It’s Harder To Build Relationships When People Wear Masks

Imagine meeting someone who wouldn’t reveal her real name.

That would change how you spoke and thought of them.

She might still be friendly, funny, empathetic, and supportive. She might reveal plenty of information about herself too. But something would always be missing.

The problem with pseudonymity is it establishes a preset limit on the depth of disclosure. You know the other person is only willing to reveal so much.

You’re less likely to disclose information to someone who has already decided to hold back. This becomes regressive too. First we hold back our real names, then locations, then images, and then details about our working/personal life etc, etc…

It can also breed mistrust.

When we use a pseudonym we unintentionally stop the vital process of reciprocal self-disclosure that fosters trust and a strong sense of community (which in turn is linked to value, retention, and levels of activity).

Everything is a signal

When your members participate using their real names, displaying their own faces, give real information about themselves, explain what company they work for, they’re sending a powerful signal about their trust in the group, the levels of disclosure expected from members, and what they expect from the group.

For sure, there are a lot of groups when this depth of exposure is a bad idea and pseudonymity is a critical means of self-protection and freedom of expression. But this doesn’t cover nearly as many as we might think.

We don’t use pseudonyms when we meet strangers at any other social situation. Few of your friends, colleagues, or acquaintances introduce themselves using a pseudonym. Pseudonyms should be the exception not the norm.

You shouldn’t force people to use real names, but you should give them every nudge and signal that they should. It’s better for the community and leads to a higher quality of discussion.

(not everyone agrees)

Comments

  1. Sarah Hawk says:

    :wink:

    I do actually agree with almost all of what you say in this regard.
    What I don’t agree with is that my choice should be anyone else’s to make or judge me for.

    I think the more pertinent issue for me is that at some point my pseudonym actually took over from my real name in many parts of my life. That cross over becomes confusing and raises a different set of issues.

  2. Nick Emmett says:

    Sometimes, I guess, using a pseudonym (or in an offline context - a nickname), it can show more trust to let people in on your pseudonym. As an example, quite often only our close friends know and use our nicknames.

  3. Bo McGuffee says:

    I’m going to have to disagree on this one. A name is simply a way that we can identify ourselves to others. My legal name is “Vernon”. I go by “Bo”. It’s a nickname, and one given to me when I was young. There is a story behind it, it has nothing to do with my actual name. Nonetheless, it is what I prefer to go by.

    Usually nicknames (unless they are derived from our legal names) are given to us by others because they reflect who we are in some way. I have been called “Spaz” because of my high energy, “Gnat” because I would flit from one thing to another, “Professor” because of my knowledge in certain areas, and so on. And nicknames aren’t necessarily acceptable for everyone to use. How often have we heard, “My name is X, but my friends call me Y”? Giving permission to use a nickname decreases emotional distance.

    Screennames take this to the next level. Like a nickname, a screenname reflects who we are. Unlike a nickname, people choose it themselves. Therefore, a screenname is a form of self-identification that goes beyond an arbitrary legal designation and right into self-revelation.

    Choosing a screenname is not unlike choosing a tattoo (although a bit less permanent). I have a tattoo of a chaos symbol, which is very meaningful to me. It symbolizes creativity, leadership, and tips my had to one of my more influential fantasy writers (Michael Moorcock). As such, it reflects things that are important to me. The people I know who have tattoos placed a lot of thought into them, because they are a medium of self-expression that needs to be currently accurate, yet takes into account possible future change.

    I am typically known as “irreverance” online. That name recalls for me an influential books from the 90s, Virtual Faith: Generation X and the Quest for Irreverent Spirituality. Given that I am an ordained pastor and that reverence is expected of me, the name “irreverance” says a lot about who I am. I’ve also use the name XianAnarchist. I have been told by those in the church sphere that those monikers are offensive to them coming from a pastor. As you can perhaps tell by the screennames themselves, I really don’t care what they think.

    “Hiding” isn’t necessarily bad. Sometimes, people feel more comfortable sharing when they feel protected. Perhaps they are shy and a screenname gives them the space they need to relieve that pressure to speak up.

    I think the implication that can come with the word “hiding” is that one may be perceived as having an ulterior motive and being manipulative. If I believe that someone is being manipulative with me in some way, then holding back is the wisest course of action. But I don’t see screennames in this way. I see screennames as a form of chosen self-identification that reveals one’s self to others; and, I argue, they can facilitate trust among members, while at the same time enabling people to feel “safe” enough to find their own voice in a public setting.

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