In the same way that the novel provides the novelist with a method for telling a story that contains valuable universal truths without revealing certain facts, so a pen name both empowers and gives the novelist cover. The writer’s unspoken contract with the reader is: “I will tell you a good story, if you will allow me and my characters some anonymity. Otherwise, I will not tell you the story.”

People who push the artist to deal with the “real you” have a contempt for the imagination and are jealous of the artist, and want the Plain Jane version, the least interesting and least expansive version of the self to manipulate and think ill of. The artist, of course, deals with the real world in his or her own way, often unsuccessfully.

Facebook has millions (!) of artists on it, so I would think Facebook will need to show discretion in how they handle names. As for disciplining comments on forums, that’s up to the webmaster/owner with full deletion powers. Government investigators can find you through your email address, IP, etc. Blogging has spawned millions more artists and would-be artists who use pen names or variations on their given names, as one finds on any thread in “The Atlantic.” I agree with those who say that the Web invites and generally tolerates degrees of anonymity.

There is another consideration, that Facebook and Google are part of a trend to shrink the online and real world self down into a smaller more compact, more readily identifiable “space,” with almost no room to maneuver or breathe free. An economy measure in a crowded world, one might imagine. You are you, baby. And that’s all she wrote. Is this where we are heading, with, as always, the pigs on Animal Farm in charge?

Comment posted by Hudson Owen in response to Why Facebook and Google’s Concept of ‘Real Names’ Is Revolutionary by Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic, Aug 5 2011.

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