girl on teh internets.” Overall, my experience has been positive. And while I like having the faceless option still available, it makes me feel more engaged with people to communicate not with a screen name, but a human name.

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