The news release carried a startling announcement: the Microsoft Corporation had agreed to acquire the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for "an unspecified number of shares of Microsoft common stock."
The release, distributed in the guise of an Associated Press news article to thousands of computers around the world, was a prank, its anonymous mastermind untraceable. But soon after Rush Limbaugh read it on his national television program, the company found itself fielding calls from outraged viewers.
Computer experts see the episode as part of a larger trend. The use of identity-disguising techniques, like electronic messages sent anonymously or under a pseudonym, is on the rise in the on-line realm known as cyberspace. And the practice is not limited to sophomoric hoaxes.
That is the opening of a New York Times story that addresses many of the issues surrounding online anonymity. Threatening behavior, fraud, theft of intellectual property, and general mischief are all in there. There's even an allusion to Bitcoin, sort of.
I should also probably mention that this article was written in 1994, and twenty years later we're still worried, or at least talking, about the Internet's pseudonymous class. "It lets people be mean," someone will say, "and say racist/sexist/intimidating/stupid things because they know they can't be held accountable. They're just hiding behind a fake name." Spend half an hour on Facebook or Twitter and see how many people will boldly and proudly post some of the most contemptible things you've ever heard from a profile that has their name. And their picture. And their place of employment. And their contact information. Maybe the Internet made it easier and quicker to be an asshole, but it didn't turn the previously empathy-filled into hateful monsters. The assholes were still assholes when they were just reading a newspaper.
There's a reason I bring this up. For nearly three years, I've been writing for EDSBS and SB Nation under a childish assumed name, and starting today I am writing full time for both of them but without the nom de meme. Why I was anonymous is very easy to explain: I was a lawyer, and lawyers are unnecessarily afraid of everything going wrong, mostly because they're only useful if things go wrong.
And I considered making the theme of this post Hello, Internet World, This Is Who I Really Am. But if you read this site, you've already known the important parts, because it takes a weird and probably slightly broken brain to help come up with everything Hatin' Ass Spurrier says, and the doctors tell me that brain won't change writing under my real name.
(The thank you part is coming up and you can skip it if you want.)
Anonymity didn't let me write a bunch of weird and bizarre things for three years. Holly Anderson did, when she reached out to me to ask if I'd be interested in writing at Every Day Should Be Saturday from time to time, and when she kept reaching out with good ideas or reinforcement or telling me I was a dumbass, as warranted. Martin Rickman did, when he reminded me over and over by example that you can be strange and sarcastic and funny and still be a nice and decent person. Seriously, Martin is one of the nicest people - not "on the Internet," not "who writes," not with any qualifier - and Mike Gundy should remember that the next time he decides to sass someone in a press conference just because of who they work for.
Most obviously, it was Spencer Hall, not anonymity, who listened to ideas like "Hey, what if I made Jurassic Park but replaced all the characters with coaches and the dinosaurs with players" and said "Great, let's get LSUFreek to make Cam Newton eating Mark Emmert." It wasn't the belief that I'd never be held accountable for anything that let me write - it was Spencer, and Martin, and Holly, and a bunch of other people, but these lists never end up being complete.
(The thank you part is over now. What snack did you get while you were away?)
The author name is changing, but all the rest is the same. I'm Ryan Nanni, a 30 year old Florida grad who grew up in Tampa and lives in New York. It turns out we've actually already met.