The increasing, and important, need for dual identities on the web – real and anonymous

image courtesy of The Next Web

image courtesy of The Next Web

The whole anonymous identities on the web argument is older than the web itself. I can remember fervent discussions on the subject back in the old BBS days and the talking points haven’t changed in the intervening years. The only problem now is that the wild west days of the Web are over and companies like Facebook and Google are making themselves the final arbiters of what an identity is on the web; and that is scary.

However that isn’t the argument that I want to look at here, at least not as a major point. What I do want to point out is that now more than ever we need to fight for the right to have more than just the Facebook and Google sanctioned identity when we do anything on the web, and possibly when we aren’t hooked into it directly.

Increasingly, as we continue to fall for this social media and social media branding game, we are finding that our real names are becoming a commodity and a signal flare as to what we are doing and what we are saying on the web. Between services such as Facebook and Google’s breadth of services like search and Google+ we are easier to find, and our actions easier to monitor.

Not only are we easier to find individually, but as social media continues to spread its tendrils through the corporate world we are finding that we are also becoming closely associated with the identity of the companies that we work for; and companies are noticing this.

While companies are well within their rights to monitor what goes on during working hours an increasing number of companies are beginning to monitor what their employees are doing on the web after work.

Lauren Fisher at The Next Web wrote today about this and it seems that up to 44% of companies that took part in a survey recently said that they monitor their employee’s actions during work and afterwards.

Where this gets even more interesting is that such a large proportion of companies have policies that cover use of social networks outside of the workplace as well. This is a difficult reality for many people and it’s an outcome of what’s private becoming public. Where once you used to leave work and have your private life to yourself, for many, that private life is now broadcast online, as you choose. For organisations however, this poses a risk if you are linked to your company in any way. Anything you say or do online could indirectly implicate your employer and you can understand the risk here.

While there are some who would call this an invasion of our private lives I can understand why companies are doing this. I might not agree but when you start down this yellow brick road of so-called transparency and your every action can have unforeseen consequences companies are put into a position where they have no choice but to monitor anyone connected to the company.

The problem that arises out of this is that suddenly we have no privacy. Our jobs, or our social standing in the community, and even personal relationships are potentially threatened by the slightest misstep that might not seem that bad but could be perceived as having negative connotations.

No longer do companies worry about your actions just during work hours, but thanks to the burgeoning influence of social media they believe that what you do while even in the privacy of your own home is something that they need to be concerned about.

I would suggest that rather than trying to do away with the whole idea of anonymity on the web we need to rush towards it. If companies have the power, and the desire, to monitor our actions on the regardless of whether we are at work or not; and decide our employment value based on that, then we need, no, we must be able to use the Web without that fear. The only way this can be done is by being able to create a second identity, a pseudonym, an anonymous identity.

The more our places of work can watch us the more likely we will begin to act not like who we really are but who we believe our companies want us to be.

We become a shadow of ourselves.

Anonymity is our only way that we can be ourselves – good or bad.