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I'd like to ask whether "activist" usernames are allowed on this site or whether they might violate rules. In light of the onslaught in Gaza, I was considering changing my username to something pro-Palestinian to express sympathies with the Palestinian people. However, I recognize that may not be perceived consistent with neutrality principles.

Furthermore, provided activist usernames are allowed, I was wondering whether there are limits to the kinds of names we can choose.

I am considering several candidate usernames. The first batch of candidates are those that some would consider plausibly offensive but those which are most congruent with my views on the issue.

"River to the Sea", "Stop Gaza Genocide", "End Israeli Apartheid"

The second batch are those that are less blunt (hence likely less offensive) but which I prefer a bit less.

"The Olive Tree", "Jenin, Jenin", "The Occupation"

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  • There's a user who changed their user name to "Stand with Gaza". There's another who (IIRC) changed theirs to "End antisemitic hate" etc. There's a user who had something like BDS in their user name, who did run into some trouble, from what I vaguely recall. Feb 3 at 1:34
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    @Fizz some of the names proposed here are quite a bit more extreme than that. "Heil Hitler" is also an "activist" name. That's what "River to the Sea" should be compared to.
    – wrod
    Feb 3 at 1:36
  • Hmmm, what about the exact opposite? Generally people would give some benefit of the doubt to someone identifiably of the subgroup they are criticizing ("it's not bigotry or unfair, they are from group X after all"). So what if you now change your username to be recognizably associated with the group you criticize? Feb 21 at 17:43

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Ignoring the first member in your first batch of candidates, I cannot see how "Stop Gaza Genocide" could be considered objectionable when the ICJ has ruled that genocide of Gazans by Israel is plausible. Likewise, I cannot see how "End Israeli Apartheid" could be objected to given that major human rights organisations including Israeli human rights organisations have charecterised Israel's actions in the occupied West Bank as apartheid.

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  • Plausible and established beyond reasonable doubt are not the same thing... at least for those of us who live in western democracies, and abide by their principles. Apr 6 at 10:09
  • @RogerV. I never said they were. What I am saying, is that there is sufficient evidence of genocide that a username such as "Stop Gaza Genocide" can be accepted as a reasonable interpretation of what is happening, and should not be removed.
    – Ben Cohen
    Apr 6 at 12:59
  • It should also be noted that the ICJ ruling of plausibility came before man made famine became widespread in Gaza due to Israel's blockade and before Israel murdered 7 charity workers.
    – Ben Cohen
    Apr 6 at 13:02
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End Israeli Apartheid

There was a user who already probed this one. It prompted a significant debate amongst the SE mods in general (mods can globally reset usernames, and one did). We ultimately decided it wasn't worth fighting it. As long as you're not attacking a person or group, it should be OK. Disagreeing with the actions of Israel (even if Israel doesn't meet the original definitions of Apartheid) is not something that should be prevented.

I generally consider all of those acceptable protest names, except one.

River to the Sea

The broader phrase there is

From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free

This particular phrase is pretty divisive. The river is the River Jordan, and the sea is the Mediterranean Sea. If this phrase were realized, there are two key questions its supporters don't want to answer

  1. Where would Israel be?
  2. Where would the predominantly Jewish population go?

The Anti-Defamation League (among others) draws the logical conclusion

This rallying cry has long been used by anti-Israel voices, including supporters of terrorist organizations such as Hamas and the PFLP, which seek Israel’s destruction through violent means. It is fundamentally a call for a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, territory that includes the State of Israel, which would mean the dismantling of the Jewish state. It is an antisemitic charge denying the Jewish right to self-determination, including through the removal of Jews from their ancestral homeland.

Remember that Hamas rejects any Jewish state in its charter

Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it" (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory).

And they have vowed to execute more attacks like those on Oct 7, 2023

Israel is a country that has no place on our land. We must remove that country, because it constitutes a security, military, and political catastrophe to the Arab and Islamic nation, and must be finished. We are not ashamed to say this, with full force.

I consider this phrase to be fomenting violence. There are plenty of other ways to express Palestinian solidarity and/or displeasure with Israel's military actions without it.

