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Is that your real name?

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I changed my Twitter name from @pastaqueen to @jennettefulda not long ago, and was sort of surprised this didn’t seem like a big deal. Here I was, using my REAL NAME online, something that ten years ago was recommended as much as driving drunk, huffing paint and popping pimples. (And please, don’t try to do all three at once, especially if you’re using your real name.)

Back in those days (the NINETIES) we were warned that the Internet was full of dirty old men pretending to be 16-year-old girls who wanted to molest you or steal your credit card number. We’re still warned about that today, but people don’t seem to be as worried as much as they used to about using their real names online. When did this happen? Why didn’t I notice this sooner? Sometime in the past decade the Internet has become accepted as an extension of our “real lives” and not just an escape where you can pretend to be somebody else. You get to do both now! You can be your real self or your fake self. You be real when being your fake self, or fake when being your real self, you poser, you.

There are now realms of the Internet where it’s considered relatively safe to use your real identity. Twitter. LinkedIn. Facebook. They’re the good neighborhoods. Yes, there are privacy concerns about these social networking sites. Facebook knows far too much about your bad taste in music, and the Google cache and Archive.org will never forget that stupid thing you said on that forum that one time where you compared someone to the Nazis. But millions of people are using their real names in large numbers in these places, suggesting that they don’t deem those risks that serious. It’s like driving a car. Yes, something bad could happen while you’re doing it, but hopefully it won’t.

Plenty of people still use made up handles and fake names, too. They use them in the bad parts of Internet town, where people don’t use their real names. File sharing web sites. Porn portals. Illicit IRC channels. Or they use aliases when they’re doing bad things, as occasional commenter f*%k@you.com surely knows. Even in the good neighborhoods some people stay anonymous so they feel free to talk about sensitive subjects they might not otherwise feel able to (says the weight-loss blogger who kept her name pseudo-secret for years). I still use dummy information whenever I have to sign up for a news site before reading an article. Take that, New York Times online!

Still, we’re using our real names online more and more. It makes me wonder if the next generation will have different ideas about what should be private and not. How much will seem normal to know about each other ten years from now? I hear that in small towns everyone knows what’s going on in everyone else’s lives. It seems like the bigger the Internet grows, the smaller our cyber town is getting.

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13 Comments

Minda • December 7, 2010 at 11:49 am

I’m kind of shocked these days by how much personal information people put online for public consumption. Do your relationship problems really need to be part of your status update? I feel future generations will be even more inclinded to share their personal tidbits as the line between what should be private and what could be shared becomes very blurry.

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Debbi Does Dinner Healthy • December 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I remember when I wouldn’t even put my real name on my email address. When I first started reading blogs, I read many that refused to put their kids pictures or they were very careful not to reveal too much personal information. Now, the blogs are filled with kids faces and we know their birthdays and breastfeeding schedule and everything. It’s amazing. I know there are cyber spys out there but my life hasn’t been personally touched by it and I think that along with everybody else, we all just live in comfortable denial.

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Kendra • December 7, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I love it. Although I don’t use my last name online, it’s much more for the sake of my family than myself. I love TMI but I don’t want to give away the secrets of others too.

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The Merry • December 7, 2010 at 3:18 pm

It’s a sign of how good your book (Half-assed) was that I still can recall scenes from it quite clearly. For example, I remember how you exposed you felt when you learned that your mother had been reading your blog. Have you gotten used to that feeling?

p.s. Does anyone ever use their ‘fake’ moniker on Facebook?

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PastaQueen • December 7, 2010 at 4:40 pm

@The Merry – Thanks! I’m pretty used to the fact that my mom and dad read the blog. My mom even gets her own commenting style.

I don’t think Facebook lets you use a fake name. Or, at least, you have to give a first and last name, so I’d have to be Pasta Queen or something. I know some people have set up fake account before, impersonating other people.

