The Cowardice of Anonymity


For a long time, no one knew my real name on the Internet.

I know what you’re thinking: “But that’s just good Internet safety practice!” And yes, that’s true. If you’re young or famous, it’s probably best to have a fake identity to participate in normal interactions on the Internet and protect yourself.

But my online alias continued well into my twenties. I wasn’t trying to protect myself, and I wasn’t trying to be cutesy, either. I think, in a way, I was trying to establish myself as a brand. I was afraid that if I were to change how people saw me online, they would forget who I was.

Yeah, I think I was a bit of a tool, too.

Then I met someone who used his full name online. His handle was his first and last name, his avatar was a picture of himself, the show he briefly ran on YouTube was his name plus the word “Show.” Eventually, I was in that show.

At first, I thought this was all very uncreative. Why use your real name instead of construct a username out of things you like? Then I started to realize, if he says something stupid on a forum or in a chatroom or something and his name and face are attached to it, that could really hurt him in his future career. Or if he ever becomes famous, someone could use that against him and it’d be pretty hard to argue it wasn’t him.

That’s when I had to consider how I viewed my own online identity.

I’m no stranger to the occasional Internet argument. I’ve dragged debates out for days trying to demonstrate to someone how much smarter I am than them. One of us always eventually backed down because we both realized we were banging our heads against a brick wall, but I don’t think I ever considered the possibility of being wrong.

I just wanted to win the argument.

But I always did these things behind the guise of a pseudonym, and often, a pseudonym that was different from my usual net handle. So I was doubly hidden. My Internet life and my real life were sufficiently walled off from one another. As for my avatar? Well for a while I used the Duck Hunt dog which suited how much of a jerk I could be.

Flash forward to today. I’m DavidTShank on most things now, especially anywhere that it was particularly easy to change my name. I use a picture of my face which was an accidental candid freeze frame from back when I did YouTube. I am, in a way, fully exposed and completely vulnerable online now. Anyone I interact with online knows my face and my full name and they can probably even guess what the T stands for. (It’s definitely Tiberius).

So what’s the difference now? Well, for one thing, I actually think about what I’m saying and how I’m saying it. I try my best not to get into arguments and if I do, I keep it civil and if it doesn’t appear as though it’s going to get resolved any time soon, I accept our differences and move on.

I’m not delusional enough to believe I need to protect myself so much because everyone knows my name. But hey, I’m in the workforce, and I’m still searching for a career. Potential employers know Google Fu. And I’m also a writer, so *fingers crossed* if I’m ever a well-known writer, I can rest assured that I haven’t said anything too stupid.

Back before I used my name and face, I was a bit of a coward. That’s not to say that anyone who hides their name and face on the Internet is a coward—there are legitimate reasons to do that. But I used it for bad reasons. I was free to say and do anything, and I said and did just that.

Plus, changing my username into my real name leaves some of the more embarrassing things I’ve posted on my old names in the past. Like the fanfiction.


Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash


About David Shank

David T. Shank is a writer, runner, and musician, in that order. His blog is hopefully an oasis among the vast ocean of negativity that is the Internet. He lives in Cleveland studying how to write good.

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