Afternoon InquisitionReligion

AI: Facebook Foxholes and Tom-Foolery

While there are some things that I like about Facebook there are a few things that drive me f-ing crazy.

I won’t get into all the things that drive me crazy about Facebook because this is only an AI and we don’t have five hours to kill but I will discuss one aspect that has got me seriously thinking and is relevant to this community.

I recently had an audience member at a skeptical event tell me that she was afraid to share her atheist themed artwork because she was frightened of the response that she would get from friends and family who were of a religious mindset. My advice to her was to go on Facebook or other online networks and find some of the atheist communities where she would be welcome. She could share her art there anonymously if she wanted and then maybe later, when she was more confident, she could share her art with a wider audience.

There is a huge community of atheists and non believers who communicate on Facebook and twitter under fake names because they are afraid to come out. I understand how there is a need for this but it’s starting to bother me and it has me questioning my own advice.

Then my friend sent me this to ask me what I thought:

Yeah, it really does sort of upset me. And then I started seriously questioning my own views. How can I be ok with the god-less community hiding behind fake names for personal gain in terms of popularity and acceptance and not be ok with a ministry doing the same kind of thing? I know atheists that use things like “Tha Lord” and “God Almighty” to poke fun at religion and at least half the people on the internet are hiding behind pseudonyms.

Is it ok for this guy to use the name Jesus Christ on Facebook to advertise his church? Is it ok for atheists and other people to use fake names on twitter either to poke fun at religion, to gain friends or hide their identity? Why?

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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25 Comments

  1. I have a related issue. I started the Christopher Hitchens fan page on Facebook (now at 114,000 fans) when Facebook was still pretty young. I’ve ignored it for years and now I want to pass it off to someone who can do more to make it more of a community instead of just a “WE LOVE YOU CHRISTOPHER!!!!” message swamp.

    I’m terrified that I might inadvertently pass it off to someone who has little respect–or even outright hatred–for Mr. Hitchens, and he and his publicist have had no interest in taking it over.

    Facebook pages are a trap.

    1. As a “like” member of this group…I honestly wouldn’t worry about it too much. I find it’s a great way to “out” oneself as an Atheist in a more subtle way that is difficult for religious friends to take issue with. It serves an important function that way.

  2. The difference, I think, comes in what name is being used. I made a switch a couple years ago to using my own name in most on-line communities… I’m slightly insulated by having a fairly common name, but it wouldn’t be hard to figure out who I am if you did a bit of research… I make no secret of where I live, work, or my name.

    Now, for many years (and on one community, still do), I primarily used a pseudonym… some variation on the name “Nexx”, for fairly geeky reasons (tracing back to Shadowrun and “things that seem cool at 13”). It was enough that a number of friends still know me as “Nexx”; my ex-wife is as likely to call me that as my own name. It could be argued that I established an identity as Nexx… one that people would recognize, even if they didn’t connect Nexx to Mark Hall. It was anonymous, but it was my own identity.

    Now, we’ve got the case of Jesus Christ. This guy has gotten the name Jesus Christ for FB, but JC arguably has an identity of his own (malleable though it is). In taking the JC name, he is assuming that identity. Because it is a pre-existing identity, I think it falls into a different category from being anonymous or creating your own identity. While not directly analogous, it would be as if I started signing up for various message boards as “Christopher Hitchens”, “Richard Dawkins” or “Elyse ‘Mofo” Anders”. Even if I never claim to be speaking for them, using their established identity to bolster my own is far, far different from posting as “Guest1652” or “AnoninHtown”.

      1. No, he got that nice spaghetti billboard with a view. How dare you imply that Jesus has to live in his mom’s basement (or lower piece of bread, or what have you) and spends all his time trolling facebook.

  3. I’m offended that this guy claims to have special access to the absolute truth, but wait, don’t ordinary believers do that?

    The only difference with Jesus of Facebook is he is also committing christian blasphemy, which shouldnt concern non-christians.

  4. What people chose to share about themselves and their personal beliefs is really only for them to judge. I see no problem with people having a pseudonom for some of their activities, especially if they may cause problems in their personal or professional lives.

    I use a pseudonom, however, all my family and friends know it and several work colleagues, it has simply becaome part of my identity. I also chose not to hide who I am beneath it and if asked am happy to prove who I am and my credentials. however, i am aware of people who cannot do this for valid reasons and I see no reason why they should have that choice.

    With regard to others using people’s real names.. I happen to like the Twitter feature of verified accounts.

    I very much doubt anyone really thinks jesus christ is posting on FB. Does it matter what name it is done under?

  5. In terms of using pseudonyms to “poke fun” I have no problem as long as it is obvious to the reasonable person, that it is in fact parody. I also don’t have a problem with it in terms of him pushing his own church. Again I fall to the reasonable person standard – I don’t think (m)any of his followers really think that this page is run by the iconic/historical Jesus. A quick Facebook search also shows there are more than one Jesus Christ fan page, so I don’t see it as monopolistic use. Now I don’t think someone should be able to pretend to be, or represent, a real living person (outside of clear parody), but of course that would be more than just a name. I have heard that there is another Corey Feldman out there. As long as he is not pretending to be a Jewish/Skeptic/HR Pro, from DC, I have no (well little) problem with him using my name. In regards to using pseudonyms to protect their identity/privacy I am OK with it to a point. Some people use it as a shield to act like asses/trolls, but I understand some people want to express themselves without fear of reprisal. That could be in terms of religion (or lack therefore of), sexuality, politics)and a million other things they might want (an in a perfect world would not have to) protect. Like many things the practice can be used for good or abused.

