I was positively surprised to find out that I was able to edit my username in the forum to be my full name. As I was previously under the impression that this was impossible, I wanted to share this and encourage users to consider switching to their full names.
The suggestion in the how-to-guide is:
In general, we think that real names are good for community bonding, and we encourage you to use yours. But it's not required.
I think this is a good policy. I can imagine cases where using a pseudonym might make it easier to communicate openly without people outside the community being able to connect the post to the author. For most posters, especially the frequent posters, it seems relatively easy to find out who the author is. After meeting several users at EAGs I'm building up a mental database where I keep track of real names (used on Swapcard and emails), forum user names, and sometimes nicknames and Twitter handles. This seems unnecessary.
Connecting names you saw in comments and posts to name tags at conferences makes it easier for people new to the community to start conversations based on what you read. It's also easier when you hear others refer to people by their real name.
In a growing community that aspires to be welcoming, I think it's a good norm to make it easy for people to learn about the engaged participants. In addition to using the real name, I would also like to encourage adding a description to the profile. This can include the current organisation, group, university, cause area or GWWC membership. Similar to Swapcard at the EAG conferences, it helps to understand better where someone is coming from or is currently active.
A counter-argument might be that readers might defer too much to people with impressive affiliations instead of focussing on the content. I would agree with that. However, currently, many pseudonyms seem to be known to engaged members, which leads to different levels of knowledge.
Looking at the posts with the highest karma it's nice to see many using real names already and I hope to see more in future.
I'd add that as a person who has done recruiting for EA orgs, I like to try to hire from talented-seeming EA forum posters and it is a lot easier to try to recruit someone when their full name is accessible from their username or bio.
As someone who works in your org, I'm confused about how this works in practice fwiw. As far as I understand it:
The main thing would be reaching out to invite people to apply to our hiring rounds.
I do concede we could invite anonymous people to apply though.
You're right that we don't do much off-cycle recruiting.
I've done this before fwiw.
did you ever search the forum for negative indicators of whether someone is unfit?
Can't people just link to their EA Forum profile, just like linking to their GitHub profile?
I changed my display name as a result of this post, thanks!
Just throwing another comment here for support, read and changed.
Thanks for the post! We do encourage people to use their real names as their usernames.
Our current policy is that each user can change their own username once - you can do this by going to the Edit Account page and updating your "Display Name".
After that, further changes to your username need to be done by moderators. Please contact us to ask to change your username. :)
Unfortunately we had a bug that took this one chance away for many users. This should be fixed for new accounts going forward, but if you don't see this option in your Edit Account page, then please reach out to us and we will change your username for you.
On the bio point, see also You Should Write a Forum Bio
I changed my username following the advice of Edo Arad. Trust him, he's the founder of Naming What We Can!
I'd be interested to hear if he has something more to say on top of the reasoning here. I was in discussion with a group of EA/rationalists recently, and they were all very opposed to the idea which I tried to support with the arguments here. I think I came out still confident it is the right choice for me, but am unsure if I'm confident enough to be prescriptive about it for others.
It would probably help if you'd list out the reasoning (?)
Meta: Do you think this is a situation that one side is correct and the other side is wrong and you better try together to find the "truth"?
Yeah so a big part of it is the simple and straightforward "I don't want a potential employer to be able to assess what I've said all over the forum".
The second part was more interesting to me, because there was also this argument that a norm of anonymity has some strong benefits, like people feeling able to truly express how they feel on a topic. I think this connects to the sort of "always be polite" heuristic, where it seems like generally speaking the world could use more straightforward, honest responses, and that anonymity is likely to increase this sort of response and is thus good.
I threw out what I felt to be the common replies to this, that you probably shouldn't be making a comment if it's to the point that a potential future employer would downrate your quality based on reading it, that anonymity gives free reign to people being inconsiderate to a trollish level sometimes that is the opposite of productively honest, that connections to real people seem important and that using real names seems like it would foster that. But alas, it was all to no avail, the room was still overwhelmingly pro anonymity in the case of the forum (they conceded that smaller virtual communities could probably drop the anonymity as it becomes somewhat useless as you get to know all the specific people well).
