Saturday 22nd of June 2024

Should members be 'encouraged' to use their real names?

When creating an account here, we're asked to use our full name for our logon. I know that Margo encourages people to use their full names on Webdiary also. Should this be a policy here?

On the pro side, anyone who's read many internet forums will be aware that the tone of conversations is generally ruder and more combative than in real life. I suspect this is a direct consequence of anonymity.

On the other hand, there are a couple of real problems with using a true identity. Firstly, the 'net is now so comprehensively archived that use of real identities leaves a trail that businesses and governments are going to collect for their own purposes (a recent hair-raising example is I'm not sure I want this for myself. There might be some technical ameliorations available -- eg. judicious use of robots.txt, but that has it's limitations. Secondly, my own feeling is that the widespread attack on civil liberties we've seen so far under the leadership of Bush, Blair and Howard is only a very timid beginning. Once the Libs have control of the Senate there's little to stop them doing what they want (especially as they've clearly established that 'public opinion' doesn't give a stuff for human rights, civil liberties, or similar elitist concerns). To whit, I don't think it's safe to use a real name, at least for certain topics.

Actually I'd like to see who everyone else really is, without divulging anything about myself. Ah, the tragedy of the commons.

Is there even a point in asking for real names?

I accept the need for accountability on a site like this, but just because someone is asked for their real name doesn't mean they'll necessarily provide it. It's not like there's a simply way to verify the name. I suppose it could be cross checked with the electoral role, but that still doesn't give a guarantee, as they could still put in their neighbour's name.

Leaves me thinking that a system were the real name is asked for (and maintained privately) but pseudonyms are allowed would probably work best.

Real names

Hey Hamish, this issue is a breaker for many. There are many who will not use real names on the net and I am one as my rave below tells you.

I would think that plenty who came to have a look have disappeared quietly without bothering once they read that real names are going to be required. Doing that will certainly limit the support this site gets and that would really disappoint me as well as you and all others.

There is nothing to stop people emailing each other and then using real names but that is a decision each user should make themselves. I've certainly done this in the past on various sites and never run into trouble.

I think you need to decide now and state openly what your policy will be. It should be on a separate page stating the sites policies (I'm sure you're flat out already but...). That way potential users can see what the rules are easily and decide then and there before getting involved.

My suggestion is that nom de plumes be used on the site but you, as site owner, should ask for real names and emails, provided that data is not stored on the web. Of course real namers can choose to use theirs but that should be an individual decision.

If you have a policy of those who convince you they need a nom de plume while others cannot convince you as well as the brave using their real names then it will divide the users and become an issue every time a nom de plumer posts. I've seen it on so many sites where the brave real name users deride the anonymous and openly state their comments/opinions are worthless simply because they follow normal web security.

Of course Wolf is right that hackers can get to you regardless of how you hide but that is an unusual situation where a hacker has decided they want to track you. However this is how the nasty get such things rolling. They collect info and then target whoever makes the right sounds on line. So Wolf is right, but why should we make it easy for them by giving real data on the web which is a nasty place if you don't take care.

I, like several others, will depart if real names are required on posts and would also probably go if the policy is not firm. None of this pleading with Hamish for permission to use a nom de plume. That's demeaning and not consistent.

Sorry, but it's make or break time mate.

Hamish: But there's no pleading involved, and I have never rejected someones wish to use a non de plume (I'm not sure if Margo ever has).

New Registration Details

Hi Pegasus, I have done a bit of work on the registration process. I wonder if you could have a look at the new form here (when you're not signed in already), and make comment on whether you feel the explanation and warning is reasonable.

Members who signed on early, especially if they felt pressured to use their real name when they would have preferred not to, may wish to go to 'my account' in the left hand column and change their user name. If you do so please also go into 'personal information' and enter a full name - it will not be public.

If you do so you will also notice other optional information. We are now asking for a phone number on registration. It is not compulsory, will never be public, and will be used only if we wish to verify someone's identification. If you really want to be controversial on this site, or if you just want us to be able to contact you, feel free to fill it in.

Not on the registration form, but available to those who wish to add to their public account, are fields for entering a home page (or favourite webpage for that matter) and something about yourselves. For people who wish to contribute regularly this may be a good place to make disclosures about political affiliations or just to make a comment about what you feel you have to contribute to the site.

