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Identity Management
(June 01, 2007) Anyone who follows my work knows that I feel strongly about the array of identities available in our emerging new world. Although I firmly believe that there is a place for anonymity in political speech in desperate circumstances, I simply don't see it as a part of a commercial ecosystem. While anonymity has some potential uses, they are just not a part of the business world. Business runs on trust and predictability. Anonymity is a violation of that trust.

There's more to the question than a black and white view of anonymity. As a species, we seem to be going through a shift in our definitions of privacy and public space. Increasingly, what used to be private is becoming public. It's odd that the very proactive champions of transparency (decreasing privacy and increasing public-ness), seem to also favor a very retro view of anonymity.

What's more interesting is the increasing tendency (most visible in the Gen Why set) to spawn multiple identities. Alter Egos, pseudonyms, stage names and vague borders between different aspects of a single personality seem to be becoming a predominant form. The wonderful video resume offered by Kristi Young simply showcases the phenomenon. While we think of resumes as unidimensional marketing packages that showcase a candidate's high points, the culture has moved on to separate sets of identities.

We see the tip of the iceberg in our own Recruitosphere. The Animal, Cheezhead, Mr. Moustache and a host of other characters signify that our online personalities are not necessarily what our friends and family see. We're all experimenting with the difference between our public and private selves while those distinctions are changing.

One thing is pretty clear. Helping people understand your biases and loyalties makes all of the difference in the world. Increasingly what matters is the appearance of things. So, if you work for someone and are taking up their cause, make sure your readers know about it. In a swirl of ideas, knowing the background and reliability of the information is critical. Transparency is what makes it possible for someone to effectively utilize multiple identities.

Whether its different resumes for different opportunities or different personas for different online environments, the old rules about one set of truths per person are fading. In certain circumstances, safety dictates using a persona far removed from your circumstances. That's the best argument we know of for seamless anonymity.

When that safety net is abused to grind the axe of your employer or when critical information (like "I am a consultant for the organization I am defending") is left out, we're left to grapple with disinformation. That's the essence of  FUD campaign, not a baseline for the use of anonymity as protected speech. By poisoning the public well for personal gain, people engaged in this sort of behavior screw it up for the rest of us.

John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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