Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 25, 2010
 
Identity is relative on the internet

We tend to think of ourselves as "real". But once you question that notion, you'll find that you *were* real when you woke up that morning, but once you got online you probably assumed a different identity. And while your real identity might be reasonable well documented, your online identity is far for secure.

For example there are several Tobolds on the internet. The Tobold on Twitter isn't me (my fault, I had that name and stupidly deleted my Twitter account because I don't like Twitter). There is a Tobold posting stuff on the Boardgamegeeks forums, who isn't me. As I "borrowed" my name from Tolkien, there are references on the internet to Tolkien's Tobold Hornblower, who introduced pipeweed into the Shire. And apparently in the real world there was a doctor named Tobold, who invented a tongue depressor. Tobold the Hamburger King is a main character in the book Portrait of the Writer as a Domesticated Animal. And so on, and so on. By the way, that wouldn't change if I used my real name, somebody else has the same real name as I do, and has it registered as a domain.

So yesterday I kicked a troll who called himself AndruX from the blog, and then somebody else who also called himself AndruX turned up and complained. Well, sorry, I only banned the *troll* AndruX, not everybody else calling himself AndruX. Who am I to say who of the two is "real" and who is "fake"? Apparently faking other people is all the rage now in blog comments, we had fake Gevlon, fake Nils, fake AndruX, and for all I know there is a fake Tobold out there somewhere trolling syncaine's blog. It isn't really a problem for blog moderation, as comments are deleted one by one, and I can't really "ban" a specific name or IP address from commenting.

I find the subject of identity on the internet fascinating, and once stole Gevlon's identity as a joke to make a point. I really loved the people argueing that if I was also the author of Gevlon's blog, then they would stop reading what I wrote on this blog. That clearly demonstrated the unhealthy fascination people have with identity. Apparently many people are unable to read a text and form an opinion about it *just based on what is written*. They need to "know" the "identity" of the author, and would judge the exactly same text differently when it was written by me, than they would judge it when it was written by Gevlon. So when Paladin Schmaladin "Ferarro" turned out to be several persons using fake photographs and invented details of fake real lives, many readers went bonkers, as if the identity of Ferarro had any effect on the validity of the texts written under that name about paladins.

Basically the problem is that many people are too lazy to think, and take a shortcut called "trust". Hey, I trust that guy, so what he says must be right, and I don't have to engage my own little grey cells to ponder the question. That approach is already not great in the real world, and on the internet it is downright foolish. Why on earth should you trust a guy who calls himself after a hobbit from Tolkien, and who you never even met in real life? I deliberately post fake news sometimes, to get people to think, but there are always readers whose trust in me overcomes the unlikelyhood of the posted fake news, so they end up believing it. And even if I don't do it deliberately, I'm wrong often enough, e.g. I missed several details on RealID yesterday because I hadn't read the FAQ, and even misspelled RealID in the title (fixed now).

Trust is actually a problem for me. What I am trying to do in this blog is keeping up an intelligent discussion, and that requires all participants to think. It doesn't require everybody to be right all the time, or everybody agreeing, but it requires people to read what I (or other commenters) wrote, think about it, and post their own thoughts and opinions on the subject. If my readers have a completely false vision of me as infallible pope Tobold pontificating from his blogging throne on some subject, the intelligent discussion doesn't take place. And then I get nasty comments from people who had that vision, and got disappointed because they realized at some point that I'm only human, and make mistakes as often as the next guy. If you expect a blog to have the same resources for research and editorial staff as a professional newspaper or magazine, you're bound to get disappointed.

So I would ask all of you to mistrust me. I make mistakes, I sometimes deliberately post fake news as a means of making a point, and I mostly post opinions, not deeply researched facts. Engage your brain, think for yourself, and form your own opinions. Putting your trust into strangers you only know by their fake identity isn't safe. And if you disagree with that, well, you can use the donate button up there to the right to start bidding on that Golden Gate Bridge I have for sale.
Comments:
So you stole the Golden Gate bridge! I was so sure it was that Carmen Sandiego. Goddamnit, and I've been tracking her for months.
 
Trust isn't a bad thing - it's a useful heuristic that allows us to save time on minor judgements. We all use it because it's more cost-effective than analysing every tiny thing in detail.

The key thing is to use it appropriately. I trust the online identity of Tobold enough to know that it's worth bothering to read your posts without going through a detailed analysis beforehand, but that's not the same thing as trusting it enough to buy a bridge from you.
 
Basically the problem is that many people are too lazy to think, and take a shortcut called "trust".

