This started with a conversation with my youngest sister, who is on the internet more than I am these days and involved in more things like Tumblr and such. She started to talk about sockpuppets, which cracked me up, because I thought it had something to do with one of the conventions she’s always talking about where she does cosplay, and for some reason reminded me of the episode of Red Dwarf where Rimmer had space fever or something and dressed up in the little red gingham number and had a handpuppet who was in charge because he was delirious.
I’m not exactly ancient, but I remember when AOL was a brand new company and all you had was dial-up, and watching it connect on my old black and white Mac Classic screen and getting incredibly excited. Does anyone remember when the internet looked like lists of subjects? No cool pictures all over the place, when Mosaic was a browser? I spent hours online looking up ways to hone my Magic decks. I didn’t have a lot of versatility: either white and blue or white and green. It has changed so much. No support for Macs for Internet Explorer anymore, no more updated Netscape, no more updated Eudora.
There are a lot of advantages with the way the internet is today. There are also some odd things it seems to make people think are OK to do. Take the abovementioned sockpuppets, defined by wikipedia as an online identity used for the purposes of deception. I’ve always used one account, which makes it pretty easy to track me down, and holds me accountable for my actions when I’m online. I have thought if I ever wrote in a genre where I’d want to keep my identities separate, I’d have a different account for each. Just to keep those identities separate. I went onto some author blogs today, because they seemed the most concerned with multiple accounts. One author said that unless for the reason I mentioned above, or to have an author account and a personal account, there was no need to have any more than that. I couldn’t find anything from the perspective of the readers, but from the authors’ viewpoints, one of the reasons they’ve noticed for readers having multiple accounts is to leave multiple reviews for friends’ books to bolster their ratings, or, conversely, write negative reviews for another authors’ books to bring down their ratings. The authors whose blogs I looked at were skeptical of reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads for this reason, especially people who had only written a few reviews, or gave lots of one star reviews with no reason why.
I’m a not very successful author (yet), and I can see where this would really be a problem. The ratings do influence people–I know I pay attention to them, but if something looks interesting enough to me, I’ll check it out anyway. The weird ones are the ones where there are a bunch of fives and a bunch of ones. A love it or hate it book. A reason that came up on one of the blogs and in the wikipedia article was that one of the reasons for having sockpuppets was so you could go to groups or discussion areas where you really shouldn’t be, pretending to be someone you weren’t, for whatever reason you wanted to go there for.
But one of the main reasons I’ve never had more accounts was that it just didn’t seem very ethical to me. I don’t know how Goodreads or Amazon would or could keep track of something like that. It’s easy to come up with another email address and sign up for a new account. I’d always held that belief and figured most people did the same until a recent experience taught me otherwise in one of the groups I’m in online. There was an activity that was a somewhat complicated thing involving several parts. Let’s just say it was divided into parts, and different people were supposed to be involved in each part. I discovered that my “different” person had used two screen names other than the one I knew to participate in the activity. The first one would have been alright, I suppose, if the second part hadn’t involved something she shouldn’t have been involved in, but was under the other screen name. So three screen names. I could understand two, possibly, but adding a third to manipulate the situation, I think, was unethical. I was upset about it, but the answer was, why shouldn’t she have three? The woman I asked had about ten. Ten. Who needs that many? Ten??? (I rarely use multiple punctuation).
This is a group I was starting to become more comfortable in, I was actually posting instead of lurking. But now I’m going to try to keep my mouth shut and go back to lurking. It’s a little like Big Brother. You never know who is really there and who isn’t. Shouldn’t we know who we’re really talking to? Sure, there are people “in the know” who know all of the identities, but then that starts to get clique-y, and I hate stuff like that. Sort of an elitist air among the people running the group. Yes, there needs to be control of the group, but there also needs to be control of how many identities a person can have. I wouldn’t talk to someone in real life, start becoming good friends with them, and then one day someone else shows up and says, “Oh, hi, I’m Monique today,” and then you’re never sure which Monique is coming over.
That may seem melodramatic and maybe even a little childish, but it’s easy for people to hide behind their computers. That’s already a degree of trust that you’ve given up just in that–you’ve ceded that you don’t know what the other person doesn’t look like, sound like, and that you can’t read their non-verbal language (from last post). You’ve given all that up and all you can trust are the words they put on the screen. That requires a great deal of trust. Which, amazingly, we do. We want to find other people like us, who want to talk about the things we like, so we’re willing to take that risk just so we can talk to strangers because we have something in common that we like. Which is often how people really do meet. We trust them (I trust people more quickly than I should) and hope things work out to be friends. How do any of you know that I’m really who I say I am?
The sad thing is that people seemed surprised I questioned how many screen identities you could have, as if it had never occurred to them that there might be something wrong with it, that some people might think it was a little…sneaky. A little underhanded. That it made the person that I had thought they were more untrustworthy, and it made me wonder why they had never thought it might be thought of as strange, not in a good way. Now I am not entirely sure what to do, leave because I don’t feel comfortable there anymore or stay because the discussions are interesting and just keep quiet?
I don’t know why little things like this bother me so much. I think it’s because I worry if people stop questioning the morality of small questionable actions, the size of the questionable actions they don’t question will increase by tiny increments until it’s large, important issues that effect truly important things.