On the meta note, I think this is a situation where I feel like for around maybe 99% of people on the forum there is probably a generally better option they could opt for that would trend towards a healthier community. But I'm also very generally against the idea of lots of things just being up to individual circumstance, so this is a rather unsurprising response given my outside thoughts. What do you think though?
I agree with the tradeoff of [feeling comfortable to post stuff] vs [being closer to others with their name].
For myself, I try to push myself slowly towards being "open", but I don't want to override my own comfort zone to strongly (also because I know I have 1000 things to fix and I can't work on them all at once).
I also wouldn't want to push others, for similar reasons.
I do endorse what Edo did for me - a small nudge which was no pressure but was enough to get me to think about the question.
I think you mean "your first name" or something like that, rather than necessarily "your full name"?
My suggested default would be to write your full real name in your bio, fill in other info about you in your bio, and make your Forum name sufficiently related to your real name that people who at one point learned the connection will easily remember it. (As I've done.)
If one does that, then also making one's Forum name their full real name seems to add little value and presumably adds some risk to their 'real life' reputation if they want to later pursue a policy/political career or something, since a lot of discussion on the Forum would look pretty weird to a lot of people. (Though I'm not sure how large that risk really is, or how much of it occurs anyway just via the sort of approach I've taken where my name is in my bio.)
My policy on this, to the extent I have one, is a sort of soft lockdown: I don't mind sharing enough personal info on here that an EA who knows me in real life could figure out my identity, but I need to always have at least plausible deniability in the face of any malicious actor.
As far as the risks in policy careers, I think the risk is very high for appointed jobs and real but lower for elected ones. Politicians are more risk averse than voters, and when they can pick from a pool of 100, they'll look for any reason to turn you down. When the voters have to pick one of two or a small handful of candidates, they gotta make a decision, by election day, and maybe they don't care so much about a few mildly controversial statements.
If EA-aligned employers are using ppl saying smart stuff on here as a basis for hiring, but only if they have a real name account, I suggest they simply stop arbitrarily eliminating a major portion of their potential talent pool. Pretty easy to reach out to someone and ask for their identity if u are interested in hiring them.
Nah, I wanna be able to speak freely without it affecting my job.
Hugely seconded. When I was signing up for an account, I considered going anonymous (what if I want to discuss controversial things!), but I figured the upside career & social potential of using my real name outweighed the downside risk that cancel culture might someday come for Effective Altruism. Since then, my decision has been totally vindicated -- numerous people have reached out to me for conversations about EA stuff, or even ask if I'd like to apply for a job at their EA org. I feel like this would have happened less if I wasn't using my real name, since people wouldn't be able to take the intermediate getting-to-know-me step of googling for my linkedin, visiting https://jacksonw.xyz/, or etc. That intermediate step of internet research probably makes people more comfortable reaching out and making a connection.
I’ve reversed an earlier decision and have settled on using my real name. Wish me luck!
I'm sure you've all seen the EA hub post that was put up about a month ago. But it's worth re-stating that it's hard to find someone specific in EA sometimes.
I sometimes use the forum when I'm trying to get in contact with people, primarily by searching their name!
I'd add that having people use their real names adds to the forum looking like a platform for professional discussion, and adds transparency - both of which are important because of the impact and reach we wish to eventually achieve as a movement.
While pseudonyms have some use cases - the main one I can think of, is when one may fear retaliation for reporting bad behaviour of another EA or organisation - they should indeed be otherwise extremely discouraged.
Edit: ok, this paragraph was in hindsight somewhat exaggerated, and I can think of a few use cases that may be more common. But I still think anyone using a pseudonym should at least have a good reason in mind.
"Extremely discouraged" seems a bit dramatic. Some of us would rather not have our heavy EA involvement be the first thing that shows up when people Google us.
I don't personally think that's a good reason to not use one's name, but I'll concede my phrasing was indeed a bit too dramatic. It's probably because my experience on the forum is that it's really frustrating not being able to connect other commenters to a human identity.
FYI you can contact the EA Forum team to get your profile hidden from search engines (see here).
I also thought this was impossible, so ended up creating a new account with my name as my username. In fact even now I can't see how to do it, I don't see an option in either my profile or account settings?
Thanks for asking! It sounds like you were affected by our bug, so please contact us and we will update your username for you.