Finally, under the 'electoral information' part of your account there is added facility to enter your state and local electorates. These electorates are not functional fields like the federal electorates as yet. If you click on your federal electorate you will get a list of all the members in that electorate.

New rego

Hey Hamish, looks good and suits the paranoid like me and everyone else. I particularly like the personal info as that's a good way to let others know about yourself and for them to get a bit of insight into who you are. I didn't realise how much I had written on the topic. I guess it fired my cylinders.

Good stuff.

I am very concerned

Hey all, I am very concerned for the safety of my (and others) real information for many reasons.

Firstly it is quite normal to require such info before joining many web forums etc and I am used to providing such when I want to join something. However, those sites tell you that up front and explain why which allows you to make a decision. I realise you are still in the throes of setting up etc but it is difficult to accept if you are let in to a site without that requirement only to find both that it is going to be required and that those using real data are using that fact to deride the anonymous. Consistency is the key and those sites that I have joined and provided real data have also strongly urged all users to NOT use their real names and emails on the site for safety.

A political site is different from most others as simply by creating your site you have enemies watching, wanting you to fail, or make you fail if you do get a decent response.

Most sites require member logon but that level of security only discourages the average bear. Any so minded hacker would get through that relatively easily. So all that actually achieves is to discourage those that want the normal net anonymity thus minimising your audience. Many will not provide real data and will back off as soon as they realise a site is not only requesting such information but also insisting on your name being used on the site. It simply defeats the purpose of your site at all Hamish. You don't want to make it hard to get in or apply the opposite of normal web security as people know it is not safe to do so.

Of course people with a profile, such as Margo, need to use their real names to get the benefit of that profile but such people are not likely to be the subject of either identity theft or stalking as they have that profile and some sway in relevant circles and are recognised. The average person is who the nasties seek, not the well known.

Secondly, the many risks that are present on the web. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing web crimes and it starts with small bits of data, such as email address and name whereby they can send you the phishing type emails to try and extract your passwords and user ID's for financial institutions. Identity theft is only just starting on the web as there is so much money in it for those that can and want to do it. It could also be used maliciously, eg to cancel electricity, gas, phone etc etc if some nasties really wanted to. Do you doubt that either Libs or Labor are above hacking your site for email addresses and names if the group becomes a problem for them. Remember One Nation, Abbott, slush funds, Beattie and the law in QLD where I am.

They would not hesitate for a second to attack if the Yourdemocracy movement started to get support and I think you know that.

No data bank on the web is safe from the hackers who specialise in that activity. Even if you keep the list off the web it is prone to misuse. For example, Hamish acquires a new volunteer assistant who maintains the membership list. Is that person not likely to be offered a few bucks from Tony's slush fund for a copy?

Then there is the issue of site responsibility. Banks and like institutions did not ask us if we wanted our data on the web. They just did it, in our interests so they said. They did it to save themselves money and now charge fees for using the very service they sold as being free and time saving. These sites are the ones where phishing is the biggest worry. You know, the fake emails that look like a real bank with a fake link to a page that looks exactly like a real bank site. If you respond to those emails as the unwary regularly do the people that sent you such fake emails can record every key stroke you make online thus picking up your ID and password for such banks, as well as everything else you do online.

The big difference with bank sites though Hamish is that they know they are responsible for any losses incurred through such activity and actually pay you back what you have lost in money. They take some time to do that but they legally cannot avoid it. Your site cannot give that guarantee legally. If your membership list is hacked or sold and people suffer either identity theft or stalking or malicious harassment you cannot make any guarantees to protect or repair the damage. Of course you can't, it would be impossible to expect you to.

Just imagine how you would feel if only one of the members from Yourdemocracy suffered identity theft as a result of either your real name policy or misuse of your membership list. You couldn't justify the policy to that person and I'm sure your conscience would also not allow you to simply brush it off. What if female members are stalked both on the web and physically as does happen? You wouldn't want to be responsible for that either mate.

It's simply not a safe practice to try forcing people using real names online. As I said, sites like the depression one actually insist on anonymity once you join and take responsibility for the real data. It's the opposite of what you are proposing.

The other issue is the battle between those that think they are being " honest and open " by using their real names and the anonymous. I actually think those people are simply uneducated re the web and naive but they like to use their " honesty " as a bullying tactic as you have seen already. It also defeats the purpose of your site.

