Welcome to BiblioTech – the podcast about emerging technologies for academics. Your host is Rochelle Mazar, an emerging technologies librarian at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
Every month you can listen in as Rochelle talks about what’s new in technology and what academics should be paying attention to. It’s hard to keep up all of the new software, tools and gadgets. That’s where Rochelle comes in.
Episode 15 – Online pseudonyms
In this episode Rochelle takes you through the how and why of creating a pseudonym or online alias. (Running time: 10:06 mins).
If you’d like to get in touch with Rochelle about something you heard in the podcast, please
leave a comment at the bottom of this page.
This episode features the following Creative Commons music and sound effects:
- How it begins (theme music) by Kevin MacLeod, Incomptech
Welcome to episode 15 of BiblioTech – the podcast about emerging technologies for academics.
Have you googled yourself lately? Do you ever feel a twinge of fear about what might appear at the top of your search results?
In this episode I take you through the how and why of creating a pseudonym or online alias.
Sometimes it seems like we expect new PhDs to be two different people at the same time. We expect to google you and find only the most professional online activity on the most staid and acceptable networks, but we also really appreciate new faculty who are familiar with a whole gamut of social media networks, collaboration and communication tools, and all sorts of new media creation sites to breathe new life into our departments and teaching portfolios. Even undergraduate students get this mixed message; they need to be super tech-savvy and experimental, really knowledgeable about everything online, but they also need to avoid making public mistakes that might cost them their reputation or jobs. For employability, being googleable is very good; being googleable for the wrong reasons is very much not. It can be a scary prospect; everything you do online becomes part of your portfolio, whether you meant it to or not.
So how do you walk this fine line?
The truth is, it’s never clear from the start which tool and which social network will be seen in what way. Twitter seemed like a waste of time to a lot of people when it first emerged, but today, having a public and professional twitter account is so common it’s almost expected. Useful tools and networks tend to come into their own over time, but waiting until they do means you jump on the bandwagon very late. It’s difficult to anticipate which tools and networks are going to make the grade. So sometimes you want to jump in and play, but you also need to wait.
On the internet, it’s entirely possible to do both.
Think of your name as a permanent rubber stamp that marks up every site you create an account on, every comment you leave, and every amazon review you write. Whenever you opt to use your real name, the one on your CV and the one on your diploma, it’s wise to play cautious. Every time you do anything at all on the internet using your real name, first imagine your future job interviews, your grandmother, and every student you’ll ever teach. Log into facebook, create a twitter account, set up a LinkedIn profile, but keep it as shiny as you want your cover letter to be. Someone who only knows your name shouldn’t have a window into everything you’ve ever been interested in online, every community you’ve looked into, and every hobby and interest you have. Using only your real name online is creating a pathway into far more information than you may want a future employer to have right away. It’s okay to save some stuff until you know people better. I think it’s entirely fair.
Pure online anonymity was never really possible, truth be told, and it’s even less possible today. Sites like Facebook and Google Plus are aiming to make themselves identity managers, acting as verifiers of individual identities, and linking a large number of different comments, content and interactions together under a single legal name. In some ways this is good and helpful, since it’s leading us toward a single password world where verifying your account in one place will mean you don’t have to do it again all day. It’s helpful to trace an interesting or troubling comment back to an actual, living source. But it’s making it harder and harder for the average internet browser to keep her online activities relatively private. When Facebook lets all your friends know what you liked and didn’t like, and iphoto tags your face as yours in the metadata of your pictures, it’s getting more complicated to avoid accidentally oversharing online.
Because I think experimentation and play is the key to creativity online, and because I know how much fear can stopper it for good, I advocate a slightly odd path when it comes to online identities; like email addresses, I think you need more than just the one.
Students and new graduates are at a risky point in their careers. We want you to be innovative, but you don’t yet have the safety net to do so in complete freedom. Until you feel settled in your profession and in your position, you need to remember that every google search of your name constructs your other, hidden CV. You can and should control it.
Controlling it doesn’t mean limiting what you do online; it just means being deliberate about when and where you apply your real name. For everything else, create another name. Create a pseudonym; all the cool kids have one! They’re remarkably easy to make. All you need is a fake name and an email address to go along with it. Gmail will do. It won’t protect you from the law, obviously, but it will keep your google search clean.
Now, I’m not recommending a pseudonym so that you can feel free to vent and rant and troll people on the internet; I’m only recommending it so that if don’t want to reveal your deep devotion to the Avengers, or live action role playing, or your extensive selection of teas on Steepster, you don’t have to do so with every google search of your real name. If you’re not sure you want your colleagues to know, save it for your pseudonym.
Because so many services try to encourage the use of legal names, I recommend that your new pseudonym be a first name/last name combination, and not something too obviously fake. Some services who don’t like what I’m advocating will fish through and delete accounts with obviously fake names (catching some non-fake identities in the process, of course). You can choose something close to your name, if you like. Just avoid adding your legal name in association with anything you’re not 100% sure you want your future employer and future students to find.
Facebook, twitter, and google can sometimes pay attention to where you go online after you’ve logged in. Sometimes they will try to auto-log you into other services, and you might accidentally connect your pseudonym with your actual name. One way to avoid this is to use multiple browsers.
I know how much work it sounds like, and I’m honestly sorry for that, but you really should have more than one browser on your computer anyway. Some browsers are better at doing some things than others, and having more than one option is a good idea. I’m currently partial to Chrome, but I keep Firefox and Safari on call if I need another. Facebook has such sticky fingers these days that you might want to pick one browser just for it, just to make sure you know what it’s doing and what it knows. To keep the rest of your online life to yourself, use another browser.
I know this all seems very cloak and dagger. But if you’re interested in the bleeding edges of social networks, collaboration tools, start ups and new media, and you’re not sure where your future will take you, it’s good to have a throw-away online identity to use. Sign up for things that interest you; test out new tools. Experiment. Play! Don’t let fear of the judgement of people you haven’t met yet, or rules and circumstances you haven’t agreed to you yet, prevent you from exploring and learning online. Google remembers everything, but you can free yourself from the fear of looking less that perfectly professional by having another set of clothes to wear when you’re browsing for fun. Professional is what your real name is for. Put your real name on things you’re proud of, things you want google to find and show to your future employers, and use a pseudonym for learning until you get there.
Eventually, we take new media and new communication forms for granted. Facebook and Twitter don’t raise eyebrows anymore, and having a really great professional social media presence is absolutely a bonus for many prospective employers. Scholarly communication is changing, and while they used to be considered unprofessional and strange, a blog, a youtube channel, or a podcast on your CV now make it clear that you are tech-savvy, innovative, and that you use new tools effectively. The people who got to do that first, and best, probably tried it out first under a pseudonym. Change comes slowly. It’s wise to tread carefully when you’re at a risky point in your career. But you can be careful while still experimenting and exploring.
That’s it for this episode. Do you have any advice about protecting your search results while staying experimental online? Share them by posting a comment at the bottom of this podcast’s page at University Affairs dot CA. Until next time, I’m Rochelle Mazar.