In Search of Authenticity

Posted on June 26, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Back when chat rooms were the “in” thing, people used cryptic screen names like BostonGirl28 or luv2ride. Unless you actually knew these people in the three dimensional world, there was no way to know who you were really chatting with. Was Mike2468 really a 21-year-old Harvard athlete? Or was he a 45-year-old pedophile? Or a group of teenage girls having fun by pretending?

chat room lurker

The anonymity of the Internet allowed people to be someone they were not, whether to commit a crime, have a little fun, or temporarily escape low self esteem. There was a generally accepted belief that it was not safe to put your true identity online. Yet, I think the use of fake names, in and of itself, made the Internet an unsafe place to connect with people.

But times have changed and recent research has shown that, today, people are quite “real” on social networks. Rather than projecting an idealized version of themselves, as was popularly thought, users offer up their genuine feelings, behaviors and habits through sites like Facebook. In fact, many credit Facebook for this change, as it was the first social site to require people to register with their real name.

Not everyone thinks linking real identities with online personas is a good thing though. Christopher Poole, a 22-year-old social networking entrepreneur, created, a site in which all posters are anonymous. It has been called the anti-Facebook and, because of its raw, uncensored content, “the id of the Internet.” Poole claimed in an interview, that anonymity is authenticity. It allows kids to be kids—to say stupid things and not worry about them affecting you as an adult.

Christopher Poole

Christopher Poole

His theory assumes, however, that people stop saying stupid things when they grow up. Not to mention harmful things. In fact, the notorious hacker group “Anonymous” was hatched at of, although Poole claims no involvement.

While the “realness” of Facebook has its flaws and potential dangers, I think it largely encourages responsibility and honesty. Anonymity, on the other hand, allows people to write and act without fear of accountability.

Which site do you think offers more authenticity–Facebook or Is the Web safer when identities are exposed? 


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10 Responses to “In Search of Authenticity”

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From a marketing perspective, I view Facebook as much more useful, in part because people use their names. Yes, I censor myself on Facebook. Some of the things I feel particularly passionate about I would not post because of fear of reprisals or in fear of damaging the reputation of our university. However, I am also honest on Facebook, and honesty is helpful to those marketers marketing to me.

When I was a newspaper journalist, we would not publish a letter to the editor that wasn’t signed. While those anonymous letters might have featured inflammatory comments or information that could have made a great story, we didn’t view it as authentic if it wasn’t worth someone signing it.

It’s too easy to rant and rave, which may have no basis in fact, if we can hide behind aliases. For marketers, that’s just not helpful.

Pat – that’s a great point that many publications will not publish anonymous letters to the editor. In the words of one blogger, “If it’s worth saying or putting in writing, it’s worth signing. Otherwise, it’s worth nothing.”

Identities equal accountability! That’s what I believe. My son joined a group through facebook called formspring. It was awful. It gave you the option of posting anonymously. Those who did choose that option were just MEAN! It’s okay to be fake in a nice way, but it is not, if it’s in a mean way! Let’s face it with all this technology people have to remember that it’s not real. Until you actually have a face to face, in person, and actually put forth the effort and time into a relationship it’s just words. What that old saying, Actions speak louder than words! Facebook is a tool for communication with people I choose to talk with that I normally wouldn’t have time to. It’s open 24hrs a day and you can say hi without waking the whole household at 2 an old friend/relative!

Formspring sounds like a modern day slam book. Do you remember those? Kids passed around a notebook in which to write their true (often negative) feelings about another kid–anonymously, of course.

Social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn are a bit different than, say, a blog like this. I think Facebook has a theatrical dimension. People tell you where in the world they are and what they’re doing, and they also crack jokes, quote song lyrics or movie lines, and stump for various causes. People make their private beliefs much more public on Facebook. LinkedIn is also theatrical, but in a professional mode. Both FB and LI thrive on real names, yet the people are very much “spun” in a certain light. If people are authentic on FB and LI, they are selectively so.

I don’t think it’s any different if one is a pseudononymous blogger or an anonymous commenter on a forum or website. Still authentic, just a different selection of character traits and tendencies emphasized.

The fact that people on the Internet can be masquerading or trolling ultimately becomes a good thing in cyberspace chatter because it forces commenters and onlookers to focus on the content of posts rather than autmatically granting someone credence based on their real name and identity.

So, to me it’s a wash as far as which type of site has more authentic users.

Thanks for sharing your perspective, Jon. I think there is some difference between in the pseudononymous blogger and the anonymous commenter in that the longer term nature of blogging offers an opportunity to get to know and interact with a person, even if you don’t know his/her real name. The anonymous commenter, on the other hand, has no links to a profile or website and so cannot be linked to his/her past comments. There is no context in which to evaluate his/her contribution to the discussion or a possible bias or motive.

Although, as you pointed out, this forces the reader to take the comments at face value.

The problem with using your name is that now a days everything you post online is there forever. In theory, someone could Google my name:
see something that I posted in a public forum for my town – now they know where I live
see something that I posted in a professional forum – now they may know where I work or what I do for work
see something thatI posted in a medical forum – now they know about family medical issues
It goes on and on…….

I prefer to keep my information private. Yes, I have a Facebook account, but the privacy settings are just about maxed out so that my profile is not public.

Thanks for the comment, Anonymous Person Somewhere On Earth 🙂

You seem to grasp a basic reality of social media that many people, including some recently-in-the-news politicians do not. Anything you post is there forever and is generally able to be traced back you. The government is still grappling with the serious privacy issues caused by this new medium.

I am very aware of what I post. As I have told my students, some day you will want to get a job and this is out there for all to see. As a teacher who has certification at stake, I take care with my postings. My concern with anonymous posting is if you can’t say it out loud then you should not hide behind an anonymous posting. Speak up or be quiet.

Anonymity is the reason the country song says, “I’m so much cooler on-line”. When you use your real name, it would be quite embarrassing if you stretched the truth about who and what you are. To thine own self be true. I like seeing on Facebook that there are real people whom I know who are not quite the way they thought they would turn out of which I can relate to and peope whom I aspire to be.

Anonymity gives some people so-called license to defame people for the sake of entertainment, which can ruin a person reputation that would be very hard to get back because of the believers who revel in other people’s misery. Another reason anonymity is a joke is people don’t think twice about what they’re putting out there. They don’t take the time to get the facts. They just like to hear themselves talk for their 15 minutes of fame. When you put your real name to something, rather than making a fool of yourself, you “give the facts and only the facts, mame.”

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