Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Virtual identity theft

How many of you are going to make a goblin character in World of Warcraft and name him "Gevlon"? I'm pretty sure that if I make an armory search a month after Cataclysm releases, I'll find dozens of goblins named Gevlon. And that'll be just one of many forms of virtual identity theft the blogger Gevlon is suffering from. There is even somebody who calls himself "Gevion", but with a capital "i", because then in many fonts GevIon looks a lot like Gevlon, who leaves comments on Gevlon's and other blogs, trying to fool people. And of course if there is ever a large trend towards impersonating Gevlon, I might even have a claim to have started it.

Stealing somebody's virtual identity is easy. Many blogs and forums have no identity verification at all, thus posting as Dr. Richard Bartle, Raph Koster, Lum the Mad, Tobold, Gevlon, or whoever else is extremely easy. Writing an at least marginally believable parody of somebody is a bit harder, but in most cases a crude parody will suffice, especially if the target is known for specific strong opinions. If you wrote "WoW is shit, play Darkfall instead!" on a dozen WoW blogs, sign it with Syncaine, and add the hyperlink that gives the real Syncaine a share of Darkfall's profits, many people would believe that it was really him who posted that. Or the other way round, you could post a "Darkfall is dreck, play WoW instead!" post on the Aventurine forums, with a link to my blog which would be likely to result in lots of angry trolls trying to post here (that is what comment moderation is for).

Given that this is impossible to prevent, the question is whether it really matters. I find virtual identities a fascinating subject, because I think that people tend to trust them too much. Which then leads to things like the Ferarro debacle. Personally I think that it is sad if your interest in what I write depends on your beliefs of who I am, because I'd love for my opinions and writings to talk for themselves. But I'm well aware that this can't be helped, because our brains apparently aren't wired like that. They can't process an opinion without taking into account who said it. Thus the interest in virtual identity theft, because you can either enforce or ridicule a point of view by ascribing it to somebody else.

My advice to Gevlon: Turn on comment moderation, which will completely shut out fake Gevion from your comment section. It also makes your overzealous deletion of comments that disagree with you or point out your mistakes less obvious. You can't prevent fake Gevion from posting elsewhere, but do you really care? I'd advise my readers to not automatically believe anything supposedly written by me that doesn't appear on my own blog.

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