Anonymity on ANTHRO-L

Tue, 3 May 1994 20:25:42 -0400

>You know, I not sure Steve was advocating total anonymity on Anthro-L.

If I even wanted total anonymity for *myself*, I would use the
remailer, and/or do a quick tech fix to make sure that my real name got
left out of the headers of my mail... I use a handle not because I'm
seeking anonymity, but because 1) I can and 2) I'm making a point.
That point is quite simple. A name is used in a social context; many
of us have names that go on official documents, ranging from birth
certificates to tax forms... but then go by a completely different
nickname. It's well known that in many cultural contexts, people have
different names, each of which are used in different social situations. To
assume that most people have only one name, I think, is ethnocentrism. ;-)
Sometimes that nickname is only used with family and friends. Not to go
heavily into the 'anthropology of naming,' but why not stop and consider a
few things. Using your own name in cyberspace is a cultural convention -
one which many internetters are choosing to violate...
There are people out there who are signing messages with names which
are opposite in gender to their own. There are people out there who are
signing messages with bogus credentials. In some cases, there are hackers
posting under other peoples' names simply because they've hacked their
accounts. Some posters are fictitious identities. There is simply no way to
verify the identity of people in cyberspace, short of authentication
through 'digital signatures,' and possibly voiceprints. I take it on faith
that "Michael Bauser" is "Michael Bauser", someone I've never met, but is
presumably a real flesh-and-blood anthro person, and not, say, Dan Foss'
evil twin "Skippy" Foss.
I see this as simultaneously good and bad. People use handles in
BBSes. MUDs, IRCs, and so on; why shouldn't they also do so on mailing
lists? Obviously, using a handle does some interesting things - it attracts
attention (why do you use it? why did you choose it?) and it prevents
people from prejudging you on the basis of gender, age, or other things
either directly provided or inferrable from your name and/or .sig...
But then there's the rub of using it to launch anonymous attacks on
people, and evade responsibility. People *are* using the Internet in this
way, and it's happening all the time... as for me, I go by the slogan of
the WELL: "You own your own words." Seeker1 takes full responsibility for
anything he says. Indeed, he takes the additional responsibility of
consistency, using the same handle everywhere (the WELL, America Online,
BBSes, etc.) rather than switching identities like many hackers do. People
can find out who Seeker1 is, and anything about him; all they have to do is
ask. I may post as Seeker1, but I don't care whether people really know
whether Seeker1 is Steve Mizrach or not. Most of you do... and have never
heard of him.
Would it be different if Seeker1 was 'really' Clifford Geertz? Or
someone else with a reputation (good or bad) seeking to conceal it, trying
to participate in debate free of the 'baggage' people attach to them by
virtue of the things they've already written? Or just to live through a
'net personality' free to exhibit traits different from their own in
'ordinary' conversation?
It's curious, but the only place where I've ever seen the practice of
using handles on Internet called into question is on ANTHRO-L. (So much for
Cultural Relativism.) On FutureCulture, LERI, FringeWare, and many other
lists, it's basically the norm... now, I could use handles on those lists,
but then not on ANTHRO-L, but occasionally I lean toward foolish

>the quote (I think) you're talking about. (It's Seeker1 responding to and
>quoting Richard Wilk):

>(begin quote)
>>I see some levelling (people with different status positions in
>>the discipline exchanging information), but also persistence of a lot
>>of divisions and hierarchy.
>One way of combatting those divisions is to challenge the practice of
>signifying one's place in that hierarchy through the signature file...

I stand by that statement. The net will not be a Great Leveller as long as
people keep dragging their hierachies (and forcing people to abide by them)
back into it.

>(end quote)
>Maybe he's just annoyed by people listing titles in their .sig. No, wait,
>that wouldn't make sense because he....

