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Pete Jordan
Works at Horus Web Engineering Ltd
Lives in Kingston upon Hull
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Pete Jordan

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A useful summary. AFAICS G+ is gravitating to being a platform for following celebs and reading strips, and not a lot else. Defined by what it's not (FB, Twitter, LJ, DW, private, safe, &c.) rather than what it is.

/via +Jennie Rigg
Pavlos Papageorgiou originally shared:
Pavlos's guide to Google+

What is Google+? Should I join?
G+ is an identity service. It let's you project your real-life, everyday identity, your real name, pictures of you, your relationships with friends and colleagues, etc. online. It's good for cultivating your "personal brand" and posting short amounts of information very publicly to the world.

G+ is designed to make you as easy to find as possible. It's generally very easy to find people, even though the system is new and not so many are on it. Think of G+ as a casual version of LinkedIn. It's also like the way celebrities, corporate people, etc. use Facebook or Twitter.

You should join if:

- You like that idea of projecting your identity very publicly and sharing whatever is, to you, uncontroversial and safe to share in public.
- You're unsure (just join and listen)
- You're famous, and you want to grab your profile before someone else impersonates you.
- You're optimistic about what this can do for the world.

What is G+ not? Why would I not join?
Don't join if you object to what Google is trying to do with G+, except to debate this!

Don't join if you think that people might reveal embarrassing or dangerous things about you or otherwise stalk you. You can engage them and fight your case, of course, but you can't silence them. Currently there's no credible moderation or code of conduct from Google.

G+ doesn't work as a private space to share things with your friends. Although in theory you can create private spaces for sharing (they're called "circles") the whole thing is at the moment very public and unconvincing in terms of privacy. For a start, everyone is suposed to join under their real name and many people don't want to. For talking between friends, strick to Facebook, LiveJournal, etc.

G+ is not free speech. There's a "no porn" clause that would restrict many photographers, models, etc. there's the usual "no copyrighted materials" rule and there's officially no anonymity. G+ is no good for sharing news of a revolution from where it happens (compare with twitter).

Since there's so much restriction on authors, you should be mindful that what you see on G+ is sanitized speech. A whole range of facts and perspectives don't show up on G+. This is called filter bias.

G+ isn't a primary publishing platform. For a start, you don't control it. Even though Google offers "data liberation" you just wouldn't use G+ as your main blog or as a forum. Keep your WordPress, TypePad, or Blogger subscription and post links to your articles on G+ if you want.

Currently, G+ is tied to the other Google services that do sharing: Picasa, Buzz, and the sharing aspect of Reader. If you use those heavily, you may want to wait (If anything goes wrong with G+ they'll be affected).

G+ is currently incompatible with the paid Google Apps service. They're working on it.

Should kids join G+?
Officially no. I'd say PG.

G+ allows kids to expose information about themselves in their profile. It obviously lets kids meet lots of people, mostly strangers, and they can send pictures and participate in video chats. On Android phones, G+ lets you tag your posts with location and see the posts of strangers nearby. Currently there are no parental controls.

Should I join with a nickname, stage name, pen name, handle, etc?
If you're a major celebrity, for example you're Madonna for everybody and for your entire life, join as Madonna. Google might ask for proof, which should be easy for you. For less famous people like authors there might be a grey area.

If you're a very minor or cult celebrity, say Husky (someone who talks about games on YouTube) you probably want to join with your real name. Or if you're CmdrTaco (the founder of well-known site Slashdot) join with your real name. You can include your well-known nickname in your profile under "other names".

If your other identity is in any way controversial or hidden, for example you're a sex worker, activist, civil rights champion, anonymous reporter, or anything where anonymity matters do not join G+ from your main Google account and project your alter ego. G+ is designed to "leak" your identity as much as possible rather than keep it safe.

If you do want to join in a discussion or to share some important information anonymously, use a disposable identity (breaking the terms of service). Make a completely new Google account just for that purpose and keep it secret and separate. This is very hard to do safely, so don't do it lightly!

How well are Google validating identities?
About as well as the Inquisition validated suspected witches. This is currently way below acceptable. There are both false profiles out in the open and legitimate profiles getting banned.

You should treat identities as suspect at all times, irrespective of whether it says "verified" anywhere on the profile. If someone says anything remotely out of the ordinary your first thought should be "maybe it's an impostor" and not "what a jerk". You should not accept any invitations for confidential communication, deals, etc. on G+.

