The New York Times discusses the issue of pseudonyms vs. “real” names in online identification, asking “who decides who you are online?”:
The writer Salman Rushdie hit Twitter on Monday morning with a flurry of exasperated posts. Facebook, he wrote, had deactivated his account, demanded proof of identity and then turned him into Ahmed Rushdie, which is how he is identified on his passport. He had never used his first name, Ahmed, he pointed out; the world knows him as Salman. […]
Mr. Rushdie’s predicament points to one of the trickiest notions about life in the digital age: Are you who you say you are online? Whose business is it — and why?
As the Internet becomes the place for all kinds of transactions, from buying shoes to overthrowing despots, an increasingly vital debate is emerging over how people represent and reveal themselves on the Web sites they visit. One side envisions a system in which you use a sort of digital passport, bearing your real name and issued by a company like Facebook, to travel across the Internet. Another side believes in the right to don different hats — and sometimes masks — so you can consume and express what you want, without fear of offline repercussions.
The argument over pseudonyms — known online as the “nym wars” — goes to the heart of how the Internet might be organized in the future. […] Facebook insists on what it calls authentic identity, or real names. And it is becoming a de facto passport vendor of sorts, allowing its users to sign into seven million other sites and applications with their Facebook user names and passwords. […]
The debate over identity has material consequences. Data that is tied to real people is valuable for businesses and government authorities alike. Forrester Research recently estimated that companies spent $2 billion a year for personal data, as Internet users leave what the company calls “an exponentially growing digital footprint.”
And then there are the political consequences. Activists across the Arab world and in Britain have learned this year that social media sites can be effective in mobilizing uprisings, but using a real name on those sites can lead authorities right to an activist’s door. […]
Of course, people have always used pseudonyms. Some, like Mark Twain, are better known by their fake names. Some use online pseudonyms to protect themselves, like victims of abuse. Still others use fake names to harass people.