Monday, June 1, 2009

Off topic: Internet Identity

Reading through Averna's post at Nerf This Druid brought back some memories, and made me think a while about Internet Identities.

The recent drama of the blogosphere (I'm surprised that's not an official word, yet) is the fake identity of Ferraro, a paladin blogger recently made infamous among the healers regarding his/her stance on the legendary healing weapon prior to its exact proc effects being known. Ferraro had built up a "real life" image of themselves as a "hot chick" girl gamer, using stolen images from a different person (by becoming a stalker on the real person's own photo album), and then perpetuated it with fake stories to build around the photographs. (edit: they also stole direct blog posts from their target and possibly others, but that is a different matter)

Given the reality of stalkers, I can understand an author not wanting to put their own real picture up on the net. If cornered and harassed by multiple people or people that one plays with regularly to post a picture, a girl may feel the need to steal a different picture to hide behind. They may wish to pretend that they look different for any of multiple reasons, including self-image problems, wanting more "fan boys" to follow their readership, and real fear of stalkers.

There are also men out there who will pose as a pretty girl for various reasons, ranging from as relatively innocent as trying to get more readership, to police trying to catch "badguys."

The "Self-Image" Problem, a true story:

I played with a girl who gave my guild and the person she was "dating" for 3+ years a "borrowed" photograph. She didn't appreciate herself and wanted others to think she was prettier; we all knew she was a very shy person, and I was shocked she'd even sent some people a photo of herself. In time, even if she'd have grown comfortable enough to share her real image, it was too late: she would have to admit to a lie, and so she hid her lie and continued to dig up images of her "borrowed" self. Eventually, when she couldn't dodge the pleas for webcam conversations, the lie did come out, and many people were hurt by her lie and lack of prior trust.

Was it right to steal another's image to be her own? No. Was it right for her to even feel forced to do so to keep others off her back about seeing what she looked like? No.

She should have put her foot down and simply said "No, I'm still afraid, I'm not ready for others to see my picture." It's not easy to say, with close internet friends or growing relationships scratching for a picture, and some people can't say it: they'd rather duck under it to avoid being pressed about it again, and don't think about the long-term consequences. We should always be alert to avoid putting others in this situation. If someone says they don't want to share their picture, don't press them!

The "Lie for Respect" Problem, a true story:

While not necessarily a picture-theft, this sort of story will strike home to many guilds: the question of age vs maturity. When a whole guild goes on having problems with immature "kids" and decides to blame it on age, the "kids" who are more mature will feel that they have to hide their true age. They may have to spin up a whole story about how old they are, what college they went to, what they do as a job, all to keep from being treated as though they are 6, or picked on for their age (as a note, I believe that maturity is merely knowing when to use it, and has little to do with actual age).

I had a guildie that was such. He hid his true age (15 at the start of the lie, I believe?), instead saying he was in his late 20's/30's, with a degree in English Literature. He spent much time quoting Shakespeare. Everyone believed him; why wouldn't we? He was a fun guy, had a level head on his shoulders, and was capable of goofing off as much as the rest of the "adult crowd" was. He became an officer (was such when I joined the guild), and for a short period was guild leader before real life priorities and a move across the country cut his playtime to nil.

Some time after stepping down as guild leader, he came forth with the truth. He was graduating High School. He had told the lie because it was clear to him that the other guild leaders and officers at the time would not have taken him seriously if they'd known his true age; they never would have considered him for officership, they never would've let him have a hand in managing the guild or running recruitment or helping to lead raids if he was "just a kid."

Some people were shocked. Some were outraged. Some--like my husband and I--just sat back and nodded to ourselves in agreement with this teen's assessment. I was reminded of Valentine and Peter Wiggin in Ender's Game (a great book by Orson Scott Card), who shaped world politics under fake adult identities while but pre-teens, because who would listen to children, no matter what wisdom they may have in their words?

Other Reasons:

Was this necessarily how Ferraro started? No, but it might have been (severe dollop of the benefit of the doubt). Or it could've been a "hey look imma cute girl, read ma blog!" tactic. Many of the bloggers I have networked with are female, or claim to be. Not all have pictures up (I don't, either!). Does being a girl increase our readership? The most successful blogs, be they by a girl or a guy, are based on their content rather than any pretty face behind the text. They built themselves up in the communities, wrote guides and tutorials, explained mechanics, and shared their experiences from the GAME. They didn't do it by posting pics (real or stolen) of themselves and weaving tales to make themselves up as a dream barbie.

Some bloggers may feel impatient and think the fastest method to get readers is to use flirtatious pictures. They may draw attention to these fake identities specifically to increase their readership, by posting more and more of their borrowed or stolen images and trying to justify them, make them real, insist that they're real. They may even do it as a social experiment, watching comments and things like Google Analytics to see what may stir up more hits. They may do it simply to increase views, to "pad" their numbers (ironically enough like padding a bra), be it to increase revenue from site ads or just to try to argue for their popularity over another blog, for some twisted sense of security and self-importance.

The reality is that on the web, people can hide behind whatever graphic they want, and it becomes who they are to others. Time only digs the hole deeper, and when the truth is finally brought forth (if it is even the truth, for it could be another mask?), many are hurt by the lie. They feel they cannot trust the person anymore, for if the person is lieing about who they are, what else could they be lieing about?

In the end, it is best to be honest about who you are. It is work to maintain a mask of something you're not, and it will hurt not only the person you're pretending to be and your readers, it will hurt you. Let your blog speak for its own content, let your words speak of your true thoughts and experiences, and let your blog represent yourself rather than a mask.


Anonymous said...

Your story about a child lying for respect reminds me of Benjamin Franklin as well, with his Silence Dogood letters.

Lissanna said...

If it was just the identity theft part (taking the name & picture), I'd be much more understanding for Ferarro. However, "they" also stole that girl's posts and actual non-wow related blog content and put it on their blog. That has a much more malicious feel of plagiarism that crosses a line I'm not comfortable with.

Personally, I just don't post pictures or put name/location info into my blog posts as much as possible...

Kae said...

Heh, copyright and plagiarism is a whole 'nother can of worms. I'm certainly not trying to excuse Ferraro's (Ferarro? eh, I don't feel like looking up the "right" spelling ;) ) behavior on that front! I recall us discussing copyright briefly over on the Restokin blog a couple weeks ago :)

As for the identity aspect, I find it ironic that this would happen so soon in the wake of Andrew's posts over at TeethandClaws, where he was advocating support of real names and faces for the blogging community.