What's the etiquette on G+?
Generally the tone is civil and positive. There are relatively few assholes. However there are certainly strong opinions expressed, so it may be confrontational. You have some tools to silence or block annoying people from your content.

There is a re-sharing feature, but be careful not to reveal information intended for a limited audience to a wider audience (or the public). Also be careful not to reveal personal information about people that they chose not to reveal themselves, for example their workplace, contact details, or tagging them in photos. Currently there's no protection against this.

You can generally follow (add to circles) whoever you like without asking. This is a way to watch what they post publicly, and it doesn't imply any intrusion or any obligation to add you back. They'll see a message when you add them, but not when you remove them, so if they're boing remove them.

A slight exception to this: It may be more polite to wait for someone to post something before you follow them.

You can share whatever you like. The responsibility is with the readers, not with the writers, to filter what they read using the "circles" feature. Circles are also supposed to be an outbound filter, but they don't really serve that purpose. There is need of a feature like tags to do this.

The amount that people share varies widely. Typically your friends will be drowned out by semi-famous people sharing all kind of interesting stuff. Currently the UI for filtering what you see using circles is unwieldy but usable.

Always act as if everything you write will be kept forever and under your name. Of course if you change your mind you can go back and delete or edit posts, so you can claim that you no longer think or support some stupid idea you supported before. You just can't deny having said it, known, it, etc. once.

Because of the unsatisfactory way in which Google verifies identities, if person A reports person B (their G+ profile) then person B may be silenced or gone form G+. Bear this in mind when observing conversations. Do not report anyone unless they are pretending to be you, or they pretend to be person C and person C is in the room with you and asks you to report them.
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+John Allison: The trouble with "Hedley" as a name is my instant, Pavlovian association with the phrase, "think of your secretary."

On balance, Mosstyn was a better choice in this context :)
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K Robert originally shared:
A poll: how should Google+ fix its names problems?

Link to vote in this poll:

There are so many of us talking about the issue that it can be hard to tell what people really want. So here are a list of statements based on different things I've heard people suggest, and I'm trying to get a sense of what the majority of pro-nym supporters really want. (I have my own opinions on this, based on my impression from the people I read, but I might be wrong.) And yes, there are people at Google who will read this and may be able to help us based on the results, so please, let's be constructive here.

Here's how the poll works: you simply vote by +1-ing a comment below, to show your support for the statement. While of course you can +1 as many options as you like, I'm going to ask that you limit yourself to the statement(s) you most strongly support.

Comment policy for this post: I don't want this to be a free-for-all comment thread, so I'm going to moderate strictly to keep this focused on the topic of proposed improvements to the G+ names situation. General #nymwars discussion doesn't belong here, sorry.
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Oh they do, Nick: I've a friend who's had at least a half dozen accounts (using her real name) canned by FB; she got onto some internal shitlist through guilt by association - her (current!) account has been stable for a good few months now, but given the totally opaque nature of FB's processes, there's no guarantee it'll remain so.

FB and G+ are as bad as each other, though differently bad.
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Now here's a petition worth signing; let this government, as godbag-ridden as the last, know that there are voters who would rather children were taught science than bollocks thankyouverymuch.

/htt - thanks, +PZ Myers :)
Teach evolution, not creationism. Responsible department: Department for Education. Creationism and 'intelligent design' are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theor...
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Interesting perspective. I can see issues with the sort of online compartmentalisation he writes of too, but the whole realm of online identity and visibility is way away from any sort of stable resolution yet.

/via +danah boyd
Bernie Hogan originally shared:
Recently on the social media collective blog, danah boyd set off a firestorm by suggesting that the imposition of real names on social media sites is an abuse of power…or even authoritarian. The obvious retort is “don’t like it, don’t use it”, or learn how to segement one’s network (i.e. bend to the system, because its your problem). But I’m here to take another angle on this one: real name sites are necessarily inadequate for online audiences. Yes, necessarily inadequate. I once had a dream that people could seamlessly manage their social networks on any site through some combination of visulaization and clever user interfaces. It was based on the visualization of Facebook networks. People who see these networks, as I’ve discovered in many interviews (early work discussed here), readily identify the myriad social contexts in their networks. One cluster is clearly family, another is clearly coworkers, and so forth. As such, it seemed like the next step would be to use this information to create some sort of selective sharing interface. These are Google+’s social circles (or Diaspora’s Aspects), except determined semi-automatically. Then one could simply select which context, and read from it, or post to it.

