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Meet My Friend, Nypizzapasta: Could Online ID Requirements Spread from Facebook to Local Comments Sections?

Companies like Facebook are vowing to crack down on their “real names only” policies. Will this have a "chilling effect" on Internet speech?

This Thanksgiving, I have to admit that, among many other greater gifts, I am grateful for my first name and my last name.

Not that there’s anything particularly special about either Cameron or Sullivan, other than the fact that they’re both surnames, which some people may consider to be a red flag.

Gratitude for these names lies simply in my ability and willingness to use both of them (in combination, in order) for every and any form of communication, whether written, spoken, posted online or printed in ink.

Of course, I have other names, including Sweetie, Mrs. Sullivan, Hey, Motherness, Cam, Cami, Wampus Primeval, Stanley, and the word “Mom” spoken with up to six syllables.

But I reserve the use of those names for private family conversations, not for use on social media or local vent boards.

This practice doesn't work for everyone; it fact it's quite unpopular.

A Bay Area News Group article last week detailed the Nymwars debate (Twitter #nymwars), in which social media users assert that they should have control over how they are identified online. In contrast, companies like Facebook are vowing to crack down on their “real names only” policies and the Department of Justice has suggested that, in order to prevent crime, the government needs internet users to be more transparent with online IDs.

Reading the article, I grew concerned that that some of my newest Facebook friends may disappear.

I further waffled between worry and elation over whether some comments on Pleasanton Patch could disappear.

To begin with, some of my newer Facebook friends from Pleasanton include Nypizzapasta, who speaks English, Italian, Persian and Russian. Nypizzapasta’s last name is Pleasanton and he spends quite a bit of time on Main St.

By the looks of his profile, Nypizzapasta only eats at one restaurant.

Another Pleasanton friend request I sent this week went to the well-known Miracleautopaintandbodyrepair Pleasanton.

His name may be difficult to pronounce. But I hear Miracleautopaintandbodyrepair has, shall we say, a great body.

Another new friend, Cns, has an obsession with nutrition. Pusd posts several newsworthy topics a month about the menu offerings at Pleasanton Schools.

In addition to innocent Facebook aliases, however, is a growing population of anonymous participants in the comments section of Patch or Pleasanton Weekly.

On Pleasanton Patch, for example, we have the philosophical Lin, the intellectually sarcastic Gem, and the cleverly named Californicus.

There are also Sue, Rich, Evie, Tim, Jill, Roland, TMAX and many others without surnames.

Although comments sections and message boards are more entertaining when participants feel free to comment without fear of retribution, I can’t imagine wanting to hide a valid argument behind an alias.

Perhaps online conversations would be less spirited if identity were required. I agree; this would take half the fun out of the hobby of reading message boards.

But if I had to use an alias, the argument wouldn’t be worth making.

Perhaps some participants feel that aliases can protect them from online identity theft.

It's a safer bet, however, that people with well-phrased anonymous opinions are more likely to be victims of intellectual property theft than identity theft. If a writer backs up a comment with a verifiable identity, he or she owns that comment.

If I have an opinion to state or a fact to relate, I’ll stand behind it with my real name and take any verbal lashings that come my way.

To that end, on a particularly contentious article recently, I deleted one of my own comments when an anonymous poster attacked me for it. The hilarious result was that the angry, anonymous commenter appeared to be arguing with herself.

As someone who’s been writing opinion columns in newspapers and online for eight years, I’m too busy to get into shouting matches with people who aren’t willing to identify themselves or display simple decorum.

Finally, if you ever meet my new pals, Nypizzapasta and Miracleautopaintandbodyrepair, please tell that that before they lose their social media presence, they need to create a Facebook “page” for their businesseses, attached to a legitimate user with a verifiable identity.

If they need recommendations on Pleasanton-based professionals who can help them with this and their other PR needs, I know a few independent business owners in town who provide excellent professional communication services at fair prices.

