Politics of Usernames

art, literature, digital culture studies

We interact with usernames every day to communicate on the Internet. We are so familiar with this practice that it seems banal and we therefore fail to see the political implications associated with it. This article aims to help uncover this political dimension of the username. At first, the article follows the argumentation of two texts by Jacques Derrida, from where I establish a connection between the phenomena of proper names and usernames. Derrida deconstructed the founding act of American Independence to work out the role of the signature of proper names. He does the same with Friedrich Nietzsche's proper name to show that proper names play a far greater role in political processes than we might expect. In this context, the modern state is disclosed as an archive and administrator of proper names, while the new phenomenon of the username evades this state power and itself has the institutional potential to become powerful. Because access by the state through verification of names fails with the username, people are more difficult to identify in digital space. The state archive therefore can’t exercise political power over usernames. At the same time, the lack of verification of a username creates the potential for new institutional forces which leads to a conflict with the modern state. This topic is illustrated using the username Q and the politically explosive QAnon movement. Lastly the article points to the conclusion that the phenomenon of usernames is shifting our institutional structures and questioning our beliefs about the modern state, identity and truth.