Which is very reasonable! The whole conecpt of identity and trust has evolved for a reason. If somebody unknown to me wrote that he loves that PvP game over there I wouldn't be very impressed.

If Tobold wrote this, I would be very impressed and inclined to find out more about that game.

A piece of text cannot be understood if taken out of its context. It changes its content, depending on the context.

The context is part of what you say - especially if you don't produce highly structured and complete arguments that can stand on their own. Most bloggers, including you, don't do this. It would be too much work and is often not necessary, because we already know a lot of background.
 
If Tobold wrote this, I would be very impressed and inclined to find out more about that game.

But how would you even know I wrote this? Okay, if it is a blog post here, there is a reasonable chance that nobody hacked the blog. But if you read a comment on some other blog or forum by somebody who calls himself "Tobold", how could you possibly be sure it is really me?
 

But how would you even know I wrote this? Okay, if it is a blog post here, there is a reasonable chance that nobody hacked the blog. But if you read a comment on some other blog or forum by somebody who calls himself "Tobold", how could you possibly be sure it is really me?


I wouldn't be sure. But I could guess. Which is exactly what I (or anybody for that matter) would do.

Guessing is not without problems. But it is much better than to not consider the background of a piece of text.

If you start to doubt everything you are back to cogito ergo sum and even this assertion has been ripped apart by philosophers :).

Human communication relies on trust, because it is a proven concept. Its problems are well known, but trust is mostly still the lesser evil.
 
I have been around this part of the woods long enough by now to be able to say with certainty, Tobold:

There's no risk whatsoever. We, your steadfast readers, don't trust a word of what you write. ;)
 
Trust no one, and keep your laser handy!
 
Hey, I'm a planet from the Marvel Universe, so yeah.

BTW I had no idea about that planet before I picked Pangoria as a name. Actually Pangoira is modification of Fangoria, the magazine, which was laying about the apartment of my friend who hooked me on to WoW. Its been my online personality ever since.

Oh my... I just realized that, that was my origin story!
 
" (...) but there are always readers whose trust in me overcomes the unlikelyhood of the posted fake news, so they end up believing it."

How do you know they believe it? And do you know they trust you? The same approach can work backwards. They can be fooling you making you believe they believe you.

"But if you read a comment on some other blog or forum by somebody who calls himself "Tobold", how could you possibly be sure it is really me?"

That's a easy one. After reading many of your posts, your readers have a clear idea of how the character Tobold thinks. So, if anyone sees a comment it's easy to compare it with the Tobold posting here. If there's a match, who cares if the second one is really you or not?

And talking about thinking: you get plenty of comments. If someone believes in a fake new but makes intelligent remarks about it, mission completed. Right?

(for the Real Nils, it's called immersion)

By the way, i don't like being in the same group as the other fakes. I'm a special fake. I've changed my name because you asked me too and I'm a assumed Fake Nils.
 
I think its the opposite to what you suggest - its not Trust, its lack of.

If a person isnt who say say they are then all the stuff they wrote may not of been sincere and could all well be a large Troll attempt.

Due to whats usually said on blogs being totally opinion driven it could then make everything you read from the "Troll" purposeful hyperbole.
 
Hey, Fake Nils,

You don't have to pretend anymore. We all understand you're actually RealNils™ and is using this second identity to cover up for the embarrassing fact that you're posting too much. :P
 
Identity on the Internet it is indeed a very interesting thing and it has vast implications from everything from social interaction to business to crime. If you look at games like Second Life, you can conceivably create a complete new persona, earn a living, and never actually have to engage in the real world very often. Essentially, you are creating a full time online identity for yourself.

Of course, identity can be just as weak in the real world too! Who's to say that a person you meet or know is actually the person they claim to be! Do you check their passport? Even that can be faked.
 
(for the Real Nils, it's called immersion)


Actually, I never understood why you called yourself 'Fake Nils'.
'Virtual Nils' would have been so much better :)
 
@Oscar: harhar ;)

I thought about this myself some time ago: About the fact that people might come to think that way.

This, of course would have been the ultimate success of my evil twin.

Seems like I just have to trust you to trust me :)
 
". . .invented a tongue depressor"

Just one?
 
Actually, I never understood why you called yourself 'Fake Nils'.

I used to be called just 'Nils' but, somehow, people got confused about it. As requested by Tobold, or maybe his wife using his account - we don't know! - I've changed it to Fake Nils. But you're right. 'Virtual Nils' would have been so much nicer :(

@Oscar: You have to consider the possibility that I'm Tobold honoring Nils.