This is “the myth of selective sharing” (as Marc Smith calls it). Its an engineer’s dream based on a misunderstanding of the key distinction between offline and online life. Offline we assume that our conversations are not encoded and thereafter not available to people outside of our immediate audience, by default. Yes, some lucky people give talks to large audiences, they get on the radio or tv. Most don’t. But everyone has some reason to share things with one person but not another. We don’t need to go as far as whistle blowers, political dissidents or closet cases in religious areas. Lots of people have grievances with their bosses, or find someone else attractive, or have problem students / subordinates they need advice on. Lots of people need advice on their own issues, be it alcoholism, drug abuse or gambling. When people do this offline, they do it in situations: temporally and spatially bounded contexts for action. The pub after work; the patio over a cup of coffee; the closed door meeting. But what do we mean by offline anymore? Some assume it is when they are not searching and browsing the web? Or when they aren’t streaming video, emailing someone or inside a virtual world. Being offline actually refers to a much more limited space than that. Being online is being encoded and having that which is encoded available to some party other than those immediately present. You are not online when you are in front of a computer – you are online when your actions are being digitized and networked. Online is on-the-record. Offline is off-the-record.

Offline people say things appropriate to the group they are in. That doesn’t mean they are two-faced, insincere or liars. It means people are context aware. People observe walls, clocks, furniture, fashion and music. These things guide us as to the appropriate way of acting. The guy writing his novel at the bar on Friday night is out-of-place. The guy who shows up to work drunk on Monday morning has a problem. Offline people don’t have to worry about their real name, because their behavior is tied to the context and the impressions the foster in that context. In fact, I’ll say that even more strongly – if your speech is not confined to the context you are in – but available to a potentially unknowable audience – you are online.

This is why real name sites are necessarily inadequate. They deny individuals the right to be context-specific. They turn the performance of impression management into the process of curation. Facebook curates through the top news feed, Twitter does it through lists and Google+ through some confusing (and as far as I can tell, failing) social circles model. Impression management means selectively presenting an idealized version of one’s self specific to that context. Curation means selecting objects for display. So if you don’t think that being context-specific is a right, consider what you think the ‘free’ means in the right to free speech. When my speech is necessarily encumbered by a tethering to a single all-encompassing key (the real name) that unlocks whatever I say, I am no longer free to address one specific context and not another one. I am engaging in a trust relationship with the curator, but I am not free to say what I want. Sometimes that relationship fails [see: weinergate or whatever is the scandal du jour], sometimes its out of my control (when others post on my behalf, tag me, etc…)

Of course, this applies most strongly to non-addressed spaces. When I address someone in an email or on the phone, I am still online, but I’m not necessarily subject to curation. I send a message to a specific recipient, I expect that recipient to get the message, not have gmail decide (but even then spam is filtered out through some curation). On the other hand, when I submit content to social media sites, I do not have a clear view of who is, or will see it, outside of some vague notion of friend lists.

Pseudonyms have long been a way out of this situation. Someone might have one name for an anonymous support group, another for a group of bi-curious and closeted individuals (or just for sex in general), another for a message board about programming, and one for politics or political action. If these were mine, then the choice to blend them or keep them separate is mine. Real names and third-party curation takes away that choice. In their place they offer many advantages, but freedom is not one of them. And that’s why the imposition of one name, one network for all is an abuse of power. It says not only is the curator better at deciding who you should read your content than you, the curator won’t even give you the choice to begin with.
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How do you spell that?

+Manda Arachnid gave me this link in a comment; worth promoting to a post.
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Been meaning to link to this BMJ study on health benefits/risks of cycling since Copenhagenize linked¹ to it; +Jeffrey Rowland's encouragement² of bikeliduse reminded me; discouraging cycling by emphasising its (minimal) dangers by suggesting (let alone compelling) helmet use and its (even more minimal) reduction in real-world injury risk results in a net reduction in public health. Compare and contrast, say, Melbourne and Dublin³.

Search the BMJ. BMJ; BMJ Journals; BMJ Careers; BMJ Learning; Evidence Centre; doc2doc; BMJ Group. Search this site. Advanced search. Register for free services; Subscribe; Sign in. Home; Res...
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I agree with him about wearing headphones (let alone texting) on a bike though, and twats in lycra do nobody any good either.
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What Charlie writes.

Me? I was first here because G+ isn't Facebook, and I had a naive hope that it would be less bad, rather than just differently bad (and, increasingly, looking worse). I'll not bugger off, yet, but I doubt I'll be here for anything resembling the long term.

