I’ve used the name “Bloonface” on the Internet now for about eight years. Choosing it was essentially a very impulsive decision that in all honesty I’m rather sick of the results of but am more or less stuck with. “Bloonface” is a stupid username – quite aside from the fact that it actually appears to mean something in some cultures, it’s just a dumb thing to call yourself. It says nothing about me as a person, what I like, even what I am, it’s just a dumb word that I came up with on the spur of the moment because I had a couple of minutes to come up with a new Twitter username.
Part of that though is that in large part, I do not want to be “me” on the Internet. I don’t want to use my real name for any reason, I don’t want the complete shite I spew on Mastodon or Reddit or YouTube to be connected in any sense to me, the flesh and blood person. I don’t want my personal or professional lives to be linked to my Internet one, where I write puerile synthpop with a friend and run a swearing bot that wasn’t even my idea to begin with. I’m happy for that to be linked to an entirely separate persona from the things that make me money and allow me to live.
I have thought about doing the opposite, on occasion. Frankly, my Internet presence is more weird, profane and embarrassing than it is harmful. I don’t have a history of espousing racial hatred or of extreme political stances. I swear a lot online but I swear a lot in real life too, something that feels less and less like a transgression as mores (correctly) shift away from prohibition of words that are arbitrarily evil bad words and towards prohibition of words based on their intention and/or their demeaning of the vulnerable. There are people on Twitter arguing for violent communist revolution under their real names and faces; I doubt me and my offensive bots and pissweak socdem views would raise many eyebrows in the scheme of things. And to be perfectly frank, there are people who are far more likely to be the target of harassment than boring cis straight white males like me, yet are far more happy to be who they really are online.
This also, for the first time, became a bit of an issue when the post about the Mastodon migration got big, and Ars Technica got in touch about having it published there. While I’ve had things I’ve written bigged up by people in “proper” publications before, it turns out that a serious site like Ars doesn’t really want to just throw stuff up by people with childish non-names. As such, it’s now up under the name “Mark Bayliss”, which for the record is not my real name or even close to my real name. (But I’m more than content for anyone who’s angry with me to assume that it is.)
So in a very real sense, my pseudonymity is becoming a limiter. And yet.
Fundamentally I don’t want someone to look at my LinkedIn, stick my name into a search engine and be presented with my Mastodon instance full of shit bots and my YouTube channel full of shit videos and my blog full of both shit posts and shitposts, or my Reddit account where I toss off dumb opinions. In what sense is that beneficial to me? It feels like something far more beneficial to people who are not me – not least the various groups online whose specialism is finding anyone who happens to stand out and hammer them flat with relentless precision. I also, fundamentally, do not care about my writing picking up traction in any real sense as it’s a hobby, not something I do for money (for the record, Ars didn’t pay me and while I probably could have, I didn’t ask to be and it was open to me to refuse.)
The flipside is that I am far less concerned about “privacy” as an abstract. It’s fundamentally not something I am actually that bothered about if someone wishes to profile me to try and sell me things. My stated interests include old TV ephemera and I run a swearing clock bot – if Meta or Google or whoever manage to find a product they can sell to me based on those, well done.
This informs what I wrote about the fediverse’s dubious levels of privacy, because I am (and I would guess that most people are) far less concerned about some machine somewhere reading my posts and deciding that I might like to buy a clock or some life insurance so Mark Zuckerberg can earn four cents than I am about an actual spiteful person deciding that they’d like to try and ruin my life. Mastodon is very good at protecting against the former, albeit not through deliberate effort – it’s utterly dismal about protecting against the latter.
Ultimately there are concrete risks to me in not being pseudonymous and absolutely no risk to me in being pseudonymous. Anyone who needs to know who “Bloonface” or “Mark Bayliss” is in real life already knows, I’m not sure what it adds to anything if some randos do too.