Yesterday I gave an extensive overview of the debate that is ongoing between "Real name" supporters and "Pseudonym/Anonym" supporters. If you haven't read it I suggest you check it out. There are quiet a few different groups of people discussing it, American and International.
Why do I think it's a big deal though? I mentioned yesterday that I made a personal choice to use my real name instead of a pseudonym. This is partially because I'm really bad at coming up with them, but also because I try to speak with my real voice as much as possible. I'm also aware that this is could have some repercussions depending on what I try to do after I graduate. I haven't also been the most supportive of the US government. At one point when I was debating with a hardcore conservative he pointed this out to me as well.
The problem is that we don't know who has our information. We lose control of it as soon as it's put on the internet. I have no idea who has access to the conversation I'm talking about. I know that Facebook and the people involved in the conversation do, but I don't know if that information got passed onto any sort of governmental body.
This is a huge change from what has happened in the past. We had control over who we gave our information to. It was easy because it had to be face to face or perhaps through a letter. Once that conversation was finished unless notes were taken or it was recorded most of the information would only be remembered only imperfectly by the people involved. This is not the case now. it can be stored and recalled perfectly through the internet and web records.
This permanence is dangerous, as the past will haunt people for decades to come instead of only a few years and only with their friends. However, that is not all. Forcing people to use their real names in all cases causes a chilling affect on activism as governments try to stamp down on it. Twitter will be a more popular communication tool for activists than Google + or facebook because of their pseudonym policies.
Regardless of if we like it or not, Facebook, Twitter, Google + and other social networking sites have become our public forums. We don't have a town square to meet and discuss life. We don't have the community unity that once used to pervade life so we use the tools that we have. However, all of these new meeting places are controlled by corporations that are required to give data to the US government and other governments as well. The ability to protect your identity from the government, other organizations and from people you don't want to have find you is important. It allows people to be honest and investigate different parts of themselves or try to fight to bring down repressive regimes.
Pseudonyms are part of the internet's social norms, a method to protect free speech and to protect yourself. They are very important and we need to fight to keep them. The US government should be seeking to protect our ability to have pseudonyms and not fighting against them. The State Department claims they support internet freedom. Supporting pseudonyms and the ability to be anonymous on the internet is the best way to do so.