Unless of course +Vic Gundotra and Google decide to Not Be Evil. Can't really see that happening somehow. The power of unquestioned privilege combined with their customers' desire for Google user data counts rather more, I fear.
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OK, if this information is correct, it seems that: 1. the G+ non-anon policy is driven primarily by +Vic Gundotra; 2. "There are other places [Women, LGBT, abuse victims, etc,] can go," so that's all right; 3. Privileged White Men are unbothered by not seeing diversity of opinion and experience, so that's ok too.

Just as long as we all know where we stand, and what "not evil" is defined as today. Datapoint: I'm a Privileged White Man using my real name (because one of the things my privilege enables is my doing so), and I'm bothered by this policy, by its consequences, by its further exclusion of the voices of people whose voices are already silenced.

/via +danah boyd
Stephen R. van den Berg originally shared:
Nymwars, a view from the trenches within Google

In another thread I asked for information from inside Google.
Well, I got it, probably more than I bargained for, but relevant and interesting nonetheless. And since Google themselves are not particularly forthcoming with information, I think some of it will be of interest to the public at large, if only to fill in the information gaps Google is leaving behind.

The information I'm presenting was told to me anonymously, but with sufficient detail that I have no reason to believe that it's not coming from someone working at Google. I do not know the Googler's identity, nor do I wish to. I'll disclose as much of the information I deem relevant to the nymwars discussion without jeopardising this person's job. Information is rephrased in my words to avoid recognition by correlation (if one company should be able to try that, it's Google, of course).

Update, see at the bottom of this post.

Below the summarised information in my words, but from the mouth of a Googler (still) working there:

As suspected, many Googlers support the nymwars cause for pseudonyms. There are those that do not support it, but even they agree that Google is messing up royally in the way the name violations are being handled. There already are Googlers that left Google because of this policy and it is likely that more will follow.
The nymwars are a recurring topic during the company-wide Friday-meetings, at times even taking over the original agenda of a meeting.

With respect to hierarchy, even though +Bradley Horowitz is pushed forward as the face of G+, he only seems to follow instructions. It also appears that Bradley is not happy with the fact that he has been told to make public announcements regarding G+-matters only to find out that what he announced was not (entirely) true after all.

The man with the "mission from god" seems to be +Vic Gundotra [no big news here]. Vic's leadership style is "just agree with me, and I won't have to hurt you". He seems to see himself as being the visionary for the G+ policies. To him, anyone with a different view on his vision "just doesn't get it". He's dead set on "accepting the judgement of history" only.

+Larry Page is aware of the issue, but it's unclear if he is being properly informed. Publicly he is very dismissive of comments by Googlers who disagree with the names policy.

+Sergey Brin OTOH, is conspicuously absent from the debate. Sergey is the "soul" of Google in many ways, and the judge of what is Evil in their famous motto.

The rationale behind Google's G+ actions:

a. Pseudonyms will become supported, they're working on it, just hold on tight. Most likely support for pseudonyms, pen names and business names will be rolled out at the same time.
One of the reasons it has not been rolled out yet is that there is a difference in rights between rights to carry a business name, or to carry a private name. E.g. the trademark Lady Gaga may only be used by the artist holding that trademark, but if someone, by chance, has Lady Gaga in their passport, then for non-business purposes, using this name is perfectly valid. I.e. there needs to be support to distinguish between multiple personal Lady Gagas, and the one "true" Lady Gaga. This support was not ready yet, hence the (temporary) restriction to use personal names only, and no nyms.
Quite recently support for verified accounts was added, so part of the solution is visible already.

[I believe the pseudonyms he's talking about here are those where it is possible to discover the real name behind it. Also, I'm not sure what "verified accounts" feature he's talking about here; surely he can't be referring to the sms-verification? -- SRB]

b. Support for true anonymity is considered a hard problem, so instead of pretending that they facilitate it, Vic would rather stick his head in the sand and simply not take responsibility; i.e. anyone requiring true anonymity needs to "abuse" the system and slip through the cracks.

