In a world were nation states use social media platforms to seek information of individuals to their advantage and cancel culture is used to discriminate and de-platform people, a pseudonymous economy becomes a crucial part of the network state to protect one individual's identity. In this essay we talk about why that is, how pseudonymous identities can help escape identity harm and how to create one.
Why it matters
And why you should care.
I've mentioned In my previous essay on starting a network state that a pseudonymous economy is an important building block of the network state because it provides protection to individual members and businesses. Before we explore what pseudonymity means and how to create a such an identity, let us first talk about what we need to be protected from in the first place.
The internet is a place where a lot of individuals, political groups and organizations express their views and opinions. People endorse other people's posts, pictures and videos. They fight when they don't agree with each other in the comments sections. Or, sometimes they even stay neutral which also often leads to a blow back. "If you don't pick a side, you're part of the problem." People essentially engage in ideological warfare online and it has never been easier to do so.
While expressing one's opinion is important, there's always a "risk" involved with that. If your opinion doesn't align with someone else's, or it seems controversial to what the majority thinks is true, you might get called out. People will point at you, saying that "You are bad", which then leads to more people doing that. This can have a severe impact on someone's reputation and even destroy lives. Taking a look at platforms like Twitter or Facebook, such "mobs" happen all the time.
Another issue is that someone's real name and identity can be connected to things that the person in question has said in the past, but maybe no longer supports. Then, years later, somebody will find those bits and pieces, puts them together and uses them against that person. An episode of that happened very recently, where Joe Rogan ultimately apologized for things he's said in his podcast 10 years ago.
Major hacks performed on big social media platforms are also something to look out for. They typically cause leakage of personal data including pictures and private messages. This has happened many times in the past and will happen many more times in the future. All of that data will be available, searchable and browsable to everyone on the internet. You probably don't want to have your name or identity attached to these things.
Notice that in all of the scenarios described above, you don't have to be someone that wants to hurt anyone or spread negative propaganda, and still become a victim of attacks that can eventually cost your or your business's reputation.
A pseudonymous identity can help escape those attack vectors, while at the same time enabling a way to build reputation.
And how it solves things.
First and foremost it's important to understand that there's real names, pseudonyms and anonyms. Pseudonymity is not anonymity.
Anonyms are used on platforms like 4chan where people are typically anonymous. Anonymous accounts want to exist only temporary. Then there's platforms like Reddit and Twitter where people like to use pseudonyms, which can be anonymous but don't have to be. Lastly, there's real names, or "state names", which people can find on their IDs and passports.
The interesting thing about pseudonymous identities is that they are persistent and people can build reputation around them, while at the same time not revealing their real identities. Hence, they provide protection against the various attacks mentioned above. In a pseudonymous economy, like how it will exist in a network state, a single person will have different identities for different purposes.
Next to real names used for official documents, there will be "speaking names" under which people will express their opinions on platforms like Twitter. Then they will be "earning names" that people will use on platforms like GitHub to work on bug bounties and other tasks to earn money (in crypto). People will eventually separate out their identities even further and have pseudonyms for particular fields they work in (e.g. one for web development, one for smart contract development, one for health journalism, one for political journalism etc).
Another bonus that people with pseudonymous identities get for free is that they enable "eternal" life, at least in the digital world. While the person in charge of a pseudonymous identity will pass away, another person can take over without the rest of the world noticing.
There are a few downsides to be aware of when creating a pseudonymous identity:
- Reputation has to be built from scratch. That is, unless we figure out a way to transfer reputation over to pseudonymous accounts (as proposed by Balaji in this talk) via auto-follow mechanisms.
- Managing overhead. Depending on how many speaking and earning names one aims for, there's a fair amount of additional overhead in managing these accounts for different platforms. This includes things like email, GitHub and Twitter accounts, as well as website logins and crypto wallets associated to individual identities.
- Proof-of-human. Various online platforms have systems in place to detect spam accounts and bots. Pseudonymous accounts can sometimes be falsely detected as such and blocked as a result of that. To get unblocked requires proof that you're human and which can be a cumbersome process. This is something I've experienced with aeon as well.
In the world of crypto and web3, pseudonymous accounts are quite common. Here are a few examples:
Creating your own identity
With a solid understanding of what a pseudonymous identity is, here's how you can create your own (and how I've created aeon):
- Come up with a name. This seems silly but given that you aim to accrue reputation around your future pseudonymous identity, you might want to put some thought into what it should be called. Don't limit yourself to typical names and nouns. Play around with verbs and adjectives, or try to come up with connection to some deeper meaning.
aeon for example is another word for "eternity", and eternal life is the ultimate goal of the 1729 network state.
- Check your name's availability. Once you've come up with a name, make sure it's available on platforms like Twitter or ENS so it's easier for people to find your identity online. If your identity's name is already taken, try variations that fit your field of interest. In the crypto space, many people prefix their usernames with
_or combine those two.
aeon's twitter username is 0x_aeon for that reason.
- Create an email account. If you've settled on a name it's time to make it real and create an email account so you can secure your desired Twitter handle and ENS. Protonmail is a good place for that because it doesn't ask you for personal information to create an account and you can even pay with crypto if you want to.
- Create Twitter account and buy ENS. With your email address at hand, you can create your Twitter account. If you use a VPN, which I recommend, chances are that Twitter detects your account as bot and might lock or limit it shortly after. A few emails to their support should solve this. You can also buy your ENS now. This was possible before, but you probably don't want to spend money on an ENS without knowing that you own the right Twitter handle.
- Add visuals. Think of what your pseudonymous should look like and configure a profile picture. People in the crypto space seem to tend towards anime characters, but you don't need to limit yourself to that. Be whatever you like. Ideally own your profile picture as NFT for proper ownership.
Here's what aeon looks like:
- Setup website and GitHub handles. Depending on how you want to use your pseudonymous identity, you might want to buy a domain and set up a website, or create a GitHub account to make contributions to open source projects. Make sure to use GitHub's no-reply email address when creating and signing commits to avoid revealing your actual email address or identity.
That's it. You can now start speaking and earning under your new pseudonymous identity and enjoy the protection that comes with it. I hope this essay helped you understanding the importance of pseudonymous identities and the pseudonymous economy.
If you create a pseudonymous identity after reading this post, share with aeon on twitter.
Links and resources:
- SFBW19 - The Pseudonymous Economy - Balaji Srinivasan
- Balaji Srinivasan: Pseudonymous Economy | Blockstack Summit 2019
- Balaji's vision of the future: Pseudonymous Economy by Brian Bloomer