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It’s been almost seven months since I joined the Community Team at Stack Overflow. I’ve been having a wonderful time learning the ropes, working with incredible colleagues across the company, and especially getting to know the Stack Exchange Communities. I’ve gotten to know some of the moderators and community members through interactions and conversations on Meta, chat, etc. I have so much trust and respect for you all which is why I want to share why I choose to use a pseudonym on the platform.

I’ve been working in community management for over a decade. The vast majority of interactions I’ve had with members of the communities I’ve been privileged to serve have been positive and it’s a big contributor to why I love this work so much.

However, I have also had a few experiences in the past that have made me feel uncomfortable. I won’t get into too many details but these interactions primarily involved comments about seeing me in live videos or on webinars for previous companies I’ve worked for and knowing where I worked (i.e. that they could stop by the office and figure out where my desk was). Nothing serious ever came of any of these interactions, thank goodness, but I do know others in the industry who have had more serious interactions where their safety was in jeopardy.

For those reasons I chose for some light anonymity on the platform, which for me was using a nickname bestowed on me by family friends and using my pet’s photo as my avatar. I say light anonymity because in professional circles I’ve always used my legal name when it comes to professional profiles, articles I’ve written or been quoted in, podcast interviews, etc. It’s not too hard to figure out who I am and I trust the community so I didn’t (and still don’t) feel the need to retroactively conceal my legal name on any of those platforms.

That said, other people take anonymity more seriously than I do. I ask and trust that everyone would respect staff and community members who choose to use pseudonyms. Their reasons for doing so are personal and we should respect their privacy there as well. As a people manager and a community manager the safety and privacy of community members and staff is important to me and I will fiercely protect it.

If you have any questions for me feel free to drop them in the comments below. Thank you.

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    I'm sorry to hear you had less then wonderfull experiences in the past, but I don't think you have to "explain yourself" in this matter. If others do give you that feeling, that saddens me.
    – Luuklag
    Sep 8 at 20:51
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    @Luuklag thank you. I should clarify that no one has made me personally feel like I need to explain or justify my alias and avatar. The reason I wanted to post this is because privacy concerns are something that are raised often. I wanted to be proactive in explaining why I feel anonymity is important for those who chose it.
    – Rosie StaffMod
    Sep 8 at 20:57
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    I think this is a really valuable discussion to have, and I'm really happy that such an influential user (as a CM especially) raised this Sep 8 at 21:02
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    @Rosie I think a good chunk of the community grew up in and with the internet - I'd be surprised if anyone asked me to justify the name/handle I chose to use or my ava or anyone else, and it would be considered poor form to demand one's real name. Other than the time I got a package that was addressed to "Journeyman Geek" .... much to the confusion of my postie... I would hope that both the sanctity of handles and personal space would be respected ._.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Sep 9 at 4:49
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    @Rosie I edited the title to fit better the actual discussion here, hope it's fine, and if not, you can roll it back. Thanks for posting this, it's not trivial to explain such things and share such experience. :) Sep 9 at 8:21
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    @ShadowWizardIsVaccinatedV3 of course that is okay. I appreciate it. I think this is an important discussion and topic so thank you for helping to surface it better.
    – Rosie StaffMod
    Sep 9 at 11:46
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    I just figured you were a big Maurice Sendak fan. It's nice to know there's a family story there
    – Machavity
    Sep 9 at 13:07
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    @Machavity Both are true ;)
    – Rosie StaffMod
    Sep 9 at 16:30
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    Similarly to how I'm simply known as "Makoto" on this site (for either famous or infamous reasons), had you not mentioned anything, I'd have always presumed you were simply "Rosie". I'm not going to pry since what you're asking me to refer to you as is "Rosie". I won't begrudge you your privacy since I have my own, too.
    – Makoto
    Sep 9 at 20:53
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    The discussions below reminded me of a feature request which has been declined: Change all @username references in comments when a user changes their name?. This would certainly improve privacy. There were related feature requests to make the @user mentions a link rather than plain text. This would probably make it easier to change the referenced names. Maybe it’s time to revisit this. Sep 9 at 23:13
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I was asked by someone to post an answer here stating clearly what the position of my department and the company is with regard to employees operating pseudo-anonymously.

I want to be very clear: I support the right of any employee who wishes to operate pseudo-anonymously. I have had staff working like this on every team in virtually every community role that I've ever had.

I believe (and this is the position of the company as well) that new staff should be allowed to make an informed choice as to how public they wish to be. Personally, as you may have noticed, I freely use my full name. I have done this since I started community work, and I think that it’s necessary for me to carry the credibility of my work experience when I come into another existing company, particularly in a leadership role. This allows community members to ask me questions about my past, as several did during my announcement. This level of scrutiny is not required for most positions here, however (including Rosie’s).