[I believe he's also talking about persistent pseudonyms here with the intent to hide any connection to your real name; i.e. given support for light-weight pseudonyms/aliases, one simply has to add a fake real name, and one should have the anonymous account with a pseudonym of choice -- SRB]

c. Google management is extremely concerned about authenticity of G+ search results and verifiable identities. I.e. on the normal web pagerank and other methods can be used to verify reputation of a website and determine the search ranking. In a social media site, searching is different. Data being searched for could only have been live some mere seconds before the search takes place. This means that there is no time to wait for people to bury trolls, link to good posts etc. I.e. the search engine needs to be able to determine autonomously and instantly if certain contributions should have a high or a low search rank. The most significant way they plan on doing this is by using the reputation of the person writing the comment/posting with regard to the subject he/she's commenting on. They say that they need to know who the writers are to be able to decide this; e.g. a recognised expert on heart disease will see his posts score higher on search for "heart attack".

[It is unclear to me why this needs a real name; one might as well figure out someone's expertise by "(machine) reading" their contributions and checking someone's follower-list, and drawing conclusions based on that, it should scale better, because it does not require human intervention -- SRB]

Popular counterarguments (both raised internally and externally), and why they won't fly with Vic or Larry:

- "Restricting names is bad for business"
Vic assumes, not unreasonably, that his sense of business is better than that of most commenters.

- "Women, LGBT, abuse victims, etc, will be disadvantaged"
Larry/Vic: "There are other places they can go to, we don't have to fight every ethical and social injustice every time in everything we do, G+ is one of the occasions when we don't seek to right the wrongs of the world, we just want to get the work done."

- "White privileged men will be denied the diversity of opinions because of the bias of Google+ toward white privileged men"
Larry/Vic: "Most of them seem to be just fine with that. Sure, most people pay lip service to diversity of opinions, but what really gets their panties in a knot is when their search results show what they consider garbage."

So far Vic has not shown that he is in doubt about any of this, so it is unlikely that simple arguments are able to convince him to change his mind.

[So, in conclusion one might say that things are not as bad as they look(ed), it's just stupid that Google doesn't speak up more; unless they enjoy the (bad) press, just to keep the attention going -- SRB]

Edit update: I've just received a comment by someone who wishes to remain anonymous (ironic that these anonymity requirements are needed to talk about nymwars) which I quote in full (for the benefit of resharers) below:

I'm sorry that I can't make this comment publicly -- I'm not a Googler, but I have very close ties to a handful of them (so I don't want my name to be attached to this response). I wanted to say that yes, the information I have from my friends is pretty much in agreement with your post. At one point before G+ launched, an internal petition in support of pseudonyms was signed by about 10% of all Google engineers, which was a huge deal for the petition organizers. It seems that the G+ team is currently overwhelmed with technical issues of the current system -- that, combined with Vic's attitude, means that nymwars is not going to be addressed anytime soon. If engineers can scrape together 20% time to implement possible solutions and manage to convince decision-makers to let them roll out changes, we might see something. I guess I'm still hopeful but not holding my breath. My Google friends who support pseudonyms are becoming very frustrated and worn-down. We've only been fighting the battle publicly for a month, but they've been pushing internally for much, much longer. Thanks for pulling this post together. I appreciate that people who don't have friends at Google can read this and get a sense of what those of us who do, but are afraid to speak so directly, have been hearing.
"We have a bias in favor of people's right to free expression in everything we do. We are driven by a belief that more information generally means more…
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Well, well. "Starred" is back again, after being there and not several times over the last week or so. Maybe it'll actually stick this time, as the messages I marked first time I noticed the feature actually appear on the Starred left-column feed now.
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No, I've not seen that yet, either. But at least now I know what to look for.
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"It delivers an object of the mode given, providing that the coercions necessary are of the allowed forms."

Now, identify that book (the language at least will be readily identifiable to anyone who's ever had any contact with it).

(National Book week. Nearest book, page 56, sentence 5. You know the drill. Blame +Douglas Spencer (and apologies to +Andrew Baker who briefly held unjustified blame here))
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Once Trumpet Winsock is properly configured, your PC connects to the Internet each time you open Trumpet Winsock.

