Online Personae or Pseudonyms Might Be Smart

posted in: social media, virtual world | 0

Four years ago I set up a social networking presence to help promote Ener Hax and the iliveisl Second Life “land sales” business. Ener Hax is an account name in Second Life but those of you familiar with Second Life know that these names can take on a life of their own (ener hax actually dates back to at least Dungeons & Dragons in the early ’80s and may have been a nickname for a certain hyper child then!). Many otherwise unknown individuals have created significant online presences through their avatar names and their avatars are as reputable as a person’s real identity.

Online avatar personae are different from the “brand personae” of such spokespersons like Erin eSurance, the Geico gecko, the Aflack duck, or talking M&Ms. The difference is that there is one person behind the avatar versus a corporate marketing department.

Having a real person behind the avatar makes for a more genuine conversation that catches the nuances of a real person over that of a contrived personna. It also means that this persona is more of a pseudonym than a character for that person.

Ener Hax has written several iliveisl blog posts on the validity of  “avatar identity” despite having run against prejudice for this viewpoint. From my perspective, avatar identity is no different than a nom de plume or an artist’s stage name. Many of our favourite authors, actors, and musicians go by assumed names and it is their work that brings them acclaim and not their names.

Last year Ener Hax was removed from Facebook for not being a “natural person” and that seemed rather pedantic of Facebook in my opinion. I did not give it much thought until I read a Time article today about a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing on consumer privacy. Then it hit me, as an avatar, Ener Hax holds little value to data miners because of the “disconnect” between the avatar and real world spending. There are no credit cards in the name of Ener Hax and no direct way to measure marketing success to Ener.

Thus, it is not worth Facebook’s server costs to have an account in an avatar’s name. What does it cost to host a Facebook account? Clearly the server space costs more than they can sell that data for.

What really struck me in this Time article was this possible use of such data:

. . . prospective employers who may seek, for example, to exclude women who “like” Charlie Sheen on Facebook. Insurance companies may buy that data to deny coverage to people who frequently purchase supersize bags of Doritos.

I knew data mining occurs but never gave it much thought as a new form of prejudice. It turns out that perhaps being an avatar online is a pretty smart way to go.

Zuckerberg – Time’s Person of the Year or Master Exploiter and Profiteer of Privacy?

Who is Facebook to decide that Ener Hax, or you, have no value?

this post appears on both the subquark and iliveisl blogs