Why do some moderators on Stack Exchange use handles? Why don't they use their real names, or actual photos of themselves smiling?
Pseudonymity on Stack Exchange is a feature, not a bug. It doesn't impact the ability to manage the site or handle "bad actors."
A More Detailed Explanation
Why do some moderators (and other users) use handles? There are a number of reasons. These include:
- People are often well-known by handles they've been using for years, so it functions as an effective identity for some people.
- It prevents naming collisions on the system. If your name is "John Smith," why should you be forced to be
JohnSmith12345instead of something with more flair?
- The Stack Exchange system allows handles. People are free to use the features the system makes available.
- Some people like the pseudonymity of a handle, especially on sites where there are personal disclosures that could be embarassing or harmful. Workplace and Parenting are just two examples of sites where people may not want their real names associated with their posts.
- People often use handles for exactly the same reason you aren't using your real name or photo: because the profiles are public, and they may not wish to make personal details available to everyone on the Internet.
Your Own Example
Consider the fact that your own profile says almost nothing about you except that you live in Paris, France and that your Twitter name is
@aelbouachri. (NB: Both of these items are things that you made public in your profile by filling in the Location and Twitter link or username fields. I'm not disclosing anything that you yourself haven't made public.)
There's no photo of you. There's no real name. You haven't even entered a description, so the site just says:
Apparently, this user prefers to keep an air of mystery about them.
Pseudonymity vs. Anonymity
However, you aren't truly anonymous. Clicking on your Twitter handle takes me to your Twitter page, which has your (presumably real) name and photograph. While you could increase your pseudonymity by removing these links, you still wouldn't be truly anonymous.
Your account (and the account of the moderators) all have unique IDs within the system. For example, your ID on PMSE is
user:25654; you can use these IDs to search for your own posts, or for the posts of others using the user IDs listed on their public profiles.
Stack Exchange also tracks additional information about you, as most web systems do. If you were a spammer or a bad actor of some sort, Stack Exchange knows enough about you to take action. If a moderator or Stack Exchange employee were the bad actor, the same goes for them, too.
To sum up, you're free to use handles if you want; you can even have different handles or separate profiles on each Stack Exchange site if you like. You're also free to use your real name if you prefer. You can then add as much (or as little) additional information about yourself as you feel appropriate to your needs and your online persona.
Moderators (especially community moderators, as opposed to Stack Exchange employees) are really just users too. They have the same basic rights and privileges within the system as you do, including the right to control the level of personal information they choose to make public.
I infer from your question that you prefer a strongly attributed community - one with real names and images. I respectfully disagree with you.
It is difficult to ask any question that begins, "Why do some.... " without offending; such a question intrinsically carries the implication that some people should not be permitted to.... - that their freedom should be limited. (I'm not suggesting that you intend to offend - merely pointing out that you may have unintentionally offended.) In the absence of a compelling interest, freedom should not be limited. SE participants and mods are permitted to use a handle for the same reason they are permitted to use a left handed mouse or to use tabs rather than spaces, or to prefer VI to emacs, or android to IOS, or Islam to Christianity (or....) etc.
Personally I would oppose any attempt to require real names - there is no compelling reason to limit people's freedom to be known how they choose to be known. I would prefer a community in which people are known for what they contribute to the community, and in which they are permitted to define how they are known. Real names create opportunities for retribution.
I would strongly oppose any attempt to require photographs. Appearance (and in particular secondary characteristics such as age and race) are not relevant to the performance of their duties. The tech industry has a well established and contemptible tradition of treating women and minorities differently, and I don't want to impose that on moderators. I believe that limiting the diversity of our moderator pool would damage Stack Exchange.
Just as you said, I'm offering this answer with no hostility or bad faith. Point is not to argue that you're wrong, but to indicate that you are making assumptions about what is desireable that are not shared by the whole community. Now that we've both voiced assumptions & preferences, the community can make a decision about what kind of culture and environment we want to create.