Social Networks

Pseudonymity Enables Escape To A New Life

This paper will argue that pseudonymous online platforms are superior to those with identity transparency, for people who are high centers of a community yet wish to leave. Here is presented a case study of The Clergy Project, which uses this strategy to offer safe escape from church communities for non-believing clergy members.

By Luke Rosewell

This paper will argue that pseudonymous online platforms are superior to those with identity transparency, for people who are high centers of a community yet wish to leave. Here is presented a case study of The Clergy Project, which uses this strategy to offer safe escape from church communities for non-believing clergy members.

People interacting over a common interest or in a shared space form a community. As relationships develop, the community becomes tightly knit, one with bonds of caring and friendship. A tight-knit community tends to be held together by key figures that sociologists call ‘high centers’. These are people with positions of influence that maintain the group’s standards and play a leadership role. A church community is an example of a tight-knit community, whose clergy form the high centers, representing and maintaining the ideas and values that are the shared interests of the community. Should a clergy member lose their belief, changing to no longer sharing the interests of the community, they may wish to transition to a new community, with different ideas and interests. They can fear hurting the community if they are honest about their change of beliefs, and without being honest and open they can feel internally conflicted. In wanting to avoid hurting the community while finding a way to honestly express their identity, non-believing clergy can find themselves wanting to leave their church community but trapped by their continuing bonds of caring and friendship. Here is presented a case study of The Clergy Project (, an online community for church leaders and professionals who no longer accept the doctrines of their church’s religion. Members of The Clergy Project report the community hosted by this platform to be a highly valued resource, instrumental in their leaving of their offline church communities and establishing a sense of community elsewhere, one where they can honestly express their identity without hurting those they have cared for, and without suffering social isolation. The Clergy Project uses the method of creating a feeling of security by hiding user identities through the use of avatars and user names, called pseudonymity. In contrast to pseudonymity, it is usual for current online communities to create a safe environment through making user identities clear and transparent, so that people are accountable for what they say and do (Stuart et al., 2012). Although identity transparency is the current standard for safety in online communities, the use of pseudonymity when online can be a more effective means of escape for high centers of tight-knit communities.

A pseudonymous safe space.
The Clergy Project is an organisation created in 2011 to offer secure online forums, a safe space where non-believing church leaders can have discussions and interact. The forums are closed to the public, and applicants are vetted by phone call to protect privacy and avoid malicious newcomers. Instead of identity transparency, The Clergy Project forums offer pseudonymity, which The Clergy Project sometimes equates with the term anonymity. Pseudonymity is more accurate, as true anonymity prevents the building of community or persistent relationships due to a lack of continuity of identity. In a truly anonymous conversation, separate communications cannot be attributed to a single speaker. Pseudonymity, which provides a persistent avatar or name, can be used to build relationships and perform an identity within a community (Donath, 2002). This freedom to express an identity without it being attributed to its author’s offline life is valuable to members of The Clergy Project because it allows them to express facets of their identity that they cannot express within their church community.

Pseudonymity avoids ‘context collapse’.
Should the pseudonym expressed within The Clergy Project forums be identified as a particular church leader by members of her offline community, she would suffer a context collapse. A context collapse is the term given to when a person is part of multiple networks in which they express different identities or facets of their identity, and then a merged audience of the networks forces the person to reveal performances of identity to parties that they usually would not. This can cause problematic consequences as the audience’s expectations of appropriate behaviour are violated (Davis & Jurgenson, 2014). Such consequences for church leaders can include their offline community finding out their leader’s private beliefs are in opposition to the community’s binding shared beliefs. If such an exposure does occur, the church leader can become ostracised by their family and friends. This can be seen in two stories on The Clergy Project website, from the few members that have given permission to have their stories publicly shared ( Ranier, an Assistant Pastor, was shunned by his family and friends after coming out as an atheist in 2011. Robert Crompton, a Jehova’s Witness and later Methodist Minister, was asked to leave the Jehova’s Witness community by a judicial committee that learned of his doubts of their Watch Tower doctrines. They gave him an ultimatum, to not ever speak of his doubts again and to cease contact with his ‘disfellowshipped’ friend, or be disfellowshipped himself. Finding these demands unacceptable, Robert Crompton accepted what he described as a very lonely existence.