What if Hamish or one of his helpers (assuming you have one, if not now, but in the future) picks up a trojan or some new virus which does the same thing before virus protection builds a defence against it? All such viruses hurt somebody before the security functions like virus checkers and firewalls are aware of them. In other words there is always a period of time where anyone is open to a new strain. The hackers and nasties are always ahead of the defenders as they can't defend against something until they know about it.

It's a subject I have spent a lot of time learning about the hard way and I can see no reason why others have to suffer the same if it can be avoided.

So what would I suggest as a policy on names? As I said, Margo has no choice, nor do you as you want the site to attract attention and site owners must show faith in their product. For the rest of us unknowns though I would agree that real names and emails are necessary for you both legally and as a normal courtesy. On the actual site I would strongly discourage the use of any real data. Some people will insist and they are welcome to do so provided you make them aware of the risks they may be taking. Many are unaware of the risks and may well change their mind once they are educated. Some will still ignore the advice and that's OK provided they don't use that ignorance to put down those that know the risks and won't take them. I would suggest nom de plumes are the best option as they allow safety and the person to express some of their personality simply by the name they select. But the moderator(s) must nip any misuse of the real name bravery to deride others views and postings. Some might suggest first names only. Good idea escept there is more than one Dave out there and the confusion of Dave and Dave1 etc would quickly become impossible.

So how would you protect the membership list? Frankly I don't know enough to offer valid comments on that issue. I assume you may have sufficient knowledge to allow you to be confident that your membership details are safe. If you don't have that knowledge and protection there are many other site owners who would help you out readily and freely, being part of the brotherhood of site owners. I intend no offence here as in all I have written. I just don't know what your knowledge level is therefore I have concerns.

Hamish, don't think for a second I underestimate your workload. I stupidly volunteered to moderate a depression site a few years back and was snowed under and attacked on all fronts by the members. I didn't do it for long because of that and also the fact that I could no longer contribute to the decisions as I was " the boss " so to speak and as such the others wou

ld believe anything I wrote or the opposite. It just made my contribution to that site useless and put me off the web for a fair while. I won't mention my emotional state as you are probably feeling like that right now anyway.

So I do understand how hard it is for you to restrain yourself from just screaming " **** off " to people like myself who persist when you may have already decided. You just have to hold your tongue/finger instead and the anger builds up inside you, not being directed where it belongs. If you do respond publicly to any of us as the moderator in other than a bland, peace making role you would be quickly seen as petulant and explosive and minimise the input from others who won't risk your wrath.

Apologies for the stress I have added to your role and the aggression I may have displayed. It's not intended as I admire so much you actually taking on the role for Margo. Obviously you believe in the project as well and will protect it as best you can. I am actually on your side Hamish, that's why I am persisting with this topic. I want your site to grow, expand and have a real effect on our society. I have hopes for your project and get frustrated by those that bicker and debate bullshit while you are trying to get some actual ideas out of us. I easily get distracted by those issues as you have seen.

There are so many sites that do only that, record arguments, cause friction and achieve nothing. I don't want that to happen to your site and will assist in any way I can as I have wanted to do exactly the same thing myself for some time now.

Sorry about the length but I am passionate about the aims of your site and have so much to offer.

More on Bi-line Policy

Pegasus, I agree with most of what you say, and it is a shame we did not have registration better organised from the beginning. But essentially we will be doing what you suggest.

I want to express here that it is a great shame that we can apparently not be a public community of real citizens in our own identities, and it is a tick in the 'con' file of internet organisation, and a blow to our society's democratic defenses.

In some modern inner-city communities today, which are quite effectively alienated even from themselves, it is quite conceivable that someone might hear people's names at a public meeting and then stalk them or whatever. If such started occurring somewhere it would indeed be sensible for a policy and a warning from the chair about stating any private details aloud. So the next speaker would not begin by introduction, "Hi, I'm Janet Doe", but, "Call me gherkin69".

The hypothetical is only meant to express my sadness as to the apparent need of the policy here.

As an aesthetic, and perhaps also to help alleviate some of the distracting differentiation between nicknames and real names that you mention, I really prefer it when people use an actual false name.

Somehow 'Harry Heidelberg', 'Polly Bush' and 'Gus Leonisky' (all pseudonyms) are so much friendlier and non-distracting than nicknames. Just my opinion.