ErikaG November 23, 2011 at 06:16 PM
Cameron, Nicely done!!! Enjoyable AND with a point. Keep 'em coming. Oh and in the spirit of things the "g" stands for Gardner!
Janeen Rubino Brumm November 23, 2011 at 06:22 PM
Great article, Cameron! Couldn't agree more with using an online alias when posting comments. And....wondering who you would recommend for Facebook Page creation? ;) Happy Thanksgiving!
Cameron Sullivan November 23, 2011 at 06:27 PM
You're killin' me, Erika (with laughter)... Thanks for keeping it real! :) Happy Thanksgiving!
Michelle Miller November 23, 2011 at 10:13 PM
Loved your article, Cam!!
Michael M November 24, 2011 at 12:32 AM
Way to go Cam. Anonymous posts that are malicious are made by scared people who may also be labeled spiteful and petty. On another site I once commented on the tone of a "conversation" and let the malicious posters (on both sides of an issue) know they should come out of hiding instead of attacking each other anonymously. The response I got was a guy calling me names and complaining about the amount of my property taxes being too low (he searched the public records and found the information because my post was not anonymous). So not only was he a name caller and malicious he was spiteful and vindictive - Interestingly, even before the anonymous attacker knew whether I agreed or disagreed with his position on the parcel tax (which was the topic of the message board rantings and ravings). Then again look at the uproar over the "anonymous" book on Pleasanton parenting. Perhaps some of the opinions people have about Pleasaontonians are not completely unfounded.
Bob King November 26, 2011 at 06:52 PM
An interesting perspective. It seems valid enough, until you actually think about it. Consider "Publius." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federalist_Papers). There are times when the words themselves must be able to stand on their own, and if they are attached to a particular person, they will be read in the light of their own public persona. The founders of the Republic declined public credit so that people would read the words, and not try to read between the words to discern the agendas of the men. Now of course, they went to a good deal of trouble for their words to stand on their own. When you accept something just because a "somebody" says it, that's dangerous. I've never encountered a genuinely interesting or important idea that someone did not take great offense at, to the extent that it's prudent to be discreet about who you "really" are. This results in a chilling effect in small towns where certain things are simply not discussed at all, because of what the neighbors might think. I grew up in the pacific northwest, where logging is bread and butter. It was unsafe, for instance, to suggest that a bidet was better than cutting down forests for toilet paper. By "unsafe," I'm not speaking of people saying disagreeable things. I mean becoming dead, far more slowly than one would prefer. MOST people behave better, of course. But you see, it only takes one. I would prefer not to live in a virtual small town.
Michael M November 26, 2011 at 08:07 PM
Mr. King, Generally I agree with your comments. However, the anonymous hate language and personal attacks that are not providing anything intellectually valuable to the conversation are being made by spiteful petty people who clearly have their own personal insecurities that lower sociaty's ability to grow and live together. "Genuinely interesting or important ideas" drive intellectual debate and provide the best educational oportunities - within and outside of school and universities and communities. Those that are afraid of public backlash (or even violence and anger) regarding their thoughts and beliefs feel that way, at least in part, because those that are incapable of holding meaningful constructive conversations make their potential exchange of ideas a challenge with their petty name calling, threats of violaence and intolerance. Truly a shame that the lowest common denominator controls the opportunities for meaningful pulic conversaiton and growth.
Michael M November 26, 2011 at 08:08 PM
Sorry such a long response, but those that knowme know I am challenged in the area of brevity of this (as well as other issues) However, the founders of our Republic (I love the fact we both use that word and not Democracy) were not anonymous people who were afraid to allow others read their words. In fact, the founders found it very important to sign the Declaration of Independence. Many others such as Thomas Paine were also unafraid to attach their name to their "revolutionary" ideas and beliefs. Lastly, those that cannot separate the words spoken by a person from previously held beliefs and prejudices, or even from previous disagreements with the speaker, should look in the mirror and decide if it is their inability to listen and potentially learn that is causing society to become so polarized. One need only to look at our local, state and federal political situation to see people who are too stubborn or scared to have any opinion independent of the "party leaders." Strong leadership requires not only taking people where the leader wants, but allowing the people to influence the direction of the sociaety, with protections for those with minoirty opinions or less power and financial influence. Even our worst enemies can teach us a thing or too, and the lack of respect and tolerance for those with differening opinions and beliefs set society back immeasurably.

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