August 10, 2018

Is it wrong to post anonymously?

Some of the most prolific posters on this forum, write anonymously.

@alchemist and @thomasm1964 come to mind.

What is the group feeling on whether or not this should be allowed?

Should everyone on IH be forced to declare their full identity?

Those of you who write anonymously, why do you choose to do so? Would you still continue to write under your true name?

@channingallen @csallen, what's your take on this issue?

I suspect there is some tension on the one hand, between those young users who are used to living in the post-privacy age, and an older cadre of users, with professional careers, who are cautious of the long tail of unintended consequences, and would probably not post (or at least not as frankly) if they had to reveal their entire professional resume.

The analogy would be like journalists in some nations, who simply could not write under their true identity. Obviously, when people are selling something, the rules change and public disclosure is to be expected.

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    I'm not a huge privacy buff myself, but I can understand why other people are. I can't imagine ever making Indie Hackers a place where you have to disclose your identity,

    and I think it's just fine that people post anonymously.

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    I suspect there is some tension on the one hand, between those young users who are used to living in the post-privacy age, and an older cadre of users, with professional careers, who are cautious of the long tail of unintended consequences, and would probably not post (or at least not as frankly) if they had to reveal their entire professional resume.

    I definitely fall into that category.

    How do I put this politely without offending younger people? I am aware, as many young people are not but some are finding to their cost, that it is not always safe to reveal your full identity online. There are some nasty people out there. Also, just because I choose to contribute does not mean that I want my entire life to be an open book to strangers or to allow others to think they own me just because they think they "know" me. You see that sort of behaviour all the time with celebrities and it happens to a lesser extent within online communities as well.

    The above is by no means an isolated example of what can happen to indie authors. On amazon, Kindle Boards used to be a place where independent authors who were starting to make a success of their publishing careers used to spend a lot of time trying to help others ... and they were vilified for it. And to such an extent that most successful indie authors no longer participate because the effects on their personal lives were so extreme. Goodreads suffered much the same fate: it was taken over by cliques of unsuccessful and vindictive people who have been known to go to extreme lengths to make the lives of those whose success they resent as miserable as possible.

    My experience of the IH community has been pretty positive. One of the things I like about it is that the tone is generally respectful even when opinions differ. Even here, though, there has been the occasional spat and I note with interest how people talk here about the tone of places like reddit or Product Hunt or another one, the name of which currently escapes me. Others have mentioned in the past that IH feels different.

    If people find my opinions and advice useful, that should be more than sufficient for them. They do not need more than that. If people do not like or value what I have to say, then I do not want them to know more about me than what I choose to share.


    1. I am older than most people here I suspect.

    2. I don't buy into the "we're all post privacy now" cant. People will discover in time that there is a price to pay.

    3. I don't mind sharing a certain amount but on my terms not the mob's terms (and, yes, I realise that every interaction on the internet erodes a little more of my privacy but I do what I can to minimise it).

    4. It isn't exactly difficult to guess at least half of my name and it also isn't difficult to find out my full name (it took me less than a second to check!).

    5. When I joined IH, I don't even remember being asked for my name. From memory, all I was asked for at the time was an email address and a password and a user name so I just used the same one I use elsewhere.

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      I am an old timer h4x0r: "Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not criteria such as degrees, age, race, sex, or position".

      My specific take is that on internet you can be anyone you want to be. That goes with identity as well.

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    I think if this were a forum like stackoverflow, that was problem-and-solution oriented, I wouldn't even consider it as a potential issue. And as someone who falls distinctly into you "older cadre" category, I get entirely where @thomasm1964 is coming from - most of what he writes would go for me too.

    One thing makes me hesitate. This isn't a purely a problem-solving site. Like this thread, it's often about discussing opinions. And, at least on more mainstream social platforms, anonymity enables some people to express some pretty vile opinions, safe from any consequences.