You know what? Just trust me also. Again.
 
You make some great points. I trust your opinion, so I know you are right. Thanks for figuring this out for me. Can you hear me up their on the Throne Of Pontification?(TOP)
 
'up there'


durrrr
 
Damn, and I thought I had all this figured out. Now I'm convinced that you're all one and the same person, all out to get me!
 
I imagine that there is some psychological study that explains it, but I believe most of it has to do with the fact that this is a print medium.

In my imaginary study, you would learn all about how people are more trusting of the written word than they are of the spoken word. Particularly if it is well written.

My imaginary study would also go on to say that this is because you can read visual and auditory queues that would tell you a person is lying in person. Conversely, a person can't "sound" or "look" like they are lying if all you are reading are words on a page.

Thus, the inherent believability of the written word has less to do with trust and more to do with our ability to detect the lie.
 
@Tobold: context is important, and that includes authorship. This applies to all forms of communication. If a friend calls me a rat-bastard, I take it much better than if a random guy off the street does. If I read a paper by Einstein saying that space is curved, I am more likely to consider it seriously than if some random guy wrote it.

@Pangoria: LOL!

@Nils/Fake/Oscar: all of this discussion makes me think of "The Matrix." And on second thought, "Face/Off"

@Sid67: the written word also has clues to believability, for instance proper grammar and spelling, and the lack of leet-speak. On the internet, the URL also gives information about reliability.
 
What you say is quite true for objective things like math proofs.

But modern people tend to want to know the author to know the bias.

I want to know if the person who presents these wonderful arguments to buy stock X works for a company that received $100m in underwriting from that firm.

If I read analysis that the economy is in great shape, I want to know if the author is a political appointee of the current government.

Is the person telling me I am funny buying me drinks at a singes bar?

Did i read it in Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica?

As the amount of information I have available to me is going up exponentially (e.g. 15 years ago with no bloggers or commenter or FB or Twitter) then trying to decide on authorship, bias and trust is more important.
 
"Trust, but verify"?

Perhaps I'm overly cynical, but I've always treated *any* sort of input with a grain of salt... especially on the internet. It's data to be sifted, not gospel from on high.

Maybe it comes from having a scientific background and growing up with card catalogs? I've dealt with research for a long time, and verification and skepticism come with the territory.
 
Oh, and judging an idea or concept on its merits alone rather than letting the source color perceptions is perhaps ideal... but I wonder if we're really wired that way. It's easier to dismiss something uncomfortable or confirm something that we want to bolster our own biases if we can attack the source rather than the inherent logic. Too many of us aren't honest enough with ourselves about wanting truth... we would rather live the comfortable lie.

It's faulty logic, but when logic pushes us out of our happy space, we tend to want to ignore it.
 
A varying level of trust is implicit in any relationship.

For example, the EvE fanboys didn't really have a relationship with you, hence their visceral reaction to your PvP comments. To them, your comments were seen as biased and inherently negative.

On the other hand, anyone who has been reading your blog for any amount of time would know that you pretty much dislike PvP in just about all forms in video games. After I read your comments on EvE and PvP, I simply made a rant against capitalism and moved on.

The difference is that I realize that you dislike almost all asymmetric PvP, so I can trust your comments against EvE PvP to be fairly "neutral" and not just some biased statement against Eve.

The EvE fanboy reading the same comments after discovering your blog only days/weeks earlier, has less trust of your neutrality towards EvE PvP, all other arguments aside. Their lack of trust of your neutrality is what made them lash out, while most of your constant readers tried to reassure them that it wasn't pure bias against EvE.

Your readers who know you implicitly trust you to some extent. Even when you lie or make a mistake, you inform us of it, reinforcing that trust. Anyone who has a "relationship" with you, whether Real Life or through your blog, is going to trust you to some extent.

To not trust you at all is to not have any interaction with you. Even if we mistrust you, trust is still in the equation, albeit negative trust.
 
The thing with trust is, YOU get to set the significance level based on the percieved risk.
So I trust something I read by an unknown blogger, but how much risk is really in that? It saves me needless anxiety to just trust and move on. Maybe I buy a game I don't like based on a recommendation I thought you made and get burned because it sucks.

How much damn research you going to put into buying a GAME?

Some people set the risk of any perceived risk of broken trust pretty high. You might call that "hypervigilance", "paranoia", or a variety of other psychological ills in that great manual of craziness.

I little serotonin booster can really help with that...
 
I hope you're happy that Blizzard is getting rid of those pesky little aliases then...
 
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