People have difficulty staying in a community where they cannot openly express themselves.
Regardless of whether such an exposure of private beliefs actually occurs, consequences can result from staying in the church community. Living with the fear that context collapse may happen is an additional source of stress the church leader may have to endure. NealH, a deacon giving his story on The Clergy Project, describes the unbearable psychological pressure from publicly supporting doctrines he no longer believed. Life before finding The Clergy Project can feel isolated and solitary. Pastor Drew Bekius reports not having been aware that any other pastor had ever lost their faith, and spending two years after leaving the ministry feeling alone in the world. He found a sense of community in The Clergy Project, and a “renewed sense of hope for the future”.

The importance of finding a new community.
As church communities tend to be tightly knit, they are often the only community that a member is a part of. This is particularly so for the church leaders who play central roles in church communities. Leaving one’s current and only community before having found another causes feelings of isolation and loneliness, and risks that this will be a long term problem if a new community cannot be found. It is therefore important to find and join a new community before leaving the current one. This can be seen in another member of the Clergy Project that gave permission for her story to be published, Carolyn Shadle, who was a Director of Religious Education. After joining a new community upon entering a retirement village, she developed numerous close connections and realised she now felt free to leave her church network. It had been the sense of community the church gave her that made her feel trapped within it.High centers get trapped in their community.
Feeling trapped in their community is common among The Clergy Project members because they are among the leaders of the church community, the high centers. Being high centers of a community can be judged by a few metrics, two of the most used being degree, and betweenness (Gruzd, Wellman & Takhteyev, 2011). Church leaders rate as high centers very strongly by the metric of degree, being given a soap box to lead a congregation, while they score lowly by the metric of betweenness, not being in control of other members of the community talking amongst themselves. The removal of a high center from the community it supports can result in an upheaval to the structure of the community. Senior Pastor Mark describes this in his story, a fear of “causing significant disruption” upon leaving the church community.

Identity transparency suppresses dissent, while pseudonymity does not.
Stuart et al. (2012) reminds us that full indentity transparency can lead to the suppression of dissenting voices. Church communities often suffer this feature, and the church leader being honest about their non-belief would be a dissenting voice. Mao and DeAndrea (2018) describe anonymity as a powerful force for allowing dissent in settings of general employment – employees voicing dissenting opinions feel more able to do so anonymously, without having to worry about their job or relationships at work being negatively affected. This is more specifically a feature of non-transparency of identity, and applies equally to pseudonymity as to anonymity.

Online platforms can provide people with new communities with pseudonymity.
Online communities have many advantages due the technology of the platform. The Clergy Project can forward people to international support services with hypertext links, which is much more convenient than offline counterparts for support, where someone might have to search much harder for services in their area. The nature of online interactions being through text rather than face to face is far more conducive to pseudonymous interactions, providing less clues of the type we are used to identifying people by in the physical world, allowing people to interact with anonymity or pseudonymity (Donath, 2002). An online community can easily have members distributed globally, which allows its members to communicate on the forums at any time of the day or night, and still be likely to find someone online to talk to. The content of current and past conversations on the forums can be viewed regardless of space and time. The searchability of this content is a powerful feature that online communities can have, which is lacking in the offline world. The power to search a large body of archived texts vastly expands the information available to a person. Many of these advantages result from the four properties of online mediated spaces: persistence, searchability, replicability and invisible audiences (boyd, 2006).

Online platforms are not risk free, but pseudonymity can help.
It can however be counter-argued that online mediated spaces confer disadvantages for communities that offline spaces for them lack. The lack of subtle cues, both verbal such as tone of voice and non-verbal such as body language, may reduce the chances of being identified, but simultaneously increase the chances of being misunderstood. Boyd (2006) says that the four properties of online mediated spaces make it harder to deal with collapsed contexts, which is of particular concern for church leaders in the delicate situation of trying to hide their lack of belief. This makes pseudonymity essential for them to separate an online identity from their offline communities. Along with the system of vetting entrants to a private forum, these structural strategies work to prevent invisible audiences from searching the persistent, replicable information within forum posts.

