Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Real Name Policies Do Not Work

We shall apparently learn this lesson again and again. Real name policies do not work. Their intent is to build trust, stop fraud, and encourage civil behavior. One only needs to think of their childhood experiences at primary school. Everyone knew the bullies in school. Their names, family, home, and history. This is far more knowledge than just a real name. Yet, bullies continued to bully. Often, others joined with the bullies. 

Let's take a practical first step, what's a real name?

Is it the legal name on your documents issued by a government?

Is it the name you most commonly use?

Is it the name on your birth or marriage certificate?

How do you verify any of these?

I'm not the first to think of these questions. Nor will I be the last. 

Here is some reading material on the topic:

Are there alternatives? Sure. But they aren't simple, singular solutions. Nor are they overly complex. Successful identity systems could include historical behaviors, actions of trust, and consistency of name. The system, and it should be a system rather than a benevolent dictator, could grant increased reputation and access based on actual behavior over time or actions performed in the community. In my experience, this is how the world works, not a demand for some government identity at the entrance. Have I just proposed something like China's "Social Credit" system? Not quite. The fundamental difference is that it's not about control and incentives to keep inline, it's about build a system of trust and increased reputation based on a loose definition of group accepted and expected behaviors. It's building an incentive system which rewards the behaviors desired by the community. It's the lack of consistency and exceptions that bother me about many current systems. For example, you probably have to pay taxes, yet large corporations and ultra wealthy individuals barely pay any at all. 

Rather than think about the large, let's think about the small. As I'm sure you'll relate to your small communities better than trying to relate to systems at societal scale.

I've used the same nickname online for a long time. It is not my given, legal, nor common name. Yet, I'm an admin with god-like powers on many platforms. This power is used sparingly and yet at the same time, I shouldn't have such power. Many people trust me and many others have given my their trust to not abuse the power, etc. I'd much rather a consensus model than implicit trust. If someone goes crazy and wants to damage their reputation, that's their freedom and responsibility to do so. If it starts to harm others in the community and the consensus is to temporarily ban them or remove them, I'm merely the executor of the action, not the sole decision point. 

In a complete other realm, I use a  separate nickname for online gaming. It's been the same name for a long time. I take decent efforts to never tie this identity to anything like a real world identity. This is possible because online gaming isn't treated very seriously, meaning no one ever asks for real information. Gift cards, distinct email accounts, and different burner phone numbers are used successfully to pass their anti-fraud/cheating measures. Yet, I've been invited into many teams, asked to help administer servers, and am generally consulted on strategies, especially given how often my aim is lacking. For the games which have asked for real info, I stopped playing them. The alternative is to just make up a fake profile that sounds real enough and play the probability that no one will notice. Ironically, the request for real name and upload for government ID came from no-reply@ email address.  Ha!

If corporations are people, then all of us should create individual companies to be an alternate persona. Somehow, this is never good enough to pass a "real name" system. "Yes, my legal personhood is Blockstackers Intergalactic LLC", for example.

In my experience with any large company, trying to find a human with a real name to help you is impossible. If we're going to have real name policies enforced upon us by nameless entities, let's turn around the one way glass and start with the requester.

Every bar requires a full ID scan at the door. This doesn't stop the drunken behavior within.