RE: Identification

I believe this “fear

Come on now

Hey Jolanda, have you seen the word fear mentioned anywhere in my posts? I would appreciate you don't change the context in which I make comments.

As to refusing to hide your real data online, it is basic security advice from any IT professional.

Do you also refuse to look left and right when crossing the road? That is simply a basic security precaution which we could all ignore so we aren't seen as displaying fear.

Re: Fear

Dear Pegasus, Did I mention your post or did you see my post sitting under yours as a direct reply to you? I was adding to the discussion and replying to Hamish's post not yours and giving my opinion as to what I feel and see in relation to providing real names and identification.

I am sorry if my post offended you - it wasn't intended - that is just my personal opinion from where I sit and my view and it had nothing to do with the context that you made in your comments.

I don't cross the road with my computer, so I guess I am pretty safe.

Jolanda, it's easy to be blase

Jolanda, it's easy to be blase about the consequences of Net stalking. Having been a victim, I can assure you the damage can be extensive and I don't mean one or two hate emails or a couple of phone calls.

And for many of us, it's not just ourselves that become targets but also our spouse and children.

My last words on this topic

Hey Hamish, thanks firstly for continuing to listen. I hope simply to make others aware of the risks of the internet and do not do so condescendingly. There will be many here with more knowledge than I on much of the web and it's operations.

I agree with you it is sad that we need to even consider not being ourselves online but it is a reality. The internet is a far more dangerous place than many believe as we all have the attitude, "It won't happen to me". It may and I can't see why any of us should increase the risks that are indeed out there.

As to public meetings are there not many who shout out comments, heckle speakers and do not identify themselves? The rent a crowd idea for starters. Public meetings are not events that I favour as I have stated but they are necessary to spread the "word" amongst the many who don't have internet access. But by far the majority of the people there are not identified and even if they did speak up who is to say their stated name is accurate?

I can understand the initial approach as it has sprung from Margo's work as a news commentator where most people must be identified, particularly when you want to publish in a newspaper. That is for their legal protection, not the writer's. The web is a different world to a newspaper and should be treated as such.

Lastly, even in the world of newspaper publishing there are quite a number of columnists now and over the years who used aliases as you would know so it's not a hard and fast rule there except apparently for contributors.

Thanks for the discussion. At least I've had the opportunity to put my view and I thank you for that.

Real names on the web - Are you kidding?

Hey all,

The first lesson you learn on the net is not to use any real data, name, address, phone or whatever. You know why? There are tons of "those" people out there, stalkers, paedophiles and the rest. Why help them? It's basic security advice for all new learners on the web to not use real data.

Let alone the horror show thoughts of what governments might be able to monitor anyway. I wouldn't use my real name on a web site if I was paid to. It's madness. Have you ever heard of Echelon? They'll be reading this now I've mentioned their title, so Hi there Echelon hope it's boring. ALL email is currently monitored already but it's so huge I understand they only look for keywords before they look at an email. But real names. Just leave your front door open and stick up a neon sign why don't you.

Have you ever been stalked on the web. I have, by a hacker who got upset at me. I eventually got his ISP to can his accounts but he made my web life a misery for 2 months. For example, every time I got email delivered he had auto emails setup in the thousands which flooded by inbox and made email useless. And that was a gentle thing.

Every site is trawled and spidered by those who create junkmail without even considering the other nasty options.

On the other hand, I have no problem with the web site owner having real email and names, provided there is no leakage and that list is not held on the web. I have used my real email and name in email to Hamish once I realised it was OK. If such a data bank is on the web it's just bait waiting for a hook.

Thank God (assuming there was one) my name didn't come up on that site mentioned either. I must be doing something right.

I don't have a problem with doing my banking or paying legit bills on the net either as I do all the right things, don't respond to email links for institutions etc and keep up to date with virus and firewall data.

But real names? Please, get real. If people want to say who they are then go ahead but I won't, under any circumstances. If I get to emailing with anyone from here I will be me (once I trust them that is) but otherwise I am Pegasus, my name means horse.

This cannot be an actual debate as it's simply a risk not worth taking. For Margo and Hamish it's something they need to do to get the site going and Margo is already widely known. But the rest of us? Forget it.

Thanks for that Link!

Thanks for that link! It's scary stuff, but I am glad to see that I must have done something right on the net in the last 12 years 'cos my name is not in there. :)

But I found names of friends of mine (not just in Australia), who and what and where they are. It's concerning.