Pseudonymity is not risk free, but vetting entrants to closed forums can help.
Pseudonyms may allow people to freely express otherwise suppressed parts of their identity, but also magnify the risk of deceptive performances of identity (Stuart et al., 2012). Pseudonymity allows a reputation to be built up over time and relationships to develop, but it also connects messages together to a single author, providing a larger body of text for someone to be identified by an analysis of their writing style and other social cues. It is the vetting process of The Clergy Project that secures the forums against parties interested in deceptive performances of identity, and the forums being closed to public viewing that protects members from being identified through text analysis.

Closed and vetted communities are not risk free, but allowing dissent can help.
Accepted members of the forums have a lot in common with each other, as Drew Bekius commented in his story. He went from being isolated, to knowing lots of people on a similar journey to him. A group of people inside a tightly knit community with uniformly shared ideas, positions and perspectives can form an environment that can repeat and reinforce that singular position, stifling the growth of its members, an echo chamber. As church communities tend to be echo chambers, the church professional could be trading one echo chamber for another by transitioning to The Clergy Project community. This can be avoided by the moderators managing the forums and the vetting process allowing dissenting voices, from a diversity of religious and social backgrounds.

In conclusion, The Clergy Project has demonstrated that its strategies are effective at freeing non-believing church leaders from communities that they are struggling to leave. Church leaders are provided with a new community where they can freely express themselves, and build relationships based on honest identity performances. With a replacement community available, they no longer need to be worried about insincere performances of identity offline, or the risk of being left isolated.

Online mediated spaces bring an increased risk of context collapse, but this can be addressed with a pseudonymous platform. Pseudonymous platforms bring their own risks of malicious deception and identity exposure through text analysis. These issues can be addressed with a careful vetting process for entry into a closed, private forum. A closed private forum in turn carries the risk of creating an echo chamber, and this can be ameliorated with a well designed vetting process that doesn’t prohibit dissent, and accepts diversity. While not a risk-free solution to the problems these church leaders face, this internet based community provides a useful paradigm for other groups seeking to help socially trapped people escape to a new life.


boyd, d. (2006). Friends, friendsters, and Myspace Top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites. First Monday, 11(12).

Davis, J. L., & Jurgenson, N. (2014). Context Collapse: theorizing context collusions and collision. Information, Communication & Society, 17(4), 476-485.

Donath, J. S. (2002). Identity and deception in the virtual community. In P. Kollock and M. Smith (Eds), Communities in Cyberspace (pp. 29-61). Routledge.

Gardner, J. W. (1991). Building Community. Independent Sector.

Gruzd, A., Wellman, B., & Takhteyev, Y. (2011). Imagining Twitter as an imagined community. American Behavioral Scientist, 55(10), 1294-1318.

Mao, C. M., & DeAndrea, D. C. (2018). How anonymity and visibility affordances influence employees’ decisions about voicing workplace concerns. Management Communication Quarterly, 33(2), 160-188.

Stuart, H. C., Dabbish, L., Kiesler, S., Kinnaird, P., & Kang, R. (2012). Social transparency in networked information exchange: a theoretical framework. CSCW ’12: Proceedings of the ACM 2012 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. (pp. 451-460). Association for Computing Machinery.

25 replies on “Pseudonymity Enables Escape To A New Life”

Hi Luke,

I enjoyed reading your paper, especially considering I had never heard of The Clergy Project until reading this.
I was hesitant on your stance on pseudonymity to begin with but your highlighting of the importance of a monitored pseudonymous community along with acknowledging the inevitable implications made me reassured of your awareness.
Your exploration of pseudonymity as a means of one embracing their previously suppressed values and interests does however did make me reflect on a new perspective. Is an online pseudonym really a true embodiment of one’s identity, or say when someone joins The Clergy Project do they then suppress other aspects of their identity to appeal to this new community? Thus just putting themselves in a similar situation to they were previously but in a new online context..
I hope this makes sense?!

