I’m totally going to date myself here with my answer.
I started in games in 2006. It was early for community management as a discipline, I was young, and all of these issues weren’t really talked about or even known (and some of the harsher realities of harassment today really weren’t formalized or even in existence yet).
So, in that sense, the ship has long since sailed on the delineation between personal me and professional me. The day I got my first gig, I went over and chatted about it openly on the gaming forum where I have been a community member for now well over a decade. When I moved to California, I put out an open call to the people on the forum to come to my house for a house-warming; I didn’t realize the danger in that till a year later (and then I moved houses for the first time so the internet couldn’t easily find my house). Elizabeth Tobey is dahanese — and honestly, even though I made that decision to link my identities not even in ignorance of the future (since the discipline of community work was so young no one really knew what was to come), I wouldn’t change the path I took today even if I had the knowledge of what would come from choosing as I did.
One one hand: I don’t hide. That’s not my style, that’s not how I live my life. Five years ago, I’d say that for very different reasons than why I say it today. Today I say it because I am determined to be one of the people that raises the level of respect, civility, and safety online without compromising freedoms or creating echo chambers. That’s my mission, personally, and I think it’s important to be public and a known entity in order to succeed.
On the other hand: I shouldn’t have to hide. I’ve had countless discussions with people from all walks of life, all genders, who grapple with these kinds of issues online and as they come off the screen and into the real world. And like I know that I shouldn’t walk drunk down a dark alley in a short skirt by myself at midnight, I also know that this problem isn’t something I should have to fix by retreating or changing myself and my life. That’s a reality that I understand exists right now, and I honor decisions people make that differ from mine, but I also reject the fact that we’re living in a world where that’s going to be what we have to do and I’m going to keep saying “fuck that noise.”
Then, if we pretend I’m weird and have grown a third arm, there’s the last hand: The one that talks about strategies for community building in my work. I could write lots and lots and lots and lots about this but in summary: A real human works better than an amorphous moniker or handle. Chatting with me about Medium stuff will, even if just on a subconscious level, be received more favorably when you see my name and my face than if you were chatting with me under the handle Medium Communities Team — even if you knew it was me, Elizabeth, always typing behind that handle.
That being said, I also think anonymity for some customer-facing roles makes sense. Do you really need to know the full name of the agent helping you when something is broken? Probably not, and the down-side to giving a potentially irate customer that information is far greater than any upside I can think of. I had an experience at a past gig where one of my employees posted about a change the community didn’t like; someone anonymously threatened to harm her toddler. You can bet your ass that we took all necessary steps to protect that employee and report the threat and that I posted the next bit of news we believed would have negative repercussions. I’m not a martyr — but I’m really used to death threats and I have the luxury of not having a toddler and no one should have to live with that fear. (None ever came after that.)
I also think that falling into the comfort zone that your personal account is personal and might never be used against you professionally is a dangerous proposition. These days, I treat everything I publish as discoverable (yes, I think of my life as if it were evidence in court. But the court in my head is the one from Phoenix Wright games, so don’t take it too seriously). No one can use something against you if you come at it from the mindset that everything will be used against you.
And since you probably think that mindset is unfortunate, I agree. That’s exactly why I’m championing for a better reality online — so that people who come next won’t have to live their lives that way.