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!