Should people use their real legal names when communicating in public forums online?

I was mildly surprised the other day to learn that a number of online discussion forums have, as a mandatory policy, that in order to participate, you must display your real legal name. It’s been a little while since I joined any new forum, so it was quite a surprise to me that in 2024, this is really a thing. Quora is an example of a place that had this policy and has recently relaxed it, but there are others that still maintain a strict ‘real names’ policy.

The arguments in favour of this policy appear to be:

  1. If you have nothing to hide, why would you even be concerned?

  2. If you use your real name, you will be inclined to be more truthful in what you say and more trustworthy in your behaviours, because your reputation can follow you.

  3. We want you to treat each other like friends and colleagues, therefore it is necessary that we know each other by real names.

  4. It’s not as though Bad People On the Internet don’t already have databases of information about you, so why are you worried about this?

But IMO:

  1. I may have no illicit things to hide, but I think most sane and normal people have boundary behind which, certain things are desired to be private. I mean If you have nothing to hide, why would you even object to a public webcam being installed in your bathroom? There are things people might want to openly talk or ask advice about - such as the painful warts on their anus - that, for right or wrong, they do not want to be search-indexed against their real legal name forever on the internet.

  2. I get the part of this that is about building a trustworthy reputation as an authentic person, however, to me, that’s not the only point that teases out of ‘you’ll be good if we know who you are’ - there is also part of this that seems a bit like 'oh, and don’t forget, we know how to find you’.

  3. This one is practically a nonsequitur. Knowing someone’s real legal name is not a necessary part of building friendship and trust and cameraderie. A persistent and recognisable identity does help with that, but that doesn’t have to be real legal names.

  4. Sure, Very Bad People With Sufficient Motive can already find out about you and do Very Bad Things to you. A lot of our personal information is already breached and is available for sale on the Dark Web and whatnot. That’s bad. Bad things are already bad.
    But does it make sense to throw up our hands and say ‘In for a penny! Let’s just make it worse!’ - the greater exposure you have, the greater risk you face; a new risk is created by opening up your personal details to a whole new tier of internet weirdos who are not in the category of Very Bad People, but are still people who might do unacceptable things to you, if the required effort to do those things is really low.
    (I’ve personally had to deal with internet stalkers who, through great determination, tracked me down in real life. I don’t see any value in lowering the bar so that a far greater number of far less determined stalkers, trolls and assorted idiots can also have their turn.)

Now of course, being a part of an online forum is not a fundamental human right, and their house; their rules - you don’t have to join, and so on, and of course most of the places implementing this policy have no mechanism or power to actually verify your identity - so you can just enter your name as Forrest Lawrenceton and they have to accept that (which, IMO, also makes the whole concept and intent of a Real Names Policy absurdly naive).

What does the SDMB think about all of this? If this place announced the implementation of such a policy, what would be the impact on your participation?

I would leave.

Anyone with the attitude that if you have nothing to hide there’s no reason not to display your legal name has never been a target of harassment, bullying, or other malicious pursuit. It’s also a pretty good bet (though less certain) such a person is not a member of a minority group that has been historically targeted for discrimination. Just on this forum I have been a target of attempted doxing and IM’s telling me to kill myself. If the bullies had had my real name? Short step to my real address and being harassed in my own home where I can’t turn it off. When gaming on line if my avatar is female there is definite sexual harassment (although not as bad now as 20 years ago) but if my avatar is male I can simply play without people people assuming I’m a vending machine for sex.

I recently joined a new forum where my legal name is not required but I am definitely presenting as female. I have, in four months, been the attempted target of a romance-scam and several men assuming I am there for their sexual amusement rather than the actual stated topic of the forum. Fortunately, the owner/admin has shut that shit down and banned anyone displaying that behavior so we women can interact fully on the forum.

Hell, no, I am not divulging my legal name. Or my address. Or my phone number. There are a few times and places where I’ll give that information - paying my annual registration at the BMV last week, for example - but not for an on-line discussion forum. Hell, a lot of the time I don’t even specify if I’m male or female or give pronouns. Give my legal name? No effing way.

There’s also a weird ‘Well, we’re all OK with it here, so you’re obviously the weirdo’ thing going on in some of these communities. As if they are unaware that being OK with it is a necessary criterion for being there to say that you are OK with it. Selection bias or something.

The only place it ever made sense to me was on Facebook, and that was because the entire point was to connect with people you know in real life. They needed to know your name so those friends could add you. And, even then, I think did think it should be optional–and let people decide if they want to add this person who is only using a pseudonym.

