In a comment the other day, I said:
I’m opposed to the concept of anonymity on the internet in general (the same reason I hate that people on IRC use handles rather than real names, or handles that don’t even resemble their real names). I make exception for political dissidents etc. of course.
Based on a couple of emailed comments, wanted to clarify my position on that: There seems to be an aspect of internet subculture which conflates anonymity with privacy. What I’m talking about here is standing by your name – accountability. I feel that what you write, and the domains (i.e. publications) you own should in most cases be attached to your real name. I feel that it is possible to be non-anonymous while still keeping private information private. I feel that attaching your name to your expressions is connected somehow to integrity.
When I enter an IRC channel or chat and everyone is using a handle rather than a real name, I feel suspicious. Do these same people configure their email clients to use false names as well? The predominance of nicknames in IRC doesn’t automatically mean everyone is “hiding” something, but it does mean people may be inclined to say things they wouldn’t if they were using their real names. It invites the saying of things that might not be said otherwise. Some call that a level of freedom we don’t have in meatspace. I’m not sure that exercising that freedom without good cause is necessarily beneficial.
I don’t begrudge anyone the right to be anonymous if they choose to be – I just don’t think it’s necessary most of the time. I also think that a lot more conversation on the internet would be civil if pseudonyms were removed from the picture. Again, I make exception for some political speech.
A friend pointed out that artists sometimes work under pseudonyms for artistic reasons that have nothing to do either with politics or actual anonymity — just pure art. Fair enough. But we also know — or can easily find — the real names of most artists working under pseudonyms. If an artist (or writer, or domain owner) is taking positive steps to thoroughly hide their real name, we assume they have political or other very good reasons to do so. If not, then we are suspicious of their reasons for seeking anonymity, and credibility is in question.
Then again, maybe I’m reading too much into it.