The whole issue of trust, online names and the evolving changes in how we as a society interact both online and off, could no doubt keep a psychologist intrigued for quite some time.
For me personally, social networking is about judging character, hearing, seeing, and feeling the persons you are really interacting with in order to gauge trust. Then you, I or others can make more informed decisions as to how much we share (or do not share) about ourselves and or our personal brand.
The value of trust influences how far we go in promoting, informing and disseminating information about our brand and ourselves. In the online world however, trusting a online name is fraught with a myriad of problems. The effects of losing that trust are made abundantly clear in a recent article by Alison Flood published by The Age titled ‘Socking it to the puppets of reviewerland’
When it comes to the legitimacy of online names, is the onus on the likes of Facebook or other forums to police this activity? If so, might this impact the activity of those users already using fictitious accounts? Would users just move on to another Facebook type site and recreate another fictitious account?
The proponents for legitimate names (including brand names) would argue the benefits in promoting and building brand name awareness amongst the online community. This same argument though can have an Achilles heel when the very same popularity of a name is abused with a hidden agenda. An example of this type of activity was noted in a Associated press article titled ‘Don’t Search for Emma Watson Online’.
In the above article, it is precisely because the name or brand is trusted that enables nefarious actions to happen. Unless we are using Skype as a online video communications tool, there is little to confirm that we are in fact communicating with the person we expect when chatting via text, or forum posts. Hypothetically, the person I started chatting to via text may have left the room and the conversation that continued may be with a six year old or the next Ted Bundy. There is very little to help inform us apart from the clues gathered by more long term communication. In this instance, neither a legitimate name nor an alias would have any far reaching impact since it is the person at the other end that has been changed during the course of the communication.
In summary I can’t help but draw upon a quote from the TV show the XFiles “Trust No One!” Apply that quote to any and all online communication.