Why I Don't Use a Pseudonym
Why don’t I use a pseudonym on this journal? Well, I live in the United States and despite all the problems my country has, it’s still a relatively free country with respect to speech, for now.
There are limits to freedom of speech, some which I despise, but I don’t overstep those boundaries on this journal. Many of my journal entries even pass for political speech, which is especially protected. Nothing on this journal can reasonably be considered hate speech. But even then it would still be protected by law.
Of course this doesn’t mean I’m in the clear. If voting rights legislation isn’t passed and U.S. democracy falls to fascism, this journal could condemn me under the new regime. Even if that doesn’t happen, the U.S. government and powerful corporations have countless ways to ruin the lives of people who rock the consumer capitalist boat.
After the death of John McAfee, a British American programmer and tax dodger, the mainstream media largely reported it as a suicide despite strong reasons for doubt. Rob Braxman, a popular internet privacy guy, was discussing McAfee’s death and if my memory is accurate, he also mentioned worrying about being suicided for teaching people how to have privacy online.
Now I think that’s obviously a very unlikely thing to happen, but it’s not a crazy thing to say. If you don’t believe things like that happen, you’re just not paying attention. Look at the case of the journalist Julian Assange. The FBI tried to frame him for hacking by granting legal immunity to his source Sigurdur Thordarson if he agreed to testily against Assange. There have been numerous other attempts to deface Assange’s character as well.
Jacob Appelbaum, an independent American journalist, security researcher, and anarchist who previously worked on the Tor project was politically persecuted by the U.S. government to the point of fleeing to Germany. Officials seized his laptop and phones at the border. People who work in the U.S. as journalists do get harassed, selectively policed, and arrested. Serious journalists in the U.S. who say they don’t worry about safety are either lying or naive.
Writing this journal doesn’t make me a journalist. I’m more like a commentator. But as a dissident and activist, I expect to be targeted. However I don’t think I’m interesting enough to worry about what happened to Assange and Appelbaum happening to me. The government has bigger fish to fry.
On my journal, I advocate ideas that challenge mainstream consumer culture. I do not self-censor. However I am careful how I say things so they can’t easily be taken out of context by law enforcement. Yet I don’t feel so restricted by having my name attached to what I say that I desire a pseudonym.
While I have considered using an anonymous pseudonym to reduce my public exposure, it would mean I can’t take credit for my entries and some of my entries have gotten me job offers.
Online anonymity is a house of cards. You have to completely dissociate everything you do between identities. Making a single mistake can ruin your anonymity forever and everything you’ve said and done can be retroactively attributed to you. If you want to be serious about anonymity, you even have to change the wording of your sentences to avoid linguistic analysis.
Maintaining an anonymous identity for a long period of time takes a lot of mental bookkeeping. You will eventually make a mistake. For me, I would have to run two blogs: one tied to my real name and one pseudonymous. It would be very challenging because the way I express certain ideas here is itself attributable to me by anyone who knows me.
I also benefit from racial and gender bias. I’m a white guy and within the ranks of U.S. law enforcement, there are underlying sympathies to white supremacists, as well as far-right ideologies and hate groups. It’s hard to be a leftist cop because leftists are opposed to the War on Drugs. It’s like being a vegan butcher. So naturally, law enforcement has a right-wing bias.
If I were a middle eastern male dissident writing what I do, I’d be a lot more concerned about my safety than I am as a privileged white dude. But no matter what your race is, you should exercise your rights. Because if you don’t, you will lose them. It’s vital that people use their rights to speak their mind under their real name and not just an anonymous pseudonym that has no skin in the game.
The approach of trying not drawing attention to oneself, never rocking the boat, and never advocating unpopular opinions is unsustainable long term. You should never submit to oppression, except as a strategy for later overcoming it.
Every time you appease an oppressor, you dig yourself deeper into a hole. The oppressor just sees you as weak, someone they can easily control through fear and they will oppress you more if you let them. I feel that by using a pseudonym, I’m saying I’m afraid to share what’s really on my mind. To hell with that.
I’m going to write what’s on my mind and if someone doesn’t like it then too bad. I respect people who use pseudonyms, but I’d rather take the risk of saying what I believe as myself. Every time I assert my right to say what I think, I make it easier for others. I can’t have that effect hiding behind a pseudonym.
That’s why I don’t use a pseudonym.