“Real Name” Rules Are Bad, Part the Infinite

It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that the bluechecks are at it again.

This is hardly the first time that someone with a bullhorn and a non-existent understanding of society has become convinced that it’s bad idea for people to use the internet without disclosing their legal name to everyone. Andy Kessler of the Wall Street Journal did exactly the kind of rant you’d expect from a WSJ columnist on the subject just last month, claiming that ending anonymity was the only real way to fix our “slushy, snowflake-soaked society”. (I have my own opinions about the ice crystal status of people who get paid to write over 800 words about how horrible it is that people get to say mean things on social media, but…) And Austrian politician Gernot Blümel decided it would be a brilliant idea to require people who post stuff on the internet to hand over their name and address to whoever’s running the website. (Because information like that has never shown up in a data breach before.)

The fun part is, these policies don’t actually reduce the problems they’re complaining about. Facebook is probably the most well-known example of a website with a real name policy, and that policy hasn’t stopped…well, anything. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s glanced at Facebook any time there’s news story about a black guy getting shot by police, or an article about a high-profile transgender person. Or anyone who noticed the wide range of people posting photos and videos of themselves at a certain DC-area shitstorm on January 6th. People line up to attach their name and photo to all sorts of bad behavior.

There are two reasons for this. First: reputation isn’t tied to someone’s legal name. Communities where consistent pseudonyms are often used (such as old-school Internet forums) have the same social pressures as groups where legal names get used. Accountability can attach to whatever you want to call yourself, as can reputation and respect. Second: people who post bad shit do so because they don’t care about the consequences, or don’t expect to experience any. It’s the same problem you get with crime: increasing how severe the punishment is does little to nothing to reduce crime rates. People who commit crimes do so because they don’t have a choice, or because getting caught doesn’t factor into the decision-making process.

Long story short, real name policies don’t do a thing to stop hatred. What real policies actually do is silence the most common targets of that hatred. People whose legal names don’t sound like “real” names to the people who enforce the policy.

People with legal names that don’t match their gender.


People with stalkers in their past.

People whose political views anger someone with too much free time.


Naturally, in the face of people making these points, Karen Tumulty decided to provide further evidence in favor of nominative determinism by doubling down on her hatred of pseudonyms:

But they have shown who they are. Just like you have.