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Kalynskitchen • December 7, 2010 at 5:41 pm

I was very surprised recently when I tweeted about my new vanity license plate and immediately got a DM from someone saying “Is that wise to put your license plate online. People could track you that way.” I went to the white pages where they had my full name, phone number, home address, and even (gulp) my age, and sent her that link. People can find about just about anything they want to about a person now. We just have to deal with it!

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Annika Q • December 7, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Being born in 1990, I’ve always been rather mystified at the internet privacy concerns of my grandparents and even parents. I wouldn’t post my phone number or email publicly, but that’s because I don’t want to be annoyed. I’ve never understood what’s supposedly dangerous about posting a picture or a real name. Even if I had stuck in one spot, public to anyone, my name, picture, and address – what’s the chance that anyone on the internet would care? So somebody exists who looks like that, who has that name, who lives there, maybe even all of them connected together. But unless you ALREADY KNOW the person, it doesn’t mean anything. Incidentally, the name I use here and on my own weight-loss blog isn’t real, and that’s to hide from people I know, not people I don’t know. I did that because I didn’t want commentary on my process until I’d proven I could get results. Now it’s just sort of fun that I have an alias.

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Lori @ For the Run of It • December 7, 2010 at 6:11 pm

I think those born in 1990 and after have no sense of what should be private and what isn’t. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, but then again, they sometimes cause issues in professional settings when they’re blogging away about how crappy their job or boss is, all while using their real name. People do need to realize that what comes up on Google can be accessed by anyone, family, friends, possible employers… You might just be eliminated as an applicant depending on what you’re doing and saying online. But as far as using your real name and posting around on the Internet, I’m glad that fear is subisding a bit.

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Quanny • December 7, 2010 at 6:15 pm

This is a thought provoking post. I am on fb with my real name, but it’s all locked down to friends only. To the best of my knowledge at least. One friend of mine is on fb as her email name, but she’s been using that name online for about 15 years, so on- and off-line friends know her by it. I guess acquaintances wouldn’t be able to search on it though.
I comment as Quanny which is from an email address I had a long time ago. It’s become a habit to use that ‘name’ online. I blog and tweet with another handle. My subject matter is mostly around my mental health, including alcohol, so I don’t want to suffer the emblogessment (spot someone who read your book!) of being outed. In particular at work. It’s not that it’s nsfw, more I fear that it’s nsf staying in work.
I tend to think I take care of my personal data. But, in the “Mail (will not be published)” field on your site, I’ve put my email address. Which contains my real name. This leads me to wonder how many times I’ve done that – both masked my identity and given it away?

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Danielle • December 8, 2010 at 9:54 am

One good reason to keep some info private is that in the wrong hands, your name, address and birthday are probably enough to get someone a fraudulent credit card, mortgage, etc. Somebody could seriously mess with your financial situation and credit rating, and it could take you years to sort it out.

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Deanna - The Unnatural Mother • December 8, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Interesting post considering my latest project (wink! wink!), things that make you go hmmmmmm….

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BridgetJones • December 8, 2010 at 8:00 pm

PQ you are awesome! I think your writing has improved since you proofed your book — like maybe you are released now to concentrate on new creative frontiers? Just wondering : ) Anyway, keep on doing what you do!

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Toastie • December 12, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Still struggling with this. I never use my full name on my blog. I will link to other sites that do use my name. But I basic internet search on my name and town, by a potential employer perhaps, is not going to return my blog, and that gives me a sense of relief. My blog gives insights into my politics, prejudices, and mental state that I’d never want a potential employer to see.

And that’s really it…the damned potential employer. I’m not in a profession with job security (IT), and I certainly can’t afford a company I want a job with to see that I sometimes despise my IT career.

On one hand, I feel a bit pathetic to be hiding behind a moniker. On the other hand, I just can’t bring myself to cross that line.

Real name: Facebook, LinkedIn
Moniker-only: Twitter, Blog, just about everywhere else

(Born way, way before 1990.)

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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