Hi Lachlan, thanks for the comment! That makes a lot of sense to me, and is sure food for thought.
A community forms around a single or small set of shared interests or values that bring them together, but people as individuals are complicated and have many more personal interests and values than that. There will inevitably be some that aren’t shared between members of a community, and that could prompt the same sort of suppression of expressing aspects of identity seen here, to fit in and get a sense of community. These inevitable and common conflicts of interest are over issues that aren’t central and binding to the group though, so I suspect there wouldn’t be as strong suppression felt, at least in communities that embrace diversity. (We can still be friends in a table tennis club, if I prefer cats and you prefer dogs.)
As for disagreeing with the core, universal interests or values of the community, I can imagine that happening in the Clergy Project. The vetting process is meant to check people are suitable, but even assuming it does its job perfectly, people can change over time. All it would take is for a member of The Clergy Project to start believing in God again, and she could feel identity suppressed, and isolated.
A symmetry breaker that may make The Clergy Project a better environment for this to happen in than the communities they left, is that within The Clergy Project they aren’t high centers of the community by profession anymore. They don’t have a burden to uphold the community values in order to bind the community together, and so are probably less likely to end up feeling trapped within it.

Thanks, I’ll continue to think about this!

Your final comment is definitely an interesting perspective that I hadn’t thought of. Not only is the Web/Clergy Project offering the users a place to explore other aspects of identity but also to experience different responsibilities. The Web offers us the opportunity to be more powerful and if wanted, to take a step back from leadership.
Thanks for the insight again!

Hi Lachlan ,

You make an interesting point there about how these people may have to equally suppress some other aspects of their identities for them to fit into their new communities or conform. Like any new suitor, people tend to naturally put their best qualities forward. Because of pseudonymity, it would be hard to vet any other member successfully. But I guess, The Clergy Project offers them relief from their torturous existence! And a pathway to internal peace.


Hi Bayayi!
That’s a good point that I didn’t explore! –
“Because of pseudonymity, it would be hard to vet any other member successfully.”

It would be really hard to vet people if they are pseudonymous at the time! You can talk to them, but not check their background details in any way.

The Clergy Project is pseudonymous inside the forums, but in order to be vetted (as I understand it) people need to reveal their identity to the people who run the forums, who will keep this information private.

This could be considered a risk vector, having to trust the forum organisers to be both capable and perpetually interested in protecting this data. That might drive some people away from joining, or make them feel pressured to behave in a certain way once they are in there.

But, this allows for the comforts of pseudonymity, combined with the accountability for one’s actions that is usually only found in identity-transparent communities.

– Luke

Hey Luke,

There appears to be a very thin divide between keeping the SNSs safe for all and the obvious negatives of information control / censorship by the platform owners. We would not want a police state per se in online communities, or do we? The challenge would be how to synchronise what the platform owners and community members consider to be offensive, isn’t it?

Pseudonymity clears the pathway for more candid discussions in online SNSs / online communities and augurs well for platform democracy and freedom of expression.


Hi Bayayi,

For that challenge of synchronising the values of platform owners and community members, are there any major issues with providing a range of communities of various policies, and letting users choose which they want to be a part of?

(That’s already somewhat the case, with people able to choose to use standard SNSs, or pseudonymous platforms like The Clergy Project.)

Maybe some people do want to reside in an online police state 😛


Hey Luke,
Definitely a great start – my interest was piqued with the mention of the mysterious “Clergy Project”. As someone who has been religious since birth (not in a cult way), I really enjoyed reading your article!
I liked how you explored how they were able to express their preferred identity online, and this supportive anonymous community helped them. I also thought it was really good that you gave examples of case studies. I agree with your point that people sometimes stay in church communities or join church communities because they want a sense of belonging, or a family. Definitely something I can corroborate.
The process of vetting reminded me of another online safe community called Autcraft, a Minecraft world for children on the spectrum and their parents. Obviously not content related, but the owner also has a vetting process to keep any unwanted people out who might try to cause harm. I think you could claim that online communities are much safer than physical communities. I also liked that you mentioned that the Clergy Project is 24/7, which is a huge benefit.
Do you know anyone who has participated in this? What was your motivation behind writing the piece? If I can ask, don’t worry about answering if it’s too personal.
I really don’t have any advice because it’s a really good paper.
Great work with the choice of topic and how you wrote about it – you did well!