  6. Musicians will perform on a friend’s album under a pseudonym for various reasons. Writers use pseudonyms to step outside of their genre. Some artists perform in face obscuring costume. In all of these examples an alter-persona is being created. These are all acceptable. What JC is doing would be no different than calling myself Arther Dent while promoting my books on living the perfect life via the teachings of The Guide. 

  7. The problem as far as I can see it isn’t so much that Mark Brown is using a pseudonym. It is more that he’s appropriated a more famous person’s name, built up a large base around that name, and is using that to promote his own wares.

    If the large base were gathered knowingly that this was a promotional page for the church, there’s no problems.

    If on the other hand they were gathered thinking it was a generic promotion of Jesus, then it’s a bait and switch which is a problem.

  8. I have been thinking about this general topic since Bug Girl’s related post the other day.

    A pseudonym is a reasonable safety precaution in any online application because of the sheer number of readers.

    The key statistic would be the percentage of actual psychopaths in the population that would wish to do you harm for little or no reason or just for the lulz.

    A small percentage (?1/10,000 x audience (?e.g. Skepchick -maybe a few thousand including who knows how many lurkers). Large audience figure multiplied by small incidence figure equals non zero risk.

    It would not be hard for somebody who had nothing better to do to put together a dossier of information to do you harm. I am thinking of financial or medical information that one may let drop innocently over the years. Say for instance the fact that you have low platelets (bleeding tendency) or that you own shares in a certain company.

    I am not suggesting to be paranoid but I think one needs to be streetwise.

    1. So you honestly think 1 in every 10,000 people wants to murder everyone else just for the lolz? And so I should change my name to Satanhateskittens99 or something? Even if those statistics were accurate I don’t think it warrants that we should all hide. If we are who we are online then the freaks who wish to cause harm or troll etc. stand out more by comparison.

  9. I have a pragmatic view on this. Facebook is a developing technology and some aspects surprise people, but grabbing the Jesus Christ page and then using it to advertise yourself is not that much different from grabbing “jesuschrist.com”, just easier to exploit.

    If showing people you “like” Jesus Christ is important to you, either find a different Jesus Christy-page, or block the advertising.

    I don’t see using a pseudonym for anything at all a problem, except avoiding legal reprecussions in a non-police state. It can make you forget common courtesy in a way that makes you appear an obnioxious git, but that’s not unethical.

  10. I don’t understand the atheist movement.

    I don’t believe in much of anything faith based. I guess that makes me an atheist, but I don’t associate with any group of atheists. I don’t wear any stickers or badges. I don’t feel any need or desire to group with other atheists. I don’t feel any need to bash or ridicule people for their faith unless they try to push it on me or my family. The world if full of us, we are everywhere. I don’t feel the least bit inferior or feel the need to hide.

    So back to my opening point. I don’t understand groups, conventions, blogs, etc. evangelizing atheism as if it is another form of religion.

    I am not trying to be a troll here. I am interested in candid feedback as to what I am missing. Are people trying to make it another form of religion, or is it more like a group of car enthusiasts getting together to talk about their favorite MOPAR?

    1. Yes, I would say you don’t understand.
      .
      The atheist “movement” is simply a reaction to the irrationality we see around us.
      Not everyone is a joiner, and that’s fine, but that does not mean we are trying to make atheism into a religion.
      It would be like trying to style baldness into a new hairdo; it’s pointless and would hurt your head.

    2. Organized Atheism isn’t necessarily for everyone, but there are some very valid reasons for it to exist.

      Whether you choose to be bothered by it or not, religion is pushed at you and your family every day in this country. The religious right have been waging an organized campaign to influence, if not outright take over, the government of the United States for many years now. You don’t have to join organized atheism if it’s not your cup of tea, but organized atheism is what’s going to preserve and protect the separation of church and state that allows you to choose choose what kind of tea you want.

      Read Greta Christina’s excellent article on why atheists are angry (http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/10/atheists-and-an.html). It will give you a good overview of why many atheists feel it’s important to gather in groups and try to fight back against the constant incursion of religion into our every day lives.

  11. Thank you. I think I understand. Activism seems to be the best description.

    My personal views are more geared toward government. That is I want to see all government decisions, at all levels, be based on science. Not faith, guesses, magic, hysteria, or stubborn denial. I am not sure that is an atheist cause, but if it is I can join you on that front.

    I would love to see the world abandon its superstitions. So many people are harmed daily by misguided beliefs. However, I don’t see that ever happening. I try to respect people’s beliefs if those beliefs aren’t harming people. The vast majority of people are doing no harm.

    As for the word “atheist”, and perhaps more to the point of this thread, I don’t like to call myself that. Not because it isn’t true, but because of the connotations. I relate more to being a rationalist.

    1. The Separation of Church and State is not solely an atheist cause. Religionists are protected by it as much as secularists. The problem is that it has been under sustained and heavy attack for more than 20 years.

      Where you see no harm, I see a huge numbers of people who’s muddy thinking leads them to vote and act in ways that damage that wall. Obviously, we will always have superstition, but it bothers me that there aren’t more people in this day and age with curiosity about the natural world and how it works.

      Any connotations attached to the word atheist are from theists or others who have an issue with non-belief. It is simply a word that means you don’t believe in gods. When I call myself an atheist, if someone has a problem, it’s wholly theirs.

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