I also, of course, give my real name when ordering things. But, otherwise, I give an obviously fake name, usually based on my username. For example, my official name on my Hotmail account (which I’ve kept as a secondary account) is “[Username] Account.” Another place, it’s “Mr [Username]”. And, if I don’t plan on using the account, it can be something like “Notmy Realname.”

There is a sense in which some of the places where the real names policy exists, are discussion groups dedicated to people who strenuously want their real name to be out there - in the same way that the hierarchy of names in movie credits is the result of people jostling to have their name appear higher up, and that being OK, because nobody really cares who you are in real life.

My professional organization used to have an online forum. Originally, it was anonymous, then they decided to require real names. It wasn’t very successful. Even in a situation like that, people might want to talk about things like, “i am having this issue with my boss, and want advice.” That’s not something you want attached to your real name. The forum, which had been very lively, died soon thereafter.

I do participate in one online forum where i use my real name, but it is a forum just about growing fruit. And i really don’t have much embarrassing i might want to ask about on the topic of growing fruit. And it doesn’t require real names, i just decided to use mine there. In part, because for that purpose, i wanted to be fairly explicit about where i live (it matters a lot for what you can grow and what issues you might have) and i didn’t want to attach my location to any pseudonym i use anywhere else online.

There are people from my past that I’d just as soon not have reminded that I’m still around. It’s bad enough that an old (and awful) girlfriend from the 60s found me and sent me a couple of emails some 30 years later.

But if someone is persistent, they may find out who you are regardless of whether or not you’re using your real name, just by the information you’ve posted. An example is right here on this message board when a guy I served with in Vietnam figured out who I (probably) was just by what I wrote over the years. Luckily, he meant no harm and was just trying to contact fellow vets from that time. I was really surprised and impressed that he was able to do that.

Sure, I think with sufficient effort and resources and time, people are surprisingly traceable in the modern world.
In general though, the intersection is usually smallish, between people:
Motivated to want to find you
Local enough to you that they could come visit you
With access to usable resources
With sufficient skill to understand the resources
With time to do the work

Publishing your real name openly and widely, increases the area of that intersection so that it doesn’t take any special access, and can be done quickly and casually rather than requiring significant motivation and effort.

This is one of those awkward, prickly issues: Online anonymity facilitates a huge amount of truly heinous and harmful bullshit … but a loss of online anonymity would arguably be worse.

There’s no good, perfect answer. Either way it’s a compromise.

I think the underlying reason is to hold people more accountable for the ridiculous amount of bullying and hostility from the keyboard warriors. It’s easier to be hateful and cruel to others if you can hide behind your screen name.

But I think requiring real names is not the answer. Better moderation of forums is.

Compare the Dope to Reddit. I’ve had people get really hostile with me there, in totally innocuous forums. Here at the Dope, you’d get a warning if you came at me because have a different opinion on a TV character than you do. So, we don’t do that crap here.

And none of us need to use our real names to achieve that end result. So, a big thanks to all the mods here!

Also, my name isn’t actually Deanna. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I sense…anonymity.

I think that’s probably often the intent, but expecting people to use real names (with no actual validation of those names) probably has the opposite of the desired effect; good, honest, upstanding decent people probably comply with the directive, and reveal their real names. People who habitually act in a combative manner probably make up a plausible-sounding fake-real-name and so they are still as anonymous, and able to hide behind that anonymity as ever.

I use my real name in a couple small specialty business forums and no where else.

Anyone remember Google+? They mandated a real name policy and consequently most potential users had no interest in joining because of this.

I’ve been on the SDMB for roughly 24 years. I have an identity here tied to my screen name. I have zero desire to use my real name. If it was required, I would leave.

I use my real name on twitter. I post slightly differently here than there, but I’ve disclosed my real name here too.

I’ve often thought to myself that it’s the fucking anonymity that has allowed for all this damn rot to happen online, but there’s no way around it. Unfortunately.

Yeah, when using pseudonyms is outlawed, only outlaws will use pseudonyms.


I originally signed up under my real name, both here and on the erstwhile IMDb boards, but changed both when some member of the “Truth” movement at the IMDb doxxed me. There are some really unbalanced nuts out there; no need to make it easier for them.

Yeah, fortunately a major subset of internet lunatics are also pretty technically incompetent. I greatly prefer them to wave their tiny fists impotently, at the sky, than productively, in my face.

It does make sense if the online forum is supposed to be an extension of or connected to your real life identity.

Yeah, I think that’s fair - LinkedIn would be another example - given that part of its purpose is that of presenting yourself to prospective employers, your identity can’t really be obscured if you want that to function.