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    I am upvoting, because it does precisely answer the question and does it well. However, if activist usernames became generalized then it would make postings around conflictual subjects even more tedious than they already are on this site. And accepting most, but not all, requires an assessment which is by nature more liable to bias than just throwing them all out. At the current volume, probably not worth changing policy. But if it catches on, not so sure. Feb 7 at 22:58
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica There's some truth to that. Mostly it's not a battle worth fighting right now. If it became a constant point of contention, I would fully support a change in policy.
    – Machavity
    Feb 7 at 23:50
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I would support reverting all usernames that refer to a ongoing conflict to more neutral versions (including covert references in foreign languages)

Is it necessary to do so at this time? Probably not, but if it became an issue, my opinion is that this would be the way to proceed.


Argue the merits, or not, of your positions in your questions, and in your answers, not in passive-aggressive names. One of of the problems with such names is that they kind of shortcircuit the reader's appreciation for the user's postings.

When you, as a "fan of country X" reads a post by user "countryXsucks", from country Y, that will, understandly, turn you off to any arguments that, perhaps, in this particular instance, maybe country X did something questionable in the past.

And, yes, that includes usernames supporting Ukraine, sorry.

We have had questions, and enforced changes, on usernames in the past.

We have a number of conflicts where there is an ongoing and the site would not benefit greatly from "clever user names" if it filled up with them on:

  • Russia vs Ukraine
  • Israel vs Palestine
  • Pakistan vs India
  • Trump vs Biden
  • ...

Last, there is an inherent problem where the popularity of countries are not equivalent on this site.

Country X is popular while country Y is not. So that means, for the exact same questionable behavior country Y's supporters will get much harsher treatment than country X's about their naming choices.

Pro-Ukraine monikers are popular enough, but how would the posts from a pro-Russia username get received, regardless of the quality of their posts? That difference in treatment seems a valid concern, even if I am quite pro-Ukraine myself.

p.s. If it seems biased of me to state this and not have raised this concern in the past: this question hadn't been asked on meta.

(and yes, that could include my own, though my username is not related to any real-world conflict, merely an incident involving SE's parent company, on a subject that I presume they've since learned to handle more gracefully than they seemed to have done at the time)

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    If we are going to remove some protest names we should remove them all. There doesn't seem to be a large number of users changing their name for this purpose anyway.
    – Joe W
    Feb 6 at 23:19
  • @JoeW That's exactly what I am saying. Feb 6 at 23:20
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    I was referring to protest names that don't involve conflicts as well such as your name. We shouldn't just focus on a single type of protest name.
    – Joe W
    Feb 6 at 23:22
  • My name is not really a protest name, and certainly not targeted towards a country or ethnicity, but sure, if we had that policy, I'd change it if requested. Feb 6 at 23:23
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    The point is we shouldn't be making a call about which protest names are allowed and which ones are not.
    – Joe W
    Feb 6 at 23:27
  • The point is don't single out some form of protest names over others to be disallowed. If a name is bad and needs to be changed you should do the normal bad name process for that. Don't just make a statement that you can't do a protest name for this cause but you can do a protest name for this other cause. Your name certainly looks like a protest name for way back when people protested over a mod getting removed.
    – Joe W
    Feb 6 at 23:32
  • As with everything else, the enforcement is the law though. So overwhelming the moderator bandwidth with abusive content results in moderators actions that are either "broad swords" instead of "scalpel", or moderator fatigue and absenteeism. In a way extremists wearing their extremism on their sleeves probably makes moderation easier. It carries a lesser cognitive load.
    – wrod
    Feb 7 at 6:02
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    Exactly: "user:End Donbas genocide"? "user:All Ukrainians are Russians, they just don't admit it"? Feb 9 at 11:36
  • @Fizz did we have those or are you just giving a hypothetical example? Feb 9 at 16:10
  • Hypothetical. And while I'm at it; "user: One China", "user: Free Ichkeria" etc. Feb 9 at 16:21
  • Let me give you a real example of JoeW's point. On SO we have Palestinian, whose avatar is a rider on horseback carrying a Palestinian flag. Is that a "protest" name and avatar? You could make a case for that if you really wanted to, but I tend to think it's not a protest anything, and I think most folks would agree. But where do you draw that line? We need objective rules to enforce, whenever possible. I'm with wrod in that we should reserve resets mostly for implying violence or expressing hate for a people group (both are COC).
    – Machavity
    Feb 13 at 13:53
  • @Machavity: indeed. I challenge you tell me what's wrong with my user name (or avatar). Feb 21 at 0:15
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Pro-Palestinian vs. pro-Hamas names
I suspect that most users here support Palestinians, for humanitarian reasons, out of the sense of justice, etc. Supporting a particular extremist organization, like Hamas, is a different story - in this case such a name can be interpreted as a call for violence, and clearly violates the SE rules.

