Monday, April 19, 2010

What You Think You See ...

There is a site I sometimes drop by for various and sundry discussions. I won't say where, to protect the innocent ... or the guilty. I'm not sure which in this case, but attend:

There is a poster there. Call him, oh ... Rudy. He says he is seventeen, a resident of Greece. Rudy is one of the most astute, well-educated, brilliant and erudite seventeen-year-olds I have ever come across ... or he is not -- if you get my drift.

He could exactly as he claims. A Greek kid his age, for whom I assume English is second language, who has spent a great deal of time immersed in literature to the extent that he can offer comments that bespeak a deep and wide experience with the subject. He would be a real jewel, even if perhaps lacking a bit of polish. All that knowledge, and yet still able to run with juvenile delinquents and enjoy boyish hijinks, as evidenced by some of his postings. A literary bright light, but still just one of the gang.

At seventeen, I was parsecs away from the education and writing ability of this kid. We might as well be from different species, and not to brag, but at seventeen, I was the third-brightest person I knew, and wider read than either of those two I considered smarter.

If, on the other hand, he turns out to be a thirty-five year old man pretending to be half his age? Maybe not so shiny a bauble. And somebody, in such a case, with some ulterior motive that might or not be respectable. Could be a writer looking to see if Young Like Me is the same as Fat like Me or Black Like Me. Never know.

Or a troll with a personality quirk. Look how I can fool all these maroons ...

This would be easily put to rest if the members of that web-group all got together at a local restaurant for burgers and conversation. You could look at them and see if they were male, female, old, young, whatever.

Why, Rudy, how does a seventeen-year-old come by all that gray hair?

The nature of the internet, however, is such that what you think you see isn't always what is there. It is an anonymous medium by its nature, and more so when the folks who drop round to visit don't favor anybody with real names that can be at least given a cursory examination.

There are reasons to use a pseudonym. You could be somebody famous who doesn't want the attendant hoopla when you are trying to have a simple conversation. You could be in a position where making certain kinds of opinions known might cause you personal grief or harm. Whistleblowers still get fired, and if you libel somebody, you can get sued. Good, valid reasons to keep who you are under wraps.

Still and all, I know some of the posters who ostensibly use their real names, at least in some cases, can allow me to follow a trail and see if there is a person behind the screen nom.

Somebody who creates an avatar part and parcel and holds it up? You might think you are talking to an old man who is a young woman, or vice-versa, and while it might not matter, sometimes one predicates one's conversation upon the belief that the other guy is telling the truth. If you are five asking how to tie your shoes, you might get a different response than if you are fifty asking about the definition of literature.

When it comes to truth, it doesn't matter who says it, of course. But the weight you give a statement might be different if the speaker is offering something that requires a certain experience or existence he or she doesn't have. If you are going to tell us what it is like to be something, best you have that under your belt or it might be suspect. I can tell you what it is like to be me, but I can't offer much expertise on what it is like to be a young black woman from Mobile, Alabama, and if I do, you might want a second opinion. If I claim to have been on the ground in Vietnam as a solider, I am lying. I wasn't there. I can research it and maybe fool you, but that's not the point.

All of which is to say that if you are having a conversation on the internet and you don't know to whom you are speaking?

Caveat lector ...


steve-vh said...

Had a back an forth conversation with a frequent poster of some boards i'd read for awhile. I had my guard up but they were good at drawing you in. Just before I got sucked in and irreparibly associated with them, a good friend heard me use a specific turn of phrase in a conversation with them on the phone. They immediately paused and asked where I'd recently heard that. Then all the facts came out. That person had used the phrase with them and that was the only other place they'd heard it.
Then I got the full scociopathic background as it turned out they and several mutual friends had already been through the grinder with them.
Save for that simple passing phrase I narrowly avoided it.

But looking back I learned much more about how that person maniac-ly drew people in on the boards.

Sometimes people aren't pretending to be something so obviously disparate from who they are. But they are fishing for information (as someone "just like you") from you they can use on others.
I eventually watched his posts and saw how he just knew way too much about too much.

jks9199 said...

I post most places under a pseudonym. It's the same one, most places. Mostly, it's because of one person on message board who started stalking members and causing them trouble at work. Partly, it lets me be free to speak what I want, without worries that my bosses or someone else will see it and take offense. If you wanted to figure out who I am, you could probably do so if you hunted a bit. I'm consistent in the pseudonym I use; you can find me commenting occasionally on a few blogs, and posting regularly on a couple of message boards. I don't think you'll find me being inconsistent in what I say.

All that said... I also use other pseudonyms and personae professionally. I don't do internet crimes against children (way too much sick-making stuff in the targets of that!), but I may monitor social networks and other similar websites of my own investigative targets. That's work...

I never have understood the people who have half a dozen or more web personae just to mess with other people's heads.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

I used to post on a few forums regularly, but the signal-to-noise ratio always slips into diminishing returns for my time and effort to be worth it. I inevitably end up trying to sing opera to the tone-deaf, and waste my time all around.

Forums are so chancy nowadays - not that they weren't before - You always get one or two adults for the price of 5011 children wearing large pants.

Some guy said...

(Behind, as always...)
I don't know about anyone else, but I work customer service and am convinced that there are way too many crazies in the world. That, along with a bit of a privacy fetish, is why I use "Some guy", so that some random crazy reader doesn't latch on to my name. (I wouldn't mind if only the principals could see my name; I introduced myself to Steven Barnes at the Denver worldcon, for example.)I wouldn't even bother with "Some guy" except the first time I posted as "Anonymous" there was another "Anonmyous" and I thought there'd be too much potential for confusion.

And as was already pointed out, it also allows me to tell tales "out of work"; even coworkers who know I comment on this blog couldn't prove it was me doing it.

But anonymity doesn't keep me from remaining safely on the conservative side when it comes to describing personal abilities or qualities; that's my natural tendency. (By the way, when martial arts come up and I say that I'm an untalented klutz who couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag, that's not because I'm being conservative. It's because I'm an untalented klutz who couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag.)You can be anonymous and still say pretty much exactly what you'd say in real life. Except, hopefully, with better grammar and spelling.