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Giulio Prisco (M, 56)
Budapest, HU
Immortal since Oct 31, 2010
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    One month after the introduction of Google+, the debate on "real vs fake identities" goes on. I see a lot of that on Google+ and Facebook because I have many Second Life users in my network, and many of them have chosen to be pseudonymous.

    In particular two of my best friends, Khannea Suntzu and Extropia DaSilva, have made this choice. Khannea I have also met in brickspace, but I have never met Extie's "primary" in brickspace (Extie maintains that she and her "primary" are two separate identities, and I think she is the one who knows best about her own life), and probably I never will. I know Extie via her writings, and a long online friendship. To me, Extie is as real as my neighbor in brickspace. More real, because my neighbor is an idiot and Extie is a great person and a great thinker.

    But Google (in its Google+ profiles) and Facebook are deleting pseudonymous users because they are not "real". I think at least Google will back off at some moment with some face-saving declaration, and there are indication that they will accept pseudonymous profiles. But the trend remains, and it is a disturbing trend.

    At this moment, I am representing myself online via the same name that is printed on my passport and my credit cards. This has not always been the case, and perhaps it will not always continue to be the case. I do have some semi-pseudonymous identities like Eschatoon Magic and Perplexing Poultry, but I only wear them in Second Life and they are easily traceable back to me. I also have a couple of truly pseudonymous identities, watertight nyms that it would be very difficult to trace back to me (difficult as in the NSA could probably break them but it would cost a lot of money), but I don't really use them.

    Using my "real" name and identity online is convenient for me, because I try to make a living as a consultant, software developer and producer of "serious" online events. In "Google+, the pseudonym banstick, and the netizen cultural schism", Emlyn O'Regan says it better: "The integrated identities tend to work in the web 2.0 universe. Silicon valley seems to be the cultural center of this. They meet the same people online and offline; people who have startups, tech bloggers, money guys, opinion leaders of all kind. Their identity is their primary asset, it’s got their reputation attached to it. To them, it’d be mad to have a separate online and offline identity, and seems kind of sinister; what reason could you have to split your reputation, really, other than that you are trying to hide something?"

    Emlyn continues: "But the separate identity people are actually part of an older tradition (and yes this environment is old enough to have an older tradition). It’s the tradition of the Handle, and it comes from back when computer networks were esoteric, back when using them was a marker of class...". This is very true: back in the 90s we all used nyms, and this was seen as something normal and proper.

    I often voice my very deep concerns about our once free Internet becoming the property of nanny states and greedy corporations, and I think we must protect the Internet at all times. Our society is becoming a global nanny state and a dictatorship of self-righteous control freaks and idiotic "moral majorities", and we should keep and protect at least some pockets of personal freedom and privacy online.

    Or else (see below). At this moment I am not affected by real-dentities-only policies, because I chose to represent myself via my legal name anyway. I must also confess that, sometimes, I am mildly annoyed by some aspects of my pseudonymous friends' behavior. But I am happy to accept a moderate level of annoyance for the privilege of living in a free society, and I try to be tolerant of others' little annoying habits because I hope they will be equally tolerant of mine. And I remember:

    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.


    Thanks to another pseudonymous Internet user, Singularity Utopia (whose profile was deleted from both Facebook and Google+), for pointing out the relevance of "First they came..." and coming up with the title of this post.

    My friend Khannea Suntzu has written a vehement defense of the rights of pseudonymous Internet users, quoting the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "A Case for Pseudonyms". I definitely agree with Khannea that "Social Networks have become a necessity for a large segment of society and not being able to freely take part in these services represent a significant vulnerability for people in our society who want to communicate in some level of relative freedom." My friend Extropia DaSilva has framed her own defense of the rights of pseudonymous Internet users in a version of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changing", beginning with "Remember the 90s when the web was new?"

    I wish to invite everyone to read again John Perry Barlow's Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace: "Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather...". In an initial mailing list post with a draft version of the Declaration, Barlow had previously written: "Well, fuck them. Or, more to the point, let us now take our leave of them. They have declared war on Cyberspace. Let us show them how cunning, baffling, and powerful we can be in our own defense." This is the spirit of the free Internet (and society) that we must protect at all times. Unfortunately we are forgetting our beautiful dreams and becoming sheeple.

    I really hope we-the-sheeple wake up some day and start kicking some ass before it's too late.

    How should we kick ass? I left a comment on Extie's TIMES A-CHANGIN’, edited version below:

    You know that I fully support the right to be pseudonymous on the net, and the right to hide your name, age, gender, location etc. As you say, this is what things were done in the 90s.

    But Facebook and Google are businesses. They are there to make money. You and I don’t pay them a cent. Instead, they make money with targeted ads. They want to know your age, gender, and location because this information is useful to target ads. They want to know your name because they wish to use it to correlate the info in their databases with info from other sources. I doubt they give a damn about the name on your passport, but they want to know the name on your credit card, which is usually the same.

    Added note: Nanny states are much worse than corporations. Corporations only want your money, but nanny states control freaks also want your soul. They want to know your name, age, gender, location, sexual preferences, religious beliefs and thoughts, and someday soon they will want to know which hand you use to wipe your own ass, because they want to control you from the cradle to the grave. Give me an evil greedy corporation anytime.

    In the 90s we were only a few thousands of Internet users, and we earned the right to our free Internet by using it, recommending it to others, and also writing code and running web servers. Some did a little, and others did a lot. Instead of complaining against a ugly world we tried to build a beautiful one. Perhaps TIMES A-CHANGIN’ because we-the-sheeple are too lazy to take things into our hands?

    Don't expect nanny states and greedy corporations to give you freedom, because it is not in their interest. They want a society of good sheeple and good consumers. Freedom cannot be given. Only taken.

    What Facebook and Google choose to do with their money is not our business. But we have open source, decentralized, P2P distributed alternatives like Diaspora built by-the-people and for-the-people, where nobody would (or could) question your right to be pseudonymous and disclose only the info that you want to disclose, or none at all. Instead of complaining against Google and Facebook why don’t you support Diaspora? if you have the skills you can contribute to the codebase or run a Diaspora server, if you have some money you can support them financially, and if you have neither you can… just USE DIASPORA: since the growth rate of a social network is exponential, you can contribute a lot just by using it. If you don't like Diaspora for some reasons, think of something else (I have a hunch that a tweaked BitTorrent protocol could power a social network).

    Added note: they want to know your credit card number (and the name on it) to use it as a means to control you. Paypal started in the 90s as a subversive Internet initiative, and now it is more regulated than a bank. USE BITCOIN. After writing this enthusiastic article about Bitcoin, I have lost some money to a scammer who requested a Paypal chargeback after receiving the Bitcoins he paid, and I am sure they will side with the scammer to discourage Bitcoin users. Of course I will be much more careful next time, but I will continue to use and support Bitcoin.

    Don't buy paper books from dinosaur publishers who overprice their books, but buy e-books from new DRM-free publishers like Smashwords. Don't buy movies from dinosaur publishers who overprice their DVDs, but support new content distribution models like VODO. If the quality is not good enough for you, write or produce something better, or support those who do. Let's boycott the system and repeat with Barlow "We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before." LET'S TELL THE OLD WORLD TO GO FUCK ITSELF.

    I wish one percent of the energy used to complain could be channeled to developing and supporting a free Internet. It would start growing very fast.
    Wed, Aug 3, 2011  Permanent link
    Categories: internet, freedom, pseudonimity
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