The Value of Anonymity

When I was younger, into my mid to late teens, I was introduced to the world of BBSes. For those of you born into the internet age, these would be something like little local versions of the internet that primarily consisted of what would amount to a few to several discussion groups (somewhat like Slashdot with less tech, or 4Chan with fewer trolls, although some boards defied even those generalities) and turn-based games, with limited email capabilities between BBS users.

One of the interesting features of the BBSes I frequented (and to the best of my knowledge all of the boards at that time) was that all the users signed up using pseudonyms. These were often silly, occasionally very personal handles that most users would carry with them from one board to the next and would keep for years. Changing one’s pseudonym was in essence to change one’s identity, for within that community you were known in many cases only by that name you had given to yourself (or in some cases a derivation thereof, if a nickname developed naturally).

It never occurred to me much at the time, but there was a particular use to those false names that seems to be lost on a generation that has grown up with social media. In the rare event that someone was stupid enough to admit to having committed a crime on one of these BBSes (usually hacking, because hey, it was that kind of crowd), there was no way to identify them to the police unless you happened to know who they actually were. Even if they had shown up to an in-person meet up (yes, even in the dark ages we did that on occasion) the chances are they went by their online handle rather than trying to explain “Hi, I go by Death Kitty online, but my real name is Billy.” Aside from the cognitive dissonance of trying to keep two separate names straight, it didn’t even matter. You knew them by their online name and personality, and that was the important thing.

So what happens when Death Kitty admits to hacking the local branch of Bank of America? Do you call the cops and say, “Hey, I’ve got a tip for you, there’s this guy, I don’t know what he looks like, but his name is… um… Death… Kitty… I have to go now.” Yeah, not gonna happen.

Contrast that with the recent trend of social media crime-braggers. Seriously? I can create 10 fake, anonymous email accounts in as many minutes, and email didn’t even exist when I was born. I can follow that up with a few false social media accounts tied to those accounts, and then I can finish it off with NOT BRAGGING ABOUT CRIMES I COMMITTED. Not that I’ve committed any. That’s my story, Your Honor, and I’m sticking to it. (See how it’s done, kids?)

I understand that social media is everywhere these days. It’s as unavoidable as the nearest computer or cell phone. But this odd compulsion to share everything with the world is something I don’t get. That’s what priests and therapists are for. If you have to put it out there, do yourselves a favor: do it under an assumed name.


The Gaunt Man


2 Comments on “The Value of Anonymity”

  1. juneeb says:

    Aren’t you even a little worried that everyone will now know who the Humble Gaunt Man is?

  2. […] and you’ll see all sorts of stuff ranging from common sense advice (some of which I’ve even discussed before myself) to what can only amount to pearl-clutching inanity (like this article which discusses a woman who […]

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