Abstract - The Information Society 15(2)

What's in a Name? Some Reflections on the Sociology of Anonymity

Gary T. Marx

To paraphrase Mark Twain reports of either the recent death, or coming dominance of anonymity have been greatly exaggerated. This paper is a beginning effort to lay out some of the conceptual landscape needed to better understand anonymity and identifiability in contemporary life. I suggest 7 types of identity knowledge involving legal name, location, symbols linked and not linked back to these through intermediaries, distinctive appearance and behavior patterns, social categorization and certification via knowledge or artifacts. I identify a number of major rationales and contexts for anonymity (free flow of communication, protection, experimentation) and identifiability (e.g., accountability, reciprocity, eligibility) and suggest a principle of truth in the nature of naming which holds that those who use pseudonyms on the Internet in personal communications have an obligation to indicate they are doing so. I also suggest 13 procedural questions to guide the development and assessment of any internet policy regarding anonymity.

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