    Of course, I'm in no way suggesting that this happens here, not that I've seen. And, in a small community, with a down-voting mechanism and at least some degree of moderation, perhaps that can't happen. That said, you yourself complained recently about another user's post, feeling that he'd crossed a line. Not of an offensive opinion in that case, but a post I think you were suggesting could have been defamatory if inaccurate. In such a case, anonymous posters are immune to any consequences of their actions. And I'm not entirely comfortable with that.

    So, my unhelpful answer is: I don't know. I don't know where lies the correct balance between privacy and accountability.

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      Actually, if someone strayed into criminal activity, they are not quite as invisible as they might like to think - as paedophiles all over the world discover when their activities are tracked back to an IP address which, ultimately, resolves to a bricks and mortar address.

      Of course there are ways and means to frustrate such enquiry but most malicious people on the internet probably lack the technical skills to cover their tracks beyond the wit of authorities to find them. I see a good few cases in the newspapers of trolls who have issued death threats or committed other vile acts online being unmasked, sent to trial and jailed for their activities ... and they probably thought they were immune from discovery at the time!

      Also, Courtland and Channing still moderate this site manually so I am sure either one could pull the plug on a persistent offender should they choose to do so.

      Finally, we don't have a problem of disrespect or abuse here. Long may that continue!

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        I never mentioned criminal activity. If I wished to pursue a civil action, our esteemed hosts might be far more reluctant to hand out personal data to me than they would be to police. Even though it might be possible to pursue, it's likely to be prohibitively complicated.

        I'm not saying there's a problem, nor that I want anything to change - I care strongly about privacy too. I just think that there is more than one possible perspective.

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          That's true. Mind you, even if Courtland and Channing wanted us to give full names, they have no way of verifying that the information we give is true! And that is probably true for most forums and anything which does not require the use of a credit card or verifiable ID to access.

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            That's also true. Even if identifiability were desirable, it might not be easy to achieve.

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    It's fully okay. We are helping each other, whether someone is anonymous or not.

    I personally like building friendships online and I prefer to do that with someone who fully discloses their identity to me, but that doesn't mean that something else shouldn't be allowed.

    There definitely is a gap between young users and older members, in IH as well as other communities. Older members tend to only disclose their identity for profit/gain (see well known marketers, spending $1000s of dollars on YT ads), whereas younger people (even with professional careers!) tend to just do it for sense of community, and because we grew up with it.

    @thomasm1964 comment is definitely interesting. I don't fully agree with the statement that people who don't value their privacy will have to pay a price. In fact, I believe more transparency solves problems, rather than creating them. But it should be everybody's choice if they become an online persona. Fact is, young people don't have that choice anymore after we create our first online profiles with 13 or younger, so we use it to our advantage (I got my last two jobs -both in AI- through social media). If you are still in a position where you can stay anonymous, good for you!

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    I'm of the Nintendo Generation. In my early 20s I eagerly embraced sharing online, wrote a blog that was much closer to a diary than typical blogs now and I even hosted couch surfers to stay with me.

    I'm less public now, not because I'm older but because I've had a couple of really unpleasant experiences. Most people are friendly, but there is a small percentage that can really ruin your day (or life).

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    “Should everyone on IH be forced to declare their full identity?”

    The big question for me here is “why?”

    I’ve posted on here before about personal branding and privacy.

    I’m reading a great book just now called “unscripted” and the author references something analogous to this point.

    So... you walk into your local store and buy.... toothpaste. Do you give a shit who the scientists were who formulated it? Do you give a shit who the marketers were who branded and promoted it? No.

    Similarly I guess with countless great sci fi books that I’ve read. Most of them I couldn’t tell you who the author was. Does it matter?

    If you like the toothpaste or you enjoyed the book... what difference does it make who produced it.

    Another example is you @webapppro - I like a lot of stuff you write on IH, but I don’t care if you’re an 8 year old guy from Australia or a 105 year old woman from Zimbabwe.

    Who, or what you are makes zero difference to the content you write. Or more importantly, the consumption of your content by others.