I had a recent discussion online about whether a person should change her social media handle to include her real last name. Her reasoning was that she is from a minority background and wanted to help bring attention and awareness, as well as just generally express pride in her heritage. Cool.
I advised against her doing so. I told her, as I’ve told family members, that I don’t consider it a good idea to use one’s real name in connection with social media. ‘But Robert’, some of you are probably saying, ‘isn’t your user handle on just about everything your name?’
Yes, it is. And I regret that.
Putting aside for a moment the reality that I write under my legal name, and therefore it must be connected with my social media brand (AKA: the job of actually being an author in this day and age, sadly), I wish I had the social media awareness to operate under a pseudonym. Sadly, I came of digital age when such wisdom wasn’t as readily available as one would have hoped (IE: people told me not to use my real name but I was a moron).
Today, most social media systems allow you to change your name, but nothing on the internet goes away. I have negative confidence that making such a change would be impactful. I have actually seen the contrary. Worse, I have seen such efforts backfire as people were accused of attempting to hide things because they made such efforts.
I’ve seen friends miss out on career and personal opportunities because of their social media presence. I’ve seen lives ruined because people were unable to create any buffer between their digital identity and their real-world identity. As such, I’ve come to value what I feel at this point I can never have: a healthy divider between those two lives. That kind of privacy is one that, once surrendered, can never be retained.
But then I got to thinking…
Should that privacy be a thing?
We have a conception of how we think the world should operate, that one’s privacy is a paramount right. And yet, it’s something many of us hand over with some speed when weighed against a cool new thing like social media. If everybody’s surrendered the privacy, is it really something that we can say we prize?
Ownership, mailing address, birth records, voting records, all of these things are publicly available. What is it on social media that we think should be excluded? What happens on this platform that we feel we should somehow be free from? Is it privacy we want, or some level of anonymity that we think we are guaranteed?
If a person snaps a picture of us in a public place, that isn’t considered a violation of our privacy. Why should social media be any different?
As for poor choices, radical displays, and other elements of our life-long presence online, I’m not sure I buy into the notion that we need to be ‘protected’ from that either. At least not any more than normal. If a person in their youth does something atrocious (say something racist, sexist, or even borderline criminal) and then brags about it online, should we give them a pass simply because of their youth? Should we give them a pass simply because a certain amount of time has passed since? I’m not so sure.
As for people evolving and changing, and the consequences of what is the status quo now versus in the future, I’m not sure that’s really that big of an issue either. From my childhood in the 1980s to blossoming into adulthood in the 2000s, I saw a massive shift in cultural perception regarding tattoos. Once thought of as shameful things that needed to be hidden at all costs, some companies now proudly hire people with visible tattoos. Whether people acknowledge decisions made in youth might not reflect who they are today, or people simply refusing to hide aspects of their personal beliefs, tattoos are common-place in society. Might social media…how shall we say, quirks, be the same?
I don’t have an answer. And I don’t think my advice has changed, regarding my friend’s thoughts. I will just say that I’m not so certain my stance is born out of pragmatism as it might merely be intellectual habit. And maybe that’s a habit that can be laid to rest.