Hi AnneMarie,
Thank you for the positive review! I’m very glad that someone who can personally relate to the content has read and enjoyed it, and can corroborate that sometimes people join or stay in church communities because of the sense of belonging.
I was intrigued by the similar example you mentioned, Autcraft, so found a paper on it just now that took a very similar angle to mine in that Autcraft allows for a ‘means of self expression’, free from bullying. That’s basically the same as allowing honest expressions of identity as I wrote about in my essay. It looks like people can have user names, like in most online games, so I think it has pseudonymity too. I wonder though, since people joining aren’t facing being trapped within a community they want to leave, if pseudonymity isn’t so important here. If pseudonymity isn’t important, then it might even be more conducive to honest expressions of identity – people can use their real name, and build upon their real world identities. They don’t have to start new ones.
I don’t know anyone that has participated in The Clergy Project myself, I’ve heard positive things about it in speeches by someone involved in its origin, Dan Barker. He’s very entertaining 🙂
Thanks again!

Hello again Luke!
I just saw your comment now – it’s a shame that there’s not an email notification every time someone replies to you, it’s hard to keep up!
I’m glad you enjoyed my example of Autcraft! I think it is something so positive for these minority people to have a place to feel validated and accepted.
I liked your comment about exploration of identity online, whether it be with anonymity or not. It is interesting to think about how online communities who do have pseudonyms contribute to the user’s confidence. Would you say that all of the people who join the Clergy Project eventually gain the courage to live a more authentic offline life? Or would you say that there would be a few who would live in anonymity forever, feeling like they are only really safe in the shadows?
Thanks for clarifying your ties to the project – Has Dan Barker given a Ted Talk? I really like listening to those while I work.

Hi AnneMarie,
Good question, I read through all the ‘Our Stories’ testimonies from members on the website again, and didn’t find any that explicitly say they are still hiding their authentic identity offline. Some gave permission for their real names to be used, but some continued to use their pseudonyms, which could suggest it. However I don’t know if they’d update the displayed pseudonym to a real name if the person ‘came out’ in later years.

I can imagine that not everyone who gains this ability to authentically express themselves online would follow up with the common next step of severing ties with their church community, as it’s not just the fear of isolation driving them to hide their non-belief, but the fear of hurting the church community.

That church community may even include family members who wouldn’t accept their non-belief, which the church professional wouldn’t want to sever ties with.

One of the ‘Our Stories’ testimonies described how its author Gretta continues to lead a congregation, but in secular ways now, being open about her non-belief. She considers herself ‘one of the lucky ones’ that her congregation is okay with it, and embraces the new secular way she leads them.
Gretta has experienced heresy charges and hostility from colleagues and fellow presbyters outside her congregation for her openness about her non-belief.

That makes for a good example showing that even if people don’t fear hurting their church community by coming out or being exposed, or fear ostracization and isolation, they may still have hostility to fear. That could drive people to live in anonymity forever, I expect 🙂

Really great question, I enjoyed thinking about it!

I did a search and can’t see that Dan Barker has done any Ted talks, sorry.


Hi Luke,

It was a good and interesting read indeed. I, too, had never heard of The Clergy Project before until I read your paper.

I was brought up in a religious family and in our physical community, people and their children went to church on Sundays. I have pulled back a bit in my adult life. The problem with belief and faith is that it can fade away and when it does, what does one do about it?

In your paper, you explore The Clergy Project case study and how pseudonymity comes to the rescue of tormented souls. Yes, online communities may depend on the affordance of pseudonymity on their platform to protect their identities and allow the members to find new freedoms. As to whether members of these communities can then live their true identities in their pseudonymous characterisation is another matter.

Lachlan, asks an interesting question on whether these people would need to sort of keep tabs on some other aspects of their lives or not. I would say yes because each individual does what is required to fit in. Besides, the metrics for measuring religious belief or faith are rather dubious.

Your topic, “Pseudonymity enables escape to a new life”, has shed light on what may be a taboo topic in religious circles, I think. So, The Clergy Project is giving members the opportunity to connect and form new bonds which is the essence of community building.

I think you make a strong argument and your conclusion is equally strong, ” While not a risk-free solution to the problems these church leaders face, this internet based community provides a useful paradigm for other groups seeking to help socially trapped people escape to a new life.”

This community has also been described thus, “The Clergy Project is a magnet for charlatans and cowards who, by their own admission, openly lie to their congregations, hide behind beliefs they do not hold, make common cause with atheists, and still retain their positions and salaries.” In light of these accusations, do you think they should continue disguising themselves with pseudonymity online but continue earning a living from their real-world congregations?

Well done on your paper!