But I also have been thinking, that if someone wants to find out who one really is, they actually don't need a real name. (Question for the tech people?) It can be traced by IP address? If it can be traced anyways, why not give a real name?

I always gave my real name on the net. It's Wolf. Believe or not, that is my real name.

Real Names Required

It hard to stop thinking that they've already won - we're frightened!

And at this early stage it seems that pseudonoms are pretty common here? Any figures on user ratio of name/pseudo?

Once it's fairly common practice, then the genie is out of the bottle. Admin needs to make this decision early. Go for real names - no name, no cred.

Two More Remain in the Closet

I'm with ya John, and I've sweated a little blood over this one. I'm going to start emailing people who post contributions requesting a real name or a non de plume and a reason. You're right that if the horse bolts there'll be no harnessing it afterward.

But two more have given me real names. Nolly did so some time ago I realised, and still prefers to keep her identity private for personal reasons. Noisyjazzman has also given his real identity, but not for publication. He hinted in his email that he might come out in time.

At this stage there's no simple way for me to write, 'real name supplied' next to the usernames on the posts and comments, but that will be the assumption eventually.

Real Names Required

Thanks, "noisyjazzman" for that fairly balanced introduction to the question.

As with Webdiary, our policy is that people should use full names if they are going to post on the site. So far I've been pretty lax, but some of the posters (like Wolf and Myriad) have given me their names and negotiated a pseudonym. Also nobody's really tried to push any barriers.

It will get more strict, for the reasons you say, but also I think a broader reason which has to do with the democracy theme.

We are constructing a forum for citizens. It is customary in a democratic space, like a town-hall meeting, for people to identify themselves when they speak. It has to do with accountability and taking responsibility for your statements in an environment where speaking-time is precious.

Democracy is not dead yet, and at this juncture its best defence is in citizens publicly declaring and practicing their rights to be public participants. If we want to retreat into secret cells we can, and we may indeed be survivors if Australia becomes utterly totalitarian, like cockroaches after Armageddon. That's not my choice, and it is not the nature of democratic institutions.

As you say however, "the 'net is now so comprehensively archived that use of real identities leaves a trail that businesses and governments are going to collect for their own purposes". It's a horrible shame but it does change the nature of things a lot.

To hide you from search engines and anything but an ASIO raid on our server, you may if you wish give us your name (by the feedback form) along with a reason for not wishing it used, and a preferred non de plume.

Identification to speak

, you write, "It is customary in a democratic space, like a town-hall meeting, for people to identify themselves when they speak."

Are you sure that is 'customary?' Have you ever heard any Politician say, "My name is Downer (for instance) and I'd like to say (this)?"

Guess not (Just food for thought.)

Re: Speaker's ID

Wolf, I think the Speaker introduces each parliamentarian by name. There is clearly no option of anonymity.

Importance of Avoiding Spiders

I agree with you on the importance to a traditionally democratic forum of people standing publicy behind what they state (you could argue that it's not really a 'statement' unless the speaker is identified).

I'm still a bit concerned about the search engine/spider issue though. It might be worth the technical guys looking when time allows at some of the mechanical possibilities. You can exclude whole areas of a site from being spidered (at least by reputable engines) by naming their directories in a 'robots.txt' file in the root of the site.

But then you might actually want the discussions to be indexed so they have a chance of being found serendipitously. In that case another option might be to have posters' names only displayed to a logged-in user (spiders won't log in). Would this be a possibility?

(on a side issue I note that the WSIWYG editor isn't honouring my paragraph breaks, hence everything I write makes it look like I'm a CEO or other linguistically disordered type).

Real Names

Posting on forums like this is nothing like identifying yourself in town hall meetings or having a letter published in the SMH.

Having been a victim of a net stalker a couple of years, to the extent the creep was able to tell me what school my kids go to, I can assure you it is a very scary experience. And in most cases these people cannot be traced because of anonymous remailers and surfer sites etc.

How many people would go the trouble, if it was even possible, to find out what a particular person said at town meetings over, say, a ten year period? On the net you can do this in minutes with a few keystrokes. I can track things I wrote (under pseudonyms) years ago.

As someone has mentioned already, I have my doubts about the future of the site if real names are enforced. I, for one, will not post nor participate here.