Online Identity

A while back I texted the following to a friend who made a whimsical call to change her Twitter handle—

Your twitter handle is like your name. That’s how people know you, refer to you, remember you, search for you… (the list goes on). Your handle is for others first.

That wasn’t the first time I had communicated something to that effect to someone I knew. By now I’ve shared my take on this subject so many times over that I thought I should simply put it down as a blogpost.

Tweetbot is an old school software. When a retweet appears on my timeline, it displays the account holder’s name to inform me who retweeted it. Name is how I know people in real world. That’s how I refer to them. That’s how I remember and recall them. Their decision made perfect sense to me. All was good until a couple of people I followed decided to change their’s at random intervals — from movie characters to displaying support for national movements. Random retweets by those folks got specially annoying because it took an extra step to identify the person responsible for the retweet. One of them continued the practice for far too long and I ended up unfollowing the account. Similarly, it’s a tad annoying when people randomly decide to change their profile pictures — after all, pictures remain in my memory for longer and are much faster to identify. When a new profile picture doesn’t have a recognisable face (or is a group photo), it takes a while to identify it with the actual person. The urge to be expressive through profile pictures is understandable, but it completely misses the point if it’s done at the expense of the account holder being identifiable.

Playful user profiles, however, don’t just result in annoyance. At some level, it obscures identity and misguides people. While some account holders might feel that’s okay but as I pointed before, user profile on any public forum is for others first. It’s unfair if others are deterred from identifying the real person behind the thoughts, opinions, pictures and other content an account broadcasts. It’s unfair if people are unable to interact as equals, be it online or offline.

There are few people I know who demonstrate the sincerity to write their real name, put their faces and make an attempt to use a handle that easily identifies them across every online service they’ve chosen to join. Maybe they’re stupid. But I harbour special respect and appreciation for them.

Stay real. Everywhere.