Kind regards,


Those allegations can be found here:

Hi Bayayi!
Very interesting allegations you cite, thanks for bringing it to my attention!

The author of that repeatedly hinted at how celebrating The Clergy Project is a failed attempt at some agenda of the atheist community, I suppose deconverting the masses. I think the creators and maintainers of The Clergy Project would object to that, and probably say it’s really just to provide an avenue of escape to people who feel trapped, and to raise awareness of this avenue.

Anyway, you asked what I think about clergy continuing to earn a living, while simultaneously engaging in an online pseudonymous space like this. Great question!

I think they are continuing to perform the job they are being paid to do. They aren’t being paid to believe, but to do things – to lead the congregation. So, I don’t think there’s an aspect of financial fraud to it. There’s only the aspect of being dishonest about their beliefs to people who trust them.

Without trying to tackle the ethical question of dishonesty, I think the lack of financial fraud makes these cases just the same as any members of The Clergy Project who continue to do all the same church things but without a salary.

So, I don’t think the salary is a relevant factor here, and they should be able to continue being in both communities, if they feel they need to 🙂


Hi Luke

Seems like you’ve picked a great topic to shine light on an issue which a lot of other people hadn’t considered – nice work.

I was reading Edward Snowden’s book recently, and he gives his stance on pseudonymity online. In the early years of forums and blogs on the internet, this approach seemed to be the norm. Pseudonymity provides an opportunity for exploration online, to learn and ask questions without being judged or engage in groups which as you’ve mentioned – may come as a shock to the people around us if they’d found out.

The argument against this is of course clear accountability, but my own belief is that if the companies aren’t respecting the identity of users, then why would we forego intimate information about ourselves?

Hi Nicholas!
Thanks for the comment!
It wasn’t until discussion in the comments that I realised The Clergy Project’s forum could be described as a hybrid of pseudonymity and identity transparency. It’s not fully pseudonymous because the forum moderators know the identity of people, having vetted them for entry into the forums. People inside are only pseudonymous to other joiners like themselves.

So, while having some benefits of pseudonymity – protecting user identity from exposure (as long as the moderators can be trusted), there is also accountability for actions in the forums.

It seems like a good middle ground, but if lots of other forums are going to copy this style to reproduce the success, maybe we need some sort of board for vetting the vetters and moderators. A seal of approval sort of thing that companies can earn.

– Luke

Hi Luke,
I really enjoyed your paper and found it very easy to read through. I appreciate the fact in which you both support and oppose the views of pseudonymity with prime examples to aid in each. I had never heard of The Clergy Project and found it and your explanation particularly captivating. The fact that these high centers as you state, feel they are not free to be themselves in the fear that they will be shunned is saddening to hear. Especially since they are coming from such a positive position and are locked in and forced to live as others expect is understandably hard. This pseudonymity afforded by The Clergy Project, and other similar communities can understandably assist in helping these people transition through a tough and lonely time. Especially if they have those who followed them all of a sudden turn against them. I do strongly relate to the lack of subtle cues within text misconstruing what is said, from work emails to personal text messages. It can be frustrating to say the least or land you in very deep trouble.
Thank you for you refreshing and interesting paper Luke, I feel I have learnt much from it!

Hi Mike,
Thanks! I’m very pleased you enjoyed my paper, learned a lot, and found it clear and captivating. You did a great job summarising it there! That shows my points were understandable even better than you saying so.

After researching your paper, do you think maybe YouTube would be a platform that could host a similarly designed community?

At first pseudonymity there might seem hard because people tend to put their face in their videos, but I watch some channels where people talk over an animated cartoon avatar of themselves anonymously (e.g. Logicked).

I’ve seen some that don’t even talk, but annotate with text, or have a computer voice do the talking.

It might even be possible to have a closed and vetted community too, as videos can be made ‘unlisted’ so that the public cannot access them unless given the link.

– Luke

Hi Luke,
I would not think that YouTube would be a primary platform to host something similar. I could however see it as a platform to add to an existing service. Having a channel which uploads anonymous stories of its members, with permission of course. Interviews or similar could work also, with a certain level of pseudonymity such as the text over cartoon. Or even someone else narrating a piece that has been written by a member, over animations of sorts.
I have seen a few channels as well of similar nature, including Anonymous Official which is relevant to the hacktivist group of the same name. I will have to have a watch of some Logicked videos as the content seems rather interesting.
Unlisted videos could also work, although I would be concerned with the links being shared or leaked externally.

