I've been part of several online discussions where women have been taken to task for not revealing their names (other than an internet "handle" or nickname), for not revealing their full names, or for not revealing other personal information such as where they lived, what church they attended, the name of their pastor, etc. Usually it's been men who have gotten their knickers all in a twist over a woman not wanting to give out all her personal information, and I've usually cut the men some slack because...well, they just have no idea. (It reminds me of the time that my husband was shocked...I mean SHOCKED!...to discover that there was no honor code among criminal sorts and that mothers with babies were not safe from harm.)
Usually when I've explained internet safety in these discussions, the men have --- sometimes very reluctantly --- come to see that there is great wisdom in women not revealing their names and personal information online.
Back when I was brand, spanking new online, I was advised by some of my friends who were internet savvy that the safest approach was to adopt a gender-neutral "handle" and avoid disclosing anything of a personal nature. So that's what I did. However, that led to some humorous email exchanges when men in online theological discussions would assume I was also a man and would email me with a hearty "Amen, brother!"
All that came to a screeching halt when I set up my first website in order to provide an online means of distributing a paper that I'd written. Suddenly my name and some personal info was out there for all the world to see.
There has been a real downside to that, and it's one that I would warn women strongly against. Literally within hours of my full name appearing on the internet, I received a horrible, threatening, violently obscene email. Sent anonymously, of course --- but using my full name.
I have received threats since then. I've learned to be wary of "innocent" questions, such as, "What sort of car do you drive with all of your children?" I've had people figure out who my pastor was at the time, and harass him. I've had people email me that they know where we live and that maybe it's not a good idea, if I love my children, to let them play in the front yard. I've received emails telling me that I need to be "stopped permanently", and maybe the email author will take that task upon himself. I've been told that I'm "easy to follow".
So I tried to become anonymous again. My attempts have never worked. Apparently my writing style is so distinctive (odd grammar, constant typos, bizarre punctuation, and use of sayings such as "more than the socially acceptable number of children") that people instantly recognize me and "out" me.
My children are older now. As a family, we have become more public, at least in some arenas. Two of my adult children have their own online presences. I'm less careful than I used to be, back in the day when I removed all photos from my website after the first threat against our family.
It's been a long time since I've received any real threats (other than the usual chest-thumping "Give me your husband's email address" type nonsense that is laughable on so many levels) Maybe it's because we're trained martial artists. Maybe it's because I've posted a picture here and there of one of my sons who looks quite imposing and would prove a formidable opponent to any threatener, especially the out of shape blow-hard types.
If I had to do it all over again, I would stay anonymous. I've been extremely blessed --- I can't even be positive that any of those who threatened me actually turned up in person. There were a few times when different guys parked across the street and watched our house. I ran them off. Usually all it took was going out with a clipboard and making a big show of writing down their license plate numbers. (NOTE: Eldest Son was watching from inside, phone in hand, with 911 already punched in.)
However, I know people who have been stalked. I've read the horror stories of online predators. Not every victim survives.
I urge women to stay anonymous online, if at all possible. While I cut some slack to naive men for not understanding basic safety issues, I have far less patience for women who make a big deal out of demanding to know personal information about others. Just because a woman may delight in giving out her full name, posting her family pictures, and being all chatty about every detail of her life does not mean she has the right to demand that of everyone. Just because a woman may be willing to take that sort of risk does not mean she should encourage other women to cast safety aside.
Another warning: I could easily create an online persona, complete with fake name and fake gender, and claim to be anybody I wanted. I could even find some pictures of someone else and post them as my own. People do this ALL THE TIME. Grown men pose as young teenage girls in order to prey on trusting young girls. The person who posts in your favorite online discussions may go by the name of "Tusnelda Jones" all over the internet and may have a blog with pictures purported to be her smiling face --- but that doesn't mean she is who she claims to be. Unless you've met her in person, you should be very careful about answering any of "her" questions --- especially if she's hounding you to post your real name online. And...be very cautious about meeting her in person, no matter how many emails you've exchanged and how well you think you know her.
Be careful out there. Be very careful.
And those of you who have the wisdom to be anonymous online --- don't let anyone pressure you otherwise. Stand firm. Anyone who doesn't respect your privacy and your safety has, in my opinion, no right to know anything about you...and their motives are highly suspect.