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Where is the Satisfaction in Being Anonymous?

09/12/2013 15:28 | Updated 08 February 2014

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I don't know about you, but in my superhero fantasies, I can't wait to cut to the part where I whip off my mask and the girl swoons 'it's you, my hero'. All the people I want to impress in life are here too, clapping and cheering, my enemies in the corner, feeling suitably shit.

But then I am a massive attention seeker. I think that's true of anyone brazen enough to publicly refer to themselves as 'a writer'. Like the neediest of actors, we hunger for the standing ovation and the bouquet, forever dreading the boos, rotten tomatoes and the bad review that missed the point and got me all wrong but there it is for everyone to read.

As someone dedicated to the pursuit of 'look at me', it's perhaps not surprising that I find the alias culture of social networking so utterly bizarre. It could be that my inability to comprehend the point of presenting oneself as an avatar rather than a real person comes from joining social media relatively late. I bypassed the world of MySpace and random forums where people went by names like SexyBoi123, and landed straight onto Facebook where I presented myself as me, thank you very much (only better, of course, thanks to careful updating and image placement).

To me, the infamous Anonymous, the poet and the wise person forever quoted everywhere, was a figure to feel sorry for. How gutting to have your words passed down the generation, without anyone ever knowing to credit it to you. Yet could it be Anonymous actually preferred it that way? Certainly, there are thousands upon thousands of people on social media channels who seem determined to go unrecognised... there's one account on my timeline by someone calling himself (or herself) God, with well over a million followers. That's a lot of effort put in and a bloody good show of appreciation, but is it possible to enjoy a round of applause when no one knows who exactly is being cheered for?

I've recently jumped on the anon bandwagon myself. I wanted to promote my blog the Daily Racist, and was advised to shield my real identity by my new anti-fascist friends (many of whom incidentally also go by aliases, seeing as EDL types are notorious for issuing online fatwas, along with publishing personal details and family photos of anyone intent on mocking them), so I went under the modest guise of Daily Racist1.

I don't get it. I don't understand who I'm supposed to be or who all these people around me are. I have four followers calling themselves Anonymous (with requisite mask), about seven that are variations on Old Holborn (with requisite mask), and plenty who introduce themselves as: 'We are Legion' (always masked). I have no idea what they stand for. One of them is definitely racist, another one shockingly misogynistic, but I can't work out which one. They're clearly not part of the same gang. But then what exactly are they promoting? Certainly not themselves.

In every corner of the Internet, there is an entire legion of writers who need to share their thoughts, yet choose to remain Anonymous. And they're not making throwaway comments either. People get fiercely attached to their online personas. I once knew a guy who went by the name DonkeyDigger who left a long passive aggressive farewell message on a forum wall explaining in tedious detail just how he'd been wronged and misunderstood by other members. How can you take things personally? Dude. You call yourself DonkeyDigger.

I can see why trolls like the whole unreal identity thing. I'm guessing there weren't many of those making rape threats to Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy who went by their real name, and I'm sure there are many benefits to having a fake account, but what about when you're not out to spy, slander or shit-stir?

Why is it that when you go on a popular portal for lively discussion, like, well Huffington Post right here, you're more likely to come by nicknames and avatars than real names and pictures? It's something I find all the more intriguing given that authentication is going biometric by the day and, according to a recent Pew study, the majority of us don't believe online anonymity is possible anyway.

But then, considering 83 million profiles on Facebook are known to be false, and there's even a fake Twitter profile generator, clearly there's some great reward to be had from hiding behind a fictitious persona, to revel in the satisfaction of another battle well fought in the arena of the keyboard warrior. And it can't be a coincidence that one of the most popular figures on Twitter is Lady Ga Ga - nameless, faceless (you wouldn't recognise her if she walked past you in the street without any makeup on) - a living, breathing, all-conquering avatar.

If you're someone who goes by an alias, I'd genuinely love to know why and what you get out of it. Is it that you feel braver behind a mask? More able to say something shocking or outrageous? Does privacy give you the freedom to express opinions you can't voice as the real you? Or is it simply that you aren't as obsessed with validation as I am?