Hi Mike,
Sharp thinking with the risk of any members sharing or leaking the links, that is indeed a major flaw to the plausibility of a closed vetter community on Youtube. Good one!

So there are a bunch of established ways to have an anonymous or pseudonymous community, but no clear safe way for a closed one. Then I agree, it would probably just be best as a supplemental service, like for outreach to let other non-believing church professionals that feel trapped, know there is a safe way out of their community.

Luke 🙂

Hi Luke! Really good paper, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I have to admit I was conflicted a bit at the thesis initially but I think I am fully on board now. Discussions about context collapse really interest me, it makes me wonder how this phenomenon will be handled moving forward, and whether pseudonymity will be something that we ultimately see more often than not as the internet evolves. Because in one sense, the Web was a pseudonymous venture for the first wave of adopters. Perhaps it is a solution to context collapse that should be adopted more. But do you think the pseudonymity perhaps conflicts with the desire we see among modern web users for authenticity? Not instances of pseudonymity themselves, but the presence of it as a concept. Whilst it reflects more our offline society, I can’t help but feel it flies in the face of “internet” authenticity, being entirely and fully yourself, which seems to be a core Web 2.0 value.

Hey Sam! Thanks for the good review!
I read your conference paper on Youtuber Zoella and how much success she has had gaining popularity with a highly authentic atmosphere. It’s certainly a widely appreciated aesthetic value, the perceived authenticity of an online persona.

I think though, that authenticity can be perceived in people’s pseudonymous avatars. The Clergy Project itself is a good example, with people pseudonymously expressing themselves more authentically than they do anywhere else.

So therefore, there isn’t an inherent conflict between pseudonymity and the desire for authenticity.

– Luke 🙂

Evening Luke

Your paper covers a very interesting topic and was not what I expected. This is a topic you obviously find interesting and so do I. I have watched a lot of documentaries about polygamy and the Mormon LDS and the life and death situation that faces those who wish to leave the church. I do not think that anything will make their escape from the church easy including pseudonyms. The members of this church seem to have eyes and ears everywhere, which they use to intimidate and scare both their currently members and those who are trying to leave. I also believe these types of individuals are under an enormous amount of stress already and the threat of a context collapse that could potentially result in them becoming exposed to others within the church as a non-believer must live every day looking over their shoulder. I also think there would be those who would rather live a lie than to actually put them at risk of harm by trying to leave.

As I said already, this is a very interesting topic and not something I will have to deal with, and I am grateful for that. Imagine being stuck somewhere with people you don’t agree with and face danger at every turn should you wish to leave. Good luck with the conference.

Regards, Tracey

Hi Tracey

I sure do find this topic interesting too. I think you’re right that this avenue still isn’t safe enough for some people, and they’d choose to remain trapped than attempt escape.

It would be very dangerous time spent taking the vetting phone call, or spending time on a computer creating a history or risking someone looking over their shoulder.

I do not think that anything will make their escape from the church easy including pseudonyms.

I think your true comment here and my paper are reconcilable though, by pointing out that I’m only going so far as to argue that The Clergy Project makes escape easier, not necessarily easy, and not necessarily easy enough for all trapped people to attempt. 🙂


Hi Luke,
Thanks for recommending your paper to read. I really enjoyed the topic and thought you argued the topic of pseudonymity really well!
I agree with the points that you have made throughout your paper on the importance of pseudonymity in a case study like The Clergy Project. I do like the example that you have used as it is a good representation of how pseudonymity could be really helpful to individuals with the correct precautions in place for the security of their identity. This then allowed for others to adapt and find their new identity within a strong community of like-minded individuals. Such a great case study to use to argue against a common dilemma in the idea of identity and whether or not it is better to have a true identity or pseudonym! I also enjoyed the fact that you also pointed towards ways in which this community could break down through dissent. Thanks for such a well-rounded paper and a great read!

Hi Sarah,
I’m so glad you enjoyed it, found it agreeable, found the case study a great example to make the argument with, and appreciated the elaboration of the risks such communities face if not structured to allow dissent.
Thanks for reading it! 🙂
– Luke

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