Posted on

Why Internet Pseudonyms Are Important and Necessary (And Legal!)

From the moment I stumbled onto the Internet, back when it was an information dirt road, I did not use my legal name. Back then, it was considered dangerous to do so, as it might allow a stranger online to find out who you really were and possibly do scary and/or illegal things.

I mean, how many people used their birth name as their AIM handle?

Their Livejournal user name?

Their Geocities URL?

In fact, one of the arguments in favor of allowing pseudonym usage on social media is that for some of us, our online handle has been connected to our identity for so long people don’t even remember (if they ever knew) your real name. Or some, like me, decided to change their name legally because their user name became a more personal statement of personage than the name I was given as a child.

I am also willing to wager that celebrities like Ice-T and Madonna are NOT being kickbanned from social media for using what is clearly not their natally assigned identity. So is this a class issue, wherein there is an imaginary line where your pseudonym becomes acceptable once you’ve reached a certain level of fame, or once you’ve made a certain level of wealth?

For example, a well-known tattoo artist who has been using the name Mulysa Mayhem as her professional name for more than a decade was recently hammered by Facebook for not using the legal name listed on her driver’s license. And the only reason Facebook even knew about it was that a disgruntled person ratted her out. Here is her community page focused on changing Facebook’s policy. She has even contacted the ACLU on the matter, so it might be interesting to see where it goes. There is also a change.org petition that you can sign.

I think the piece that Facebook is actively avoiding is that for some people, using an online pseudonym is a professional necessity. Many of my fellow sex/kink educators have monikers that range from the “obviously invented” such as “Master So-n-So” (one of my favorites), to the “completely under the radar” names that sound like natally assigned names but are not the person’s legal identity. There have been many debates over whether using a more traditional sounding nom de plume nets you better gigs (what college professor is ready to introduce “Shadow Song*” to their comparative religions class?) or having a sexy sounding nickname will attract more students (I’d certainly go to an oral sex class taught by someone named “Deep Throat”!).

Some people make the choice of juggling multiple social media accounts so they can safely stay in touch with both their alternative lifestyle friends as well as their family. As someone who tried to do this, it was a lot of work for very little return. My family complained that I was “never on Facebook”, and there were times I forgot which account I was signed into. I made the (radical?) decision to be up front with my family about who I am and what I post and gave them the opt in/out decision.

On the other hand, some social media accounts these days are little more than linkdumps and meme posts. Does it really matter if Jane Smith or Dragon Moonbeam posts the video of the piano cat?

But like most divisive topics, in the end I can only support the side that allows for the most freedom. After all, Google+ went through the same bullshit only to give in and allow pseudonyms as long as they weren’t profane. And my FB friends list is chock full of people using names that range from “pretty obviously not on their bank account” to “could only be something a mother would choose” and in between.

I faced a similar dilemma before I changed my name, only in a different arena. Many events require you to share your legal name with them on their paperwork, even if you have a different name on your namebadge and other materials. It is 100% legal** to use a pseudonym in most situations unless you are specifically using it to commit fraud. Yes, this means I signed many event forms as “Del Tashlin” or earlier versions thereof, before my driver’s license reflected that name. I have a co-worker early in my working life who received paychecks in a different name for personal reasons, and although everyone in the office unofficially knew she was using a fake name we never brought it up.

I encourage you to support those fighting Facebook’s policy if for no other reason than the knowledge that one day, you or someone you know will rely on the safety of a moniker for one of a dozen reasons.

(As always, I leave footnote markers and forget the actual footnotes.)

*Shadow Song was a name I went by briefly. Yes, you may laugh at me now.
**I am obviously not a lawyer, but I have done quite a bit of reading on laws applying to pseudonym use. However, your mileage may vary due to the laws of your city, state, country, etc.

About Del

A shaman who writes about spiritual things, but not in that namby-pamby "everything is light and fluffy" sort of way.

One response to “Why Internet Pseudonyms Are Important and Necessary (And Legal!)

  1. aeddubh ⋅

    Totally with you here… signed the petition. Facebook’s policy is one of the (many) reasons I stay off of it. AFAIK, they are doing this so they can sell your personal data to marketers, so I have no sympathy for their position.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s