Google Plus requirement for real names is a red herring.

Google Plus (Google+) stirred up a controversy by deleting, wholesale, accounts created under pseudonyms instead of under real names. Google+ acknowledged their mistakes and is now formulating an official policy for naming conventions on their new social network.

There are legitimate reasons that users might need to use pseudonyms. The most obvious and crucial one is anonymity for political dissidents and social activists. Without that anonymity, activism can be too dangerous to pursue. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have changed the face of activism by facilitating historic movements for democratic reforms and human rights. The whole world needs social networks to provide this service to help keep governments honest and accountable to their citizens. If Google+ wants to be a leader in social networking, they have no business abdicating such a crucial role by requiring the display of real names for their accounts, thus making activism too dangerous. Google+ can require our real names for their internal records but they do not need to display our real names against our will.

Google+ can suspend, delete or ban accounts that violate their terms of service (TOS) whether or not those accounts use real names. The purpose of requiring real names is to provide a deterrent against violating their TOS in the first place and to have the real names of culprits to provide to authorities should their violations rise to the level of criminal activity (fraud, cyber bullying, hacking, etc.).

But the deterrent is not about the display of real names . . . it’s about the possession of real names. The deterrent is just as effective whether or not violators display their real names -- as long as they know that Google+ has their real names on record.

And how will Google+ know if the name of an account is the real name unless they require proof of identity from everybody? Unless they do, many people will simply supply legitimate-looking false names. The requirement for real names is virtually unenforceable to begin with.


So the whole controversy over the requirement of real names is unnecessary as long as Google+ allows its users to hide their real names and substitute pseudonyms if they want to. Google+ only needs to possess our real names: they don’t need to display them. In theory, not only would they have the deterrent they want but they would also have the real names authorities will need to pursue criminal activity perpetrated on the Google+ network. But most importantly, Google+ will be able to follow the example set by Facebook and Twitter and provide a desperately needed service to dissidents and activists around the world. If Google+ is going to require our real names, then we should require them to shoulder their responsibility, as a social networking leader, to facilitate activism.

Let Google+ know that requiring our real names is okay as long as they don't FORCE us to display them!

Views: 54

Tags: Facebook, Google Plus, Google+, Twitter, activism, activists, dissidents, pseudonyms, red herring

Comment by Galen on August 4, 2011 at 5:36am

My personal Facebook (which is devoid of anything of substance, really) is the only place I've ever put my real name.  I'm sorry, but the old school Internet rule is that you ***NEVER*** use your real name for ***ANYTHING*** online.  Facebook is responsible for the loss of that VERY GOOD common sense rule and shame on them!  Google can kiss my ass if they think they're getting my name, now or ever.

Comment by Atheist Exile on August 4, 2011 at 6:23am

Yes, I agree.  Facebook wants real names because they want real data.  It's not about protecting us from stalkers, cyber bullies or hackers . . . any of whom could simply use a false name to evade being identified.

It's a red herring that Google+ plus hopes to emulate . . . unless we inform them that we know the real score.

Comment by kris feenstra on August 4, 2011 at 6:30pm

My only concern with policies like these is that social networking sites mine personal data.  I actually have no objections to a policy requesting real names.


I don't support the view that pseudonyms on networking sites are crucial for social cause or activism.  Those who face immanent danger from speaking up still have plenty of venues for posting anonymously, to which any supporters can link (and linking to such articles is exactly what G+ was designed to do).  For the rest of us, anonymity is a double edged sword.  Sure, it can act as a shield, but it also reduces our accountability, credibility, and to a certain degree, our personhood.  


When I was growing up, people talked about WWII and how brave men (and later women started getting recognition too) went off to fight for my freedom including my free speech.  Well, that never really did it for me, but supposing it's true, I think we have a silly way of recognizing free speech for which others fought and died.  It's so free that many will only do it anonymously from the shadows?  Fighting for free speech isn't something only done in blood by romanticized depictions of soldiers; it's a fight that is perpetual and is best fought simply by exercising your own voice, not the voice of a fake internet persona.


That's not to say that I have anything against sites that allow pseudonyms (such as this one) or against people using them; I'm just not overly sympathetic to the idea that pseudonyms on social networking sites serve any critical social function.

