May 15, 2009
Honesty, Trust and Privacy
Posted in social at 2:29 pm by zhaewry
There has been a lot of recent discussion about honesty, privacy, and pseudonymous people in virtual worlds. This is very well captured in Botgirl’s blog and many other blogs and comments. I have a few thoughts I would like to add to this discussion.
The strongest thought is, that there is no single answer to how to manage your identity in the digital world. For some people complete transparency works. For other people, a total seperation between identities meets their needs. Most people probably end up somewhere in between. What matters is candor, honesty and clarity. This is separate from choosing how to manage ones identity. A totally pseudonymous person can be deeply honest, or totally deceitful. Someone who is transparently linked to their real life self can still lie. We chose in real life how much to share, this is no different on line or in a virtual world.
What does honesty and clarity mean? It does not require transparency of identity. It does, I think, require honestly letting people know what you are doing. There is a right for each person to chose what they want to expose. Nobody has a right to demand real life facts that you don’t care to disclose. I have friends in Second Life and on line where I know *nothing* about their off line life. I have friends where I know a great deal. Those choices to share are personal and often evolve over time.
What I think is foundational is that there are real people behind each avatar. The keys are pressed by flesh and blood humans. The thoughts, the ideas, the emotions belong to the humans not to the avatars, not to the digital persona but to the human being. The clarity desired is not clarity from the avatar, but from the human being. Be clear. If you are role playing, tell people. If you chose to separate your real life from your virtual persona, make that clear. If you have multiple personas in the virtual world, I prefer to know when I am interacting with a single person behind the avatar. It is not my right, you may chose otherwise, but I think it common courtesy. No semantic games here. The onus lies on the human, not the avatar. There is nobody else there.
Equally foundational is respecting people’s choices. Respect people’s choice to be private. Respect people’s choice to be more open. Respect people’s chosen persona. The ability to chose one’s appearance and persona is one of the powers of virtual worlds, and of the Internet. When people chose to share their chosen persona they are sharing part of themselves. When we disrespect that, we disrespect the person, not some avatar, not some digital person, but a real human being. Equally, when someone uses their digital persona as an excuse for bad behavior, that is disrespectful of everyone who does not. Honestly saying “I have changed my mind” or “I am no longer comfortable with how I am managing my identity” is far more respectful than various forms of deceitful behavior, justified by pseudonimity.
I personally feel that, as botgirl has expressed, pseudonymous behavior impose limits in inter personal relationships. Everyone has the right to make that choice and they have the right for it to be respected. Choices have consequences, and one of the very real choices of deep pseudonomy may be being taken less seriously by some people and finding some people emotionally guarded.