... puts 'bogus' titles in his own .sig? Maybe this is a time-honored
tradition known as parody? Self-promotion is a fact of life, but some
people try and promote themselves to different audiences.
Consider. Some ANTHRO-Lers just put their university in their .sig
file. Why? Can the fact that they derive some 'institutional prestige' from
it have something to do with it? Others signify their area of
specialization, for reasons that James Carrier suggests - to advertise
competence. Me, I'm advertising something different. Mostly, disrespect for
arbitrary convention.

>Enough fun at other's expense. On to my point.
>First, I don't advocate anonymity or anonymous pseudonyms on an academic
>list. I frankly believe "no professional pseduonyms" should be added to
>every school's acceptable use policy. Note that I said "professional".

Please define what, precisely, is a "professional pseudonym." I am curious.

(much about building up respect deleted)

>L. Detweiler's "Anonymity on the Internet" FAQ (posted to groups like
>alt.anonymous and alt.privacy) has some transcripts of the ultimate
>UseNet debate on the subject. One might note an8785 managed to get a
>fairly strong identity w/o a "real" by becoming a symbol of the whole

Detweiler has, as you probably have heard, gone stark raving bananas, and
does everything he can to make life on the cypherpunks list a pain in the
butt, mostly by posting under a wide panoply of pseudonyms. Some
contribution to the 'debate.'
One of the things I'm doing right now is studying Hacker Culture.
Hackers use handles as a matter of course. In fact, people often know you
are not a hacker for not using one. Perhaps this is another one of those
cases of anthros internalizing the habits of the people they study...

>ANYWAY, my point (I almost forgot it myself) is that pseduonyms are
>widely accepted in many places (and often normative on local BBS systems),
>so we academics shouldn't lose sight of the standards of the larger subculture
>we're participating in or make generalizations that don't apply to it.
>That would be rude. But again, I vote "no" to anonymity on Anthro-L.

As do I - if by "anonymity" one means a complete refusal to be traced or
otherwise held responsible for what they say.

>I might (no, I will) note here, that when Seeker1 first showed up on
>Anthro-L, his first post or two got completely ignored (i.e no responses)
>until he got everybody worked up by mentioning the emotional subject
>of postmodernism and deconstructionism. My thought at the time was
>that many of you might not care for talking to someone who used a
>handle, got involved anyway when he hit a hot button, and then accepted
>his reality when he revealed himself as a competent conversationalist.

Why, thank you. ;-) Sadly, this 'history' has ignored various other
anonymous posters to ANTHRO-L - in particular, "Lt. Commander Data." (I
like that one, myself.) This may be because they are no longer around, and
were never asked to defend their praxis...

>I'm afraid I missed most of the blowup two months later about his handle
>(it started during my winter break), but I'm curious. Does anybody here
>admit to hesitating (or even refusing on principle) to respond to Steve
>Mizrach because he had a silly handle?

Now I resent that. ;-) It's not silly. I think it's much better than
"AnthroGuy" or "CyberDude" or something like that...

>If so, when did you change your
>mind, and why? Or better yet, is there anybody who still won't talk to
>Seeker1 ? (The latter may answer by e-mail, if they prefer.)

Hey, they can say it here. I've got an asbestos suit, 100% flameproof.

>I realize I've just come close to insulting Steve


>_and_ everybody who
>doesn't like his handle.

Well, maybe...

>If it helps, _I_ was a little annoyed by the
>handle, but on the other hand, the handle I use on local BBSs (because
>it's normative there) isn't any better.

Hey, share it. Hope it's something more interesting than "MikeB," or
"MBauser," or something like that.

> Michael Bauser (mbauser@kentvm.bitnet or
> Dept. of Anthropology, Kent State University, Kent OH 44242, USA

Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
CyberAnthropologist, TechnoCulturalist, Guerilla Ontologist, Chaotician
Matrix Master Control Node #3, Gainesville, Fl.
"I slept with Faith & found a corpse in my arms upon awakening/ I drank and
danced all night with Doubt and found her a virgin in the morning." --