Anonymity

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Synonyms:
See also: pseudonym, anonymouse, sockpuppet, Reviewers with Pseuds
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Contents

Like other humans, some fans choose to communicate without revealing their identity under certain circumstances.

Anonymity on the Internet

Some fans are more or less open about their real names, but most use pseudonyms or pseuds (also called handles, anonyms, pen names) to participate in fandom, creating a consistent and permanent identity that develops a history and reputation over time. [1]

Being anonymous is different from being pseudonymous, although culture clash can occur when media fans interact with groups who don't understand the difference. (See Racefail 09 in the Controversies section.)

There are occasions and online spaces where complete anonymity is preferred.[2] [3]

Many exchange-based ficathons or challenges have a period of time where works are posted anonymously before authors/creators are revealed.

Kink memes are often anonymous, although if a story or artwork becomes popular, the creator is often requested by commenters to "de-anon" and post her story in a more permanent location. (See Until the Pieces Fit for an example of a widely acclaimed Merlin story whose author decided to remain permanently anon, and her reasons for doing so.) This happens more often if the story is quite long, as journalling sites like Livejournal have strict comment length limits; comment threading can make re-reading a longer story posted on a kink meme quite inconvenient.

Other types of anonymous Memes or anon memes, such as hate memes, are more controversial. [4]

In Zine Fandom

The desire for total anonymity long predates online fandom. Prior to the 1970s/early 1980s, science fiction and fantasy were considered not-quite-reputable genres, and some of the greatest authors of the 20th century published their science fiction works using assumed names. Female writers might use initials or a male name if they were concerned that a science fiction publication wouldn't accept women authors. Fans could get published anonymously in the amateur press or zines, depending on the zine editor's policy, and print publications could even be distributed without attribution. For example, With Malice Aforethought was a proposed 1980s letterzine meant to showcase anonymous opinions. NOT The MediaWest*Con Program Guides was a parodic anonymous pamphlet left on the freebie table at MediaWest*Con every year starting in 1988.

In early Star Trek fandom, however, fanzine publishers and contributors often used their real names; there was no reason not to.

SF and fantasy literature gained in respectability in the late '60s-early '70s once the dominant culture realized there was money in it. But anonymity became almost mandatory in the early days of slash fan fiction -- the mid- to late 1970s. Fiction of any kind depicting explicit homosexual acts was regarded as pornography in most states. Slash fanzine publishers were rightly concerned about facing criminal charges for using the U.S. mail to distribute pornography. As in the pornography industry, many authors used actual or assumed first names with an initial replacing the surname: Connie F., Theresa H. These authors might write non-offensive material using their full names; the fans knew who they were, but it might give any would-be guardians of public morals a little bit more of a hard time tracking down the malefactors.[5]

The reviewer for Datazine in 1980 was a pseudonym, Tigriffin. Referring to herself in the third person, she defended anonymous reviews: "Tigriffin also believes that reviewers who hide behind their pseudonyms to give their nastiness free rein aren't playing fair. So let it be shown on the record that Tigiffin only wishes to remain anonymous so that it can review impartially and remain unaccused of favoritism to friends or undue harshness to non-friends."[6]

Some media fanzine readers doubted the value of anonymous writing. In a 1989 letter printed in On the Double #10, a fan expressed her displeasure, and fear, of the possibility of a LoC zine where fans sent in letters, but did not sign their names.

I have heard a rumor of a new letterzine that will specialize in letters of comment, but I have heard that these letters will be "anonymous". If the person writing the letter doesn't have the chutzpah to put their name to the thing, how valid can it really be? I also can't help feeling that "anonymous" letters that appear in print will eventually hurt somebody somewhere, and my plea to whomever is doing the zine is to consider your options very carefully. I think you'll find that most Trekfans are brave enough to say what they think without having to duck behind a veil of anonymity.

The letterzine in question was probably The LOC Connection, which had a policy for its first four issues of printing LoCs anonymously. Some reactions to this policy were very similar to more recent arguments made against online anonymity.

Controversies

  • RaceFail '09 showcased persistent refusal to understand the difference between anonymity and pseudonymity
  • Bandflesh, a popular anon meme in bandom

Further Reading: See Also

References

  1. And that's the difference between LiveJournal et al fandom and any social network community, because the more invested I become with the identity I have within this community, the more invested I become with the community itself. Because to lose this community would mean to lose my identity, not to mention, because of how fandom works, it would also mean losing the friends and the people that makes this community. This identity exists because of this community essentially. Wistfuljane, On bandflesh and anonymity in fandom, posted June 10, 2008. Last accessed October 05, 2010.
  2. There are completely innocent reasons why someone might want to post on lj anonymously - embarrassment about a sensitive topic, fear of revealing personal details that could allow someone to connect her/his online persona with an offline face and name, a desire to do a good deed without making a big deal about it - I could go on, but I'm sure all of us can think of examples of benevolent anonymity. Fabu, The perils of anonymity, posted June 11, 2008. Last accessed October 05, 2010.
  3. You can take important personal risks. You can talk about the ways in which your life is collapsing around you even if you, like me, are absolutely terrified of confessing weakness. .... You can take trivial personal risks. You can talk in loving detail about your bowel movements and ask that question you've always wondered about your labia. Kalpurna, TRUE CONFESSIONS, posted June 10, 2008. Last accessed October 05, 2010.
  4. The only reason to be hateful or to attack someone else anonymously is to escape whatever consequences might be associated with that attack - perhaps people will defriend you for viciousness, perhaps people will no longer trust you with their confidences if they discover that it was you who revealed flocked [friends-locked, as on Livejournal] or other personal information, etc. All the explanations given for anonymous hating (not other kinds of anonymous posting, but specifically anonymous hate memes and the like) -- "the bnfs will hate on me," "the minions will attack me," "it frees me from social conventions so that I can share my real opinions," etc. -- can be translated into one simple fact: anonymous hating is a way to be cruel without having to own up to your actions/words. Fabu, The perils of anonymity, posted June 11, 2008. Last accessed October 05, 2010.
  5. "I first got involved in fandom in the 60s. Everyone used their real names; there was no reason not to. The use of pseudonyms began because of slash. It was initials actually, the same method as in pr0n; "by Cathy T.", or "by F.S." (there's some stuff on fanlore about why slash wasn't just "weird", it was illegal to be bought or sold or sent through the mail) I saw very little mainstream attention to fanac that wasn't "Adult heterosexual women like to write/draw homosexual fantasies about Kirk and Spock," and then Harry Potter and LotR. Then the publicity around the Victoria Bitter scandal... Today if I were involved in any fandoms beyond just watching/listening to the show or reading the books, I wouldn't use my real name any more either." Anonymous comment on failfandomanon, dated 2014-02-27 10:37 pm.
  6. Datazine #4. May/July 1980. Quoted in Boldly Writing, p. 48.
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