Comment by Atheist Exile on August 6, 2011 at 2:47am

First of all, you shouldn't take ANYTHING you read on the Internet at face value. We still need to exercise judgment and common sense about ANY claim, whether or not it concerns identities. And when it comes to activists, it's almost always difficult for outsiders to verify their claims until well after the fact. If outsiders could easily verify such claims (i.e. professional news reporters or established watchdog group, etc.) there wouldn't be a need to seek out information from social networks, would there? And even if "everybody" involved used (alleged) "real names" there's no guarantee they're not merely pen names.  The "real names" versus pseudonyms controversy is a red herring because it's UNENFORCEABLE to begin with.  What is Google going to do . . . demand proof of identity from hundreds of millions or even billions of account holders?

So, to me, the trust angle is a red herring where pseudonyms and dissidents or activists are concerned. Besides, names (real or not) are unique on these various social networking platforms: you can be sure that AtheistExile is the same person no matter where I appear on Google+ -- just as is the case here. What does it matter if I choose that moniker over Joe Smith?

I'm NOT advocating total anonymity -- I concede Google's right to demand the registration of REAL names. I'm even okay with them demanding proof of identity. All I'm advocating is that we be given the OPTION to use pseudonyms in case we want to avoid somebody who's harassing us . . . or being found by an ex-spouse or lover . . . or in case I'm a whistle-blower . . . or a dissident . . . or an activist . . . or WHATEVER valid reason I may have.

Which leads to the most important point: it's not just about anonymity . . . it's also about PRIVACY. Everybody should have legitimate concerns about potential Big Brothers. Facebook doesn't even try to hide their Big Brother ambitions. I would be sorely disappointed to see Google+ follow Facebook's lead.

As far as I can tell, the use of pseudonyms should work just as well on Google+ as it does here.

Comment by kris feenstra on August 6, 2011 at 3:33am

That's mostly tangential to my point, which I feel I have stated clearly enough.  Of course I verify all information I consume to the best of my ability.  I am not talking about my need for other people to post under their own names; I don't need that.  What I am talking about is a lack of sympathy for those unwilling to speak under their own name, barring extreme circumstances.  Google + should set whatever policy on user names they want as far as I'm concerned.  By all means, let the company know what you think, but as I've stated, I don't agree that anonymity is crucial for activism.  I think that's a weak point of opposition to the policy.

Comment by Atheist Exile on August 6, 2011 at 7:33am

Listen to yourself, Kris:

"What I am talking about is a lack of sympathy for those unwilling to speak under their own name, barring extreme circumstances."

Well then, I guess that settles it.  You disagree because you disagree.  Enlightening.

And those "tangential" points?  They're additional points germane to the topic, intended to demonstrate that there are more considerations than I had discussed prior.

The weak point here is your closed mind.  There's no other way to perceive you when you claim that anonymity isn't crucial for political dissidents of hostile governments or prominent anti-Islamism proponents like Ibn Warraq (who we ONLY know by his pseudonym) or anybody else who doesn't want to deal with unnecessary risk.  In the case of prominent anti-Islamists (like Ayaan Hirsi Ali), they have to keep their locations and/or identities secret because of lunatic fanatics.  Any moron can see that unnecessary risk is foolish.  You don't need to wait for death threats before taking precautions.

I'm not sure what your problem is (actually, I've got my suspicions) but I don't see anything you've stated that I take seriously.

Don't bother replying.  I'm not wasting any more time with you.

Comment by kris feenstra on August 6, 2011 at 4:01pm

You're being petulant.  I explained my opinion, and you dismissed it without making a single attempt to understand it.  Instead you replied with a post that addresses points I never made to begin with as if I should care.  When I explain that you've missed the mark, you come back with accusations that I'm close minded, and in the same breath say that you're ending the dialogue before it's even really begun.


On a side note, my statement clearly said 'barring extreme circumstances'.  Ibn Warraq doesn't need a google + account to say anything.  I've already explained that there are already other venues and Google + accounts are not necessary or crucial.  He has several books published already, all of which you yourself can promote on Google + as much as you like, as can thousands upon thousands of other people.  You don't need anonymity to support him on G+.  As for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, part of what makes her position so powerful is that she is willing to speak out in spite of threats.  It's not unnecessary risk; it's very important that there are public figures like her to stand openly at the front of the cause.  Someone has to have the balls to do it.  


But G+ isn't even an activism site to begin with; it's a social networking site.


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