First it was Transporter, a local bulletin board system in Provo in the late 1980’s. Then it was America Online, where I was on staff in the Family Computing Forum and later in the Homeschooling Forum. Next, we upgraded to the World Wide Web, and email group lists and website forums and message boards.
Once my screenname was GingerHead (referring the British description of my hair color which I, somehow, prefer to the American “fireball”). But everything was signed with my name. On another board, I was AlisonGinger. But my real name was in my profile.
On the other hand, you can find all sorts of people lurking about on forums and blogs. They are known as shindigdog, changeranthem, JayeGrowl, pantyBOY, whatsahizoo, and spamguish. And they blurt out all the tiny things that pop into their tiny heads without any filtering mechanism in place. Because their identities are hidden, their language is markedly different from 98% of the civilized world.
As the online forums have prolificated, I found it more and more essential to use my real name rather than a pseudonym when I posted. The greater our access to mediums with which to spread our opinions, the more crucial it is that we stand behind our words. The more careful we should be that we are not causing harm. To me, it’s the ethical choice. People can become might reckless when they have the ability to spew venom and vindictive without consequence.
For this reason, Mormon Momma permabloggers have always used their real names on their articles.
A few years ago, a newspaper story ran about a teenage girl I knew quite well. She was in my ward and a member of my choir. The accusations made against her were false but the crowds of anonymous posters on the newspaper website were out en masse to crucify her.
I made an attempt to defend her against these numb-skulls. But it didn’t do much good. And I was at a distinct disadvantage given that I was known by name — and they were not.
When the discussion reached the point of absurdity, I suggested that posters so sure of their positions — and so willing to defame others — might be willing to expose their own identities so, at very least, their own possible biases and positions might be scrutinized. The response was only to vilify me.
More than once I’ve been turned down by a potential new blogger, who didn’t want to use their real name. Some are really well-spoken, thoughtful bloggers who would have made a great contribution. But I believe that it’s imperative that we have the courage to stand behind what we say. If we aren’t willing to do so, maybe we shouldn’t be saying what we’re saying.