Rosie has my utmost trust and confidence, and her decision to operate under a pseudonym is exactly that: her decision. But I support it fully, as I would for any other employee who chose to do so. I applaud her courage in making this statement, and trust that community members will respect her wishes, and those of others (on staff and within the broader community itself) who do not wish to disclose their identity.

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There have been cases on this network itself that have had privacy and safety concerns. While I naturally won't go into detail, I can recall at least two situations where local law enforcement had to be contacted out of concern for the safety of the involved individuals (moderators and staff).

Even aside from physical safety, there are other concerns for privacy. When I first joined the network, and for most of my time using it, I was a minor. Other people need to separate their professional lives from their personal, or their online presence from their physical for whatever reason.

A couple months ago I met in person with Yaakov Ellis and Shadow Wizard. Any photos shared of me I am required to blur out certain details. Not just a personal decision - I could get fined or get court martialed if I share certain things.

A central tenet of the internet is its capacity for anonymity, for better or for worse. While on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog (notable exceptions include Journeyman Geek, ChrisF, and Rubio), and that's a good thing.

Let's respect that and allow everyone to control what they're comfortable sharing.

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    Re "shared of me": Don't you mean "shared by me"? Sep 8 at 22:01
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    @P.Mort.-forgotClayShirky_q - No; I mean any picture shared that depicts me, regardless of who shared it. So any pictures shared of me.
    – Mithical
    Sep 8 at 22:11
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    Preferences can change, too. There were two staff members whose real names were published on the SE blog at the time they were hired, but later expressed a preference not to disclose their name. Sep 8 at 22:24
  • Ugh... Two? I know of one and even that was one too many :(
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Sep 9 at 16:34
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    @sonic I think that's less a matter of preference changes and more an indication of changing internal policy. When I was hired I was asked to give a photo of myself to include - which I didn't want to do - since my hiring, we've been more and more thoughtful about allowing new staff to control how they're introduced to the community. I'm not certain but I'm going to guess that those staff would have prefered to have their name excluded from the beginning but weren't given the option.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Sep 9 at 17:19
  • @Catija I still remember that Grace Note is a plushy.
    – Braiam
    Sep 9 at 19:03
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I thought I'd throw in another point of view for this discussion - that of someone who arguably is their persona on the site. While I appreciate and respect Rosie's reasons - I share many of them myself - and I am grateful for Philippe's support in allowing us to participate in the way we choose, I'd argue that - unlike Philippe - my username here has become how I'm known and recognized, rather than my real name.

I started using this network of sites over six years ago and, as I generally do, I used a pseudonym. Using real names on the internet just wasn't something you did - I don't think I've ever used a real name unless it was required or the "default" when creating accounts and even now I tend to shy away from using my real name in various places. The person I choose to share on the web is "Catija".

Over my time here, that's come to the point where, even when I meet people face-to-face, it's more natural to keep using my username - heck, even internally I switched my name to use "Catija" after a couple of coworkers had a lightbulb moment realizing who I was on the site. If I'd instead had to switch to my real name when I was hired, that would have impacted my recognition within the community as it took some time for people to realize that I was the same person.

A brief aside: my husband goes by an abbreviation of his first name and one of the reasons he really likes going by a nickname is that he can often quickly identify whether the person calling or emailing him is someone who actually knows him or is a rando who just happens to have his name on a list.

I feel like this line of thought extends into the usage of pseudonyms. Someone may think using my real name is a way to be more friendly without realizing the truth - here on SE I am "Catija" or "Cat", as some closer friends have chosen to abbreviate it - so using my real name is the same as using my husband's full name - it tells me that you don't actually know me.

I recognize that the various people who use the SE network have different ideas of what is appropriate when addressing others. Some feel that real names should be required or standard, others feel that using real names is pointless since it's hard to confirm that you are who you claim to be or because they prefer to have separation between their SE persona and who they are offline. We run a middle path - we allow people to choose for themselves and I think that's essential.

As such, while I talk about my reasons for using the name I do here, I will also add that I will refer to you by your username unless you've specifically asked for something else. While I don't need to communicate with people one-on-one frequently, when I do, I refer to them by their username until or unless they specify something else, such as in a signature line. Caveat here for people who use different usernames on different sites, I'll likely use the one I'm most familiar with.

I guess I'd end this by saying... to some degree, Catija is my real name. Maybe you could call it my professional name. On any given day, more people call me "Catija" or "Cat" than refer to me by my legal name, so I actually am more used to these names than my full name.

