Discuss a television show the day after it airs–perhaps the peak window for fan chatter–and there’s a good chance someone will scold you for spoiling them. Mention plot points on Twitter–a site whose entire modus operandi is immediacy–while the show is being broadcast, and you’re even more likely to make someone angry. The confusion and disagreement about spoilers tend to collide in particularly unpleasant ways on social media, where information flows instantly from feed to feed in ways that are both instant and easily amplified.
Insisting that people use their real names online to prevent trolling and ensure civility ignores the fact that using real names online is quite different than using them in person. In the physical world, space and time separate facets of our lives, providing everyday privacy. Even though you use your real name in conversations you have in person with your podiatrist or pastor, those conversations and opinions are not accessible to your co-workers and neighbors. Online, however, the product review you generously provided for an underarm deodorant or for books about coping with binge eating or bed-wetting, will, if written under your real name, be part of your online portrait, what your neighbors, kids and random strangers see about you. Online, words persist forever, in vast searchable databases. Anything you say or do using your real name is permanently attached to it.