What's in a Name?
"You don't know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you'll be awake. You'll be facing me, and you'll be armed." -- Malcolm Reynolds
Every time I attach my name to my opinion on the internet, I take a little bit of a risk. It's a small, almost imperceptible risk, but one that could have real consequences that stretch beyond the scope of this online ether. For a long time, I did not write that name. I wrote a made up name. I did it because it's safer. It's a small, almost imperceptible amount of safety, but that barrier between the online me and the real me felt like a well insulated firewall, a safety blanket lining, a pillow of anonymity between myself and my strange bedfellow the internet.
I still use that nom-de-plume, but more as a clarification than a mask. There is the Sean that is also Elysium, rather than the Sean that is Dad, or employee or last place in fantasy football. It's a different Sean in distinct and meaningful ways -- at least to me -- but it's still me.
If I was going to stand up and have an opinion, a voice in the crowd, then I was going to take ownership and responsibility for what I say. My words would be mine, and I would be accountable for them.
There are a lot of reasons people might choose not to be the One True Themselves online. It would be easy to lump everyone who stands behind a false identity into one group and say, "they're the problem," but not only would that kind of indictment be aggressively sweeping and naive, it would be patently unfair.
The recent Blizzard Real ID program was but one example of hundreds that brought the problem of being yourself online to light, which is that any exposure holds the potential for destructiveness and abuse. There are online forces that revel in anarchy, chaos and indiscriminate meanness in a way I simply don't understand, and it is flatly ignorant to not realize that the possibility for random online violence is omnipresent.
Cyber-stalking, abuse and campaigns of harassment take a real world toll.
And, why can these people conduct campaigns of online terror without repercussions of their own? Because they hide behind their own cloaks of anonymity. Online anonymity has power, it unbinds people from responsibility, accountability and consequence. While many choose anonymity because it insulates the online from the real, others choose it because it is allied territory from which long-range attacks can be fired without fear of reprisal.
This is who I take exception with. The most recent example is that of the disgruntled employee at EA Mythic who has opted to slink in the shadows and lob questionable allegations with all the classic hallmarks of conclusions drawn as much from watercooler gossip and ham-fisted logic as actual information. In his righteous fury, he casts broad and wide dispersions, and gleefully throws his soon-to-be former bosses, who presumably paid him for his service and never once engaged in indentured servitude allowing him at any time to take his disatisfaction to another employer, under the bus.
The one piece of information conspicuously missing from his tirade is obvious. His name.
Why is it not there? If the treatment was so egregious, the mismanagement so obvious and the culture so destructive, why not stand up and be part of a solution? Because if his identity is revealed, given the careless, probably baseless and irresponsible nature of the post, he’ll have a hell of a time getting another job in the industry, and he knows it. That act of omission, of the cowards path of hiding in the closet and sniping without identity, reveals the impotence of his rant. It’s a selfish act, meant not to change a culture or a company, but to slake a primal lust for revenge.
Because of this, he deserves neither sympathy nor serious consideration. He deserves reproach for a whack-job delivery.
The company I work for recently suffered the vocal annoyances of someone similar, a nameless individual who posted his litany of complaints online anonymously. Internally, the response was not, “oh thank goodness someone is finally speaking up for us little people.” No, instead it was derided as a cowardly and unprofessional act, the retaliation of someone with not enough brains to stay employed and not enough guts to stand up and take responsibility for their complaints.
I don’t indict everyone who speaks behind a mask, particularly those who do so responsibly, because it’s not always the wrong choice, but I applaud and want to be counted among those who stand behind their words. If I drag you through the mud, you'll know that it's me doing it.