I recently joined yet another online community. As always, instead of adopting a cute nickname like "Lives2Write," I've been posting under my real name, Brenda Coulter.
Blogs, message boards, and social networking sites can be useful and entertaining. But I've always been bothered by the ease with which people who participate in those forums can insult and even threaten others while hiding behind made-up names. So I'd like to see a trend toward using real names online. It's just more comfortable to exchange messages with people who don't appear to be hiding anything.
A good internet citizen should not be afraid or ashamed of attaching her name to the words she has written online. Unlike cowardly trolls who love to hit and run, decent people who post honest opinions don't usually stray far from civility because they know they're not anonymous--and hasty words lobbed into cyberspace can rarely (if ever) be recalled.
What about privacy? If you're worried about people finding out your kids' names and ages and where you live, perhaps you should stop chatting about those things in public forums, where anyone might listen in. Internet anonymity offers far less protection than we assume, anyway; countless people have seen their true identities outed by their online enemies--and even, occasionally, by their bumbling friends. On the internet, nobody can count on being anonymous forever. So why not acknowledge that and switch all of your online community and message board accounts to your real name? That would be a step toward making the internet a nicer place for everyone.
If you're a writer, are you taking advantage of the myriad promotional opportunities afforded by online communities, or are you dropping perfectly polite and interesting comments and then failing to fully identify yourself? Agents, editors, publishers, and other writers use the internet, too, you know. So why sign "SusanA" when you can sign your real name, Susan Author, and perhaps catch the eye of someone who might further your career? Posting informative or thoughtful or humorous comments under your real name (or your literary pseudonym) is a good idea for both those who hope to get published and those published authors who wouldn't mind picking up a new reader or two.
Sure, you might be well advised to post anonymously when you go to a medical forum to ask about your hemorrhoid problem. But in general, wouldn't it be better for the internet community and for your career if you stopped calling yourself "BobWrites" and allowed people to see who you really are?
If you are moved to comment on this post, I dare you to do so under your real name.