I'm copying over this comment by +Yonatan Zunger
from his thread because I think it's deeply important and don't want it to get lost.
So this is actually drilling into something else which I realized this morning and wanted to bounce off of you. I'm seeing two different ideas coming up in this conversation:
(1) Identity is fluid: people are known by different names in different contexts, and by different groups of people.
(2) Names are personally important: to deny someone the right to use their name is to implicitly deny the validity of their identity, and such this is a moral issue.
When you combine these two ideas, you get a curious notion -- that people use multiple identities in multiple contexts, and to prevent them from choosing which identity they use in any particular context is a moral issue. I can understand that argument, but I don't think that I agree with it.
I'm instead coming to think that by conflating this, we've actually conflated two different kinds of identity problem, with different underlying social dynamics.
One case is what you might call "core" identities, names/identifiers which are extremely personally important to a person, so that to deny them is to implicitly deny their personhood. The other case is multifarious identities; for example, when a person has built up a reputation in one circle under one name, in another under a second name, and so on. This latter case applies not only to handles and so on, but even to much more common things like professional names. (Take, e.g., the case of a writer who uses multiple pen names in multiple genres, and who has built up a brand identity under each) In the case of the latter, while I think that it's advantageous to a person to allow them to interact in a particular context under any particular identity, I don't think that it's a moral issue in the same way as the former case.
I think that we've accidentally conflated these cases in our discussion, and I suspect that several of the people on this thread fall into each category.
I'm making a tradeoff in this service by restricting the space of names to things which are, by some criterion, "name-shaped." On the one hand, the exclusion of handles has a nontrivial cultural effect, because handle-based cultures such as Internet fora, YouTube, some parts of fandom, etc., have established cultural norms which are (on the very large-scale average) ultimately somewhat similar to one another and very different from those in many name-based cultures, such as G+, FB, or meatspace. Since we have made an explicit decision to make G+ a name-based culture, and since the large bulk of our users come exclusively from such cultures (i.e., have little or no familiarity with handle-based cultures), there are significant culture clash risks associated with culture mixing and we've chosen to resolve those by basically excluding handles. (With rare exceptions for very established handles, which is an exception people are used to because they see those cases as intrinsically exceptional; as an extreme example, Lady Gaga) On the other hand, this excludes identities which come from handle-based cultures.
When the excluded identity is in the second category, then this is frankly working as intended: I'm trading off one virtue of social health (building up a unified culture on G+) against another virtue of social health (allowing as many identities as possible to be represented on the service). However, when the excluded identity is in the first category, this is a tradeoff between a social health virtue and a matter of recognizing personhood, which I would consider a "moral virtue." This sort of tradeoff prompts an understandable moral revulsion, for the same reason that offering to buy someone's children would; it offers an exchange which mixes moral categories.
The resolution that we're aiming for amounts to attempting to structure the name restrictions as narrowly as possible in order to attain the social health virtue of building up a name-based culture. Unfortunately, when working at large N, even a very small probability of collateral damage means that people will be affected, and as you well know, under the new policy identities in the first category are still getting flagged. (And even getting flagged for manual review is a cost; it signals that a person's identity must be questioned, which is at its root hostile) So we do several things to alleviate this: first, to have actual humans in the loop for all exceptions, including me (and a few other senior people) as a last-tier reviewer. Second, we are steadily (post-launch) reevaluating our metrics, the set of people who are undergoing manual review, what we are learning from them, who is passing review and who isn't, so that we can better identify those first cases and minimize the pain for them. And most of all, we're continuing to try to craft the policy to be as narrow as possible. The sign of health in the system is that most reviews are rejected: i.e., if someone is getting flagged they are genuinely not supposed to be in the system. Since Monday’s launch, about 99.2% of cases submitted for manual review have indeed been rejected, out of which only about 0.2% were even slightly ambiguous; the large majority have been clear cases such as people wanting to know why their business couldn’t be their personal identity.So this is a good sign, but it still means that there were a few dozen people who were asked to prove their identities when they shouldn’t have been. (Many of whom are on this thread) That means that there’s room for improvement.
This is hard because I’m making a tradeoff which will, when it errs, inflict a moral harm on people. This leaves only two choices: to not make the tradeoff, counting any moral cost as too high, or to make it and attempt to minimize the collateral harm done. I think that the virtues of building a name-based culture on this network, compared to a handle-based culture, are significant enough that I’m willing to make that tradeoff; this was not a decision come to lightly, but one which has cost me a number of sleepless nights. (Not least because the people harmed most by this are, in my heart, “my people” -- these cultures of old Internet folks, and fandom, and so on and so on -- you all know who you are -- are the people I grew up with and the ones with which I have always felt most at home) But at large enough N, even a very small probability of harm turns into a nonzero number of people, and to completely avoid that would mean to never do anything.
None of which justifies the pain and anger which I know some people are feeling over this issue. I understand it and know that it is a consequence of decisions which we, collectively, and I personally have taken. But looking back on it, I do think that the overall structure of the policy -- or at least, of the refined one we released on Monday, and the refinements that I hope to add to it in the future -- minimize harm as best as I can. Per mea culpa
; also, some days it sucks to be an officer.