Names like Stand with Gaza are ambiguous in that one can plausibly claim that they are intended in support of Palestinians, and not in support of terrorism, but they also do not clearly denounce terrorism and can be viewed as supporting Hamas (the authority in Gaza) fighting Israel and oppressing Palestinian civilians in the name of the Islamist ideology. IMHO, this ambiguity is intentional, but I doubt that anything could be done here... apart from a forceful action by moderators.

Names based on alleged facts
Names like Stop Gaza Genocide or End Israeli Apartheid are based on the user preferred interpretation of the events/facts, rather than on the facts themselves. E.g., many would disagree that what happens in Gaza is a Genocide (the ICJ didn't rule it out, but didn't confirm it either.) Likewise, not everyone agrees that the treatment of Palestinians by Israel or Lebanon constitutes an Apartheid. Such names constitute an attempt to impose the user's vision on the rest of the community, i.e., they constitute propaganda.

Update
A possible activist nickname inspired by a Saudi writer - GazaIsDeadSinwarIsAlive:

"In conclusion, Gaza is dead and Sinwar and Haniya are alive: Long live Sinwar, long live Haniya."

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    Wow, so facts established by major NGOs such as HRW, Amnesty and even Israeli NGOs such as B'tselem are propaganda according to you! Also, the ICJ has ruled claims of Israeli genocide to be "plausible". See response above.
    – Ben Cohen
    Feb 20 at 11:10
  • @BenCohen non-government organizations collect facts - they have no authority to make a legal judgement. One could bring up pro-Israeli NGOs saying the opposite. So you choose to believe the ones and not the others, while I say that a serious opinion cannot be based on beliefs. Statements by western governments or a court decision is something that I would accept as binding - but the court, as you correctly pointed out, is still dealing in hypothetical - plausible is a matter of belief, not an established fact. It is so plausible that the court doesn't think that Israel should stop it. Feb 20 at 12:16
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While you have gotten some good answers already, I want to add a few things.

I strongly object to the claim that certain usernames are "activist". Perhaps for you they are, but not for everyone else. For me, my username is part of my digital identity just like the clothes I wear is part of my real life identity. My username is about as "activist" as the "Ceasefire for Gaza" pin on my backpack. Just like I'm free to choose what pins I want to decorate my backpack with I should be free to choose whatever username I want.

The flip side is that people are free to react however they want. Perhaps certain pins increases the likelihood of unprovoked assault or mean that you lose out on some job offers due to bigoted interviewers. Perhaps certain usernames attract the downvote brigades. That is fine and I could not care less about my imaginary internet points.

I do draw the line at moderator conduct though. It's not fine to be harassed by police over the pins you wear and it's not fine to risk suspension over your username choice. Nor of having your questions or answers deleted for spurious reasons (compare with police arresting only certain people for jaywalking, for example).

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    By definition, changing your username to make a point is "activist", since you're taking an action in favor of something. If you've been "Stand with Gaza" for the 7.5 years you've been a member here, that's a very different situation than if you've changed it in the last six months. I mostly agree with your point about being able to choose your own username and let people react however they want to, but you can't argue that that isn't an "activist" action. That's independent of what name you choose - changing to "Stop All War" would be equally activist, albeit for a more neutral goal.
    – Bobson
    Feb 13 at 11:25
  • Yes, I can. An activist is a person "who uses or supports strong actions (such as public protests)". Changing your username is akin to putting a sticker on your car or laptop. It's not activism. Feb 13 at 13:27
  • Having recently posted a comment about how language means what people collectively say it means, I'll yield the point. I don't think I agree, but I should use terms in the manner people will understand them.
    – Bobson
    Feb 14 at 10:23

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