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  • I believe there have been cases when people were referred to by StackExchange employees in emails by the "real name" they entered on sign up rather than their user name. I think people naturally find that jarring as I would assume most would expect to be referred to by the public-facing name they put forward, just like you. Hopefully that won't happen in the future and the company will match your policy, for all the reasons you mention. Sep 9 at 17:57
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    @BryanKrause best practice is certainly to refer to people by their username, unless we know for sure that they don't mind something else, or prefer it. (Having said that, I initially responded to you as "Bryan", so we can all slip sometimes!)
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Sep 9 at 18:03
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    I agree with your point that a pseudonym can be a "real" name for a particular role. My legal name is unnicknameable (shush, I lived in Texas for decades and making up words to fit my sentences is part of my culture). Adopting a pseudonym for different online communities helps me context switch, lets me pick something people can nicknamify and, in the case of my gamer 'handle' helps people I've played with before have a recognize me in different games. I'm jealous of people like your husband with "go by" names they can use to weed out the riff raff. ;)
    – ColleenV
    Sep 9 at 18:04
  • @Philippe I don't mind the Bryan personally (in case it comes up again), and I do that myself on occasion, though generally I do try to use the whole name people post as. There have been some moderately humorous occasions over the past couple years when unknowing people called users "Monica" in the comments due to usernames showing support for the former moderator. I was more referring to a case where the username was more like "GloriousRooster" and someone got an email addressing them as "Richard". Part of this might have been the weird interactions with Teams accounts and the real name field Sep 9 at 18:17
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    On a lighter note, am I the only one who thought that Catija was your real name? haha.. Sep 9 at 18:20
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    @BryanKrause - I understood what you meant. I just found it funny that I was immediately violating what I said :-)
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Sep 9 at 19:05
  • @RandomPerson what do you mean it isn't ? :D
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Sep 10 at 1:04
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To complement this, I'll share why I've chosen to use my real name on my profile.

I am not, nor do I expect to be, famous, but such things can come as a surprise. Take, for instance, the case of Ken Bone, a previously non-famous person who was an audience member at the second U.S. presidential debate in 2016 (emphasis added):

Questioner Ken Bone, a power plant operator from Illinois, had a media presence and became an Internet meme in the days following the debate. His rise to popularity was due to his name, his red sweater, and his use of a disposable camera prior to and after the debate. Bone appeared on ESPN College GameDay and @midnight. He was portrayed by Bobby Moynihan during the cold open of NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live's October 15 episode, dancing to the song "Get Ready for This". Bone received a short-term endorsement deal with American transportation network company Uber to promote the launch of Uber Select in St. Louis. A backlash against Bone happened after controversial posts under his username on Reddit were revealed.

It may be possible to be completely anonymous on the internet [citation needed], but I rather choose to assume that any sufficiently motivated person could connect me to my online persona, or vice versa.

Not having this privacy screen in place means that I spend a moment thinking about anything I'm getting ready to post online, and how it could be perceived by my family, friends, co-workers, and the world at large, should they have a reason to care about things I once shared on obscure corners of the internet.

Sure, it precludes me from asking questions or sharing insight on topics discussed outside of polite company, but I find there are enough other folks talking about such things that I can get most of what I need just from following the conversation.

That said, I totally respect the choice of others to remain anonymous and appreciate the efforts they put into maintaining anonymity, and the tools that allow them to do this. I do think anonymity on the internet is valuable and necessary, even though it's not the choice I've made for myself.

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I ask and trust that everyone would respect staff and community members who choose to use pseudonyms. Their reasons for doing so are personal and we should respect their privacy there as well.

I'm glad you bring it up Rosie. Reason is, there was one case I witnessed where a mod insisted and pressured a user into stating their real name (among other info) in chat. Even after that new and inexperienced user repeatedly stated they'd rather not. Another mod certainly read the transcript and didn't say a word...(Assuming every good intention possible, they just wanted to know.)

Now, at that point the inexperienced user who was pressured certainly finds themselves left between a rock and a hard place. What should have been a safe experience turned into major personal risk. It's not just that both the mods in question had years of experience, it's also that up until recently if the chat messages were deleted there would be virtually no way for the user to rectify the information and have it deleted.

At that point, a reasonable person would have more than enough reasons to have a serious trust problem with how mods on SE are trained about requesting PII. But the problems don't stop there...

At one point I decided to change my email, only to find out after a lot of digging (research the reasonable average user probably wouldn't have the time or energy to do) there's no easy seamless way to wipe your previous emails by your own means. Around that time I started reading back on some of MadScientist's posts and I was appalled..!

I’ve been having a wonderful time learning the ropes, working with incredible colleagues across the company

I'm happy you took the choice you felt most comfortable with. But I'm afraid to say, the average user won't have wonderful people around them showing them the ropes. In fact they'll find a system where, perhaps out of fear, bad actors were never discussed.

As a people manager and a community manager the safety and privacy of community members and staff is important to me and I will fiercely protect it.

Please. By all means.

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    one of the things that our newly established Trust and Safety team will be doing is evaluating how we can sytemically prevent incidents like the ones that you mention, through on -site hinting, solid reporting, and consistent enforcement. It's terrible that those things happened. I believe they were the exception and not the norm, but that doesn't make them any less terrible. We're committed to ensuring that we do everything possible to prevent a recurrance.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Sep 9 at 4:31

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