Navigating the Internet with Windows 95.
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danah boyd originally shared:
“Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power

Everyone’s abuzz with the “nymwars,” mostly in response to Google Plus’ decision to enforce its “real names” policy. At first, Google Plus went on a deleting spree, killing off accounts that violated its policy. When the community reacted with outrage, Google Plus leaders tried to calm the anger by detailing their “new and improved” mechanism to enforce “real names” (without killing off accounts). This only sparked increased discussion about the value of pseudonymity. Dozens of blog posts have popped up with people expressing their support for pseudonymity and explaining their reasons. One of the posts, by Kirrily “Skud” Robert ( included a list of explanations that came from people she polled, including:

- “I am a high school teacher, privacy is of the utmost importance.”
- “I have used this name/account in a work context, my entire family know this name and my friends know this name. It enables me to participate online without being subject to harassment that at one point in time lead to my employer having to change their number so that calls could get through.”
- “I do not feel safe using my real name online as I have had people track me down from my online presence and had coworkers invade my private life.”
- “I’ve been stalked. I’m a rape survivor. I am a government employee that is prohibited from using my IRL.”
- “As a former victim of stalking that impacted my family I’ve used [my nickname] online for about 7 years.”
- “[this name] is a pseudonym I use to protect myself. My web site can be rather controversial and it has been used against me once.”
- “I started using [this name] to have at least a little layer of anonymity between me and people who act inappropriately/criminally. I think the “real names” policy hurts women in particular.
- “I enjoy being part of a global and open conversation, but I don’t wish for my opinions to offend conservative and religious people I know or am related to. Also I don’t want my husband’s Govt career impacted by his opinionated wife, or for his staff to feel in any way uncomfortable because of my views.”
- “I have privacy concerns for being stalked in the past. I’m not going to change my name for a google+ page. The price I might pay isn’t worth it.”
- “We get death threats at the blog, so while I’m not all that concerned with, you know, sane people finding me. I just don’t overly share information and use a pen name.”
- “This identity was used to protect my real identity as I am gay and my family live in a small village where if it were openly known that their son was gay they would have problems.”
- “I go by pseudonym for safety reasons. Being female, I am wary of internet harassment.”

You’ll notice a theme here…

Another site has popped up called “My Name Is Me” ( where people vocalize their support for pseudonyms. What’s most striking is the list of people who are affected by “real names” policies, including abuse survivors, activists, LGBT people, women, and young people.

Over and over again, people keep pointing to Facebook as an example where “real names” policies work. This makes me laugh hysterically. One of the things that became patently clear to me in my fieldwork is that countless teens who signed up to Facebook late into the game chose to use pseudonyms or nicknames. What’s even more noticeable in my data is that an extremely high percentage of people of color used pseudonyms as compared to the white teens that I interviewed. Of course, this would make sense…

The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. “Real names” policies aren’t empowering; they’re an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people. These ideas and issues aren’t new (and I’ve even talked about this before - ), but what is new is that marginalized people are banding together and speaking out loudly. And thank goodness.

What’s funny to me is that people also don’t seem to understand the history of Facebook’s “real names” culture. When early adopters (first the elite college students…) embraced Facebook, it was a trusted community. They gave the name that they used in the context of college or high school or the corporation that they were a part of. They used the name that fit into the network that they joined Facebook with. The names they used weren’t necessarily their legal names; plenty of people chose Bill instead of William. But they were, for all intents and purposes, “real.” As the site grew larger, people had to grapple with new crowds being present and discomfort emerged over the norms. But the norms were set and people kept signing up and giving the name that they were most commonly known by. By the time celebrities kicked in, Facebook wasn’t demanding that Lady Gaga call herself Stefani Germanotta, but of course, she had a “fan page” and was separate in the eyes of the crowd. Meanwhile, what many folks failed to notice is that countless black and Latino youth signed up to Facebook using handles. Most people don’t notice what black and Latino youth do online. Likewise, people from outside of the US started signing up to Facebook and using alternate names. Again, no one noticed because names transliterated from Arabic or Malaysian or containing phrases in Portuguese weren’t particularly visible to the real name enforcers. Real names are by no means universal on Facebook, but it’s the importance of real names is a myth that Facebook likes to shill out. And, for the most part, privileged white Americans use their real name on Facebook. So it “looks” right.

Then along comes Google Plus, thinking that it can just dictate a “real names” policy. Only, they made a huge mistake. They allowed the tech crowd to join within 48 hours of launching. The thing about the tech crowd is that it has a long history of nicks and handles and pseudonyms. And this crowd got to define the early social norms of the site, rather than being socialized into the norms set up by trusting college students who had joined a site that they thought was college-only. This was not a recipe for “real name” norm setting. Quite the opposite. Worse for Google… Tech folks are VERY happy to speak LOUDLY when they’re pissed off. So while countless black and Latino folks have been using nicks all over Facebook (just like they did on MySpace btw), they never loudly challenged Facebook’s policy. There was more of a “live and let live” approach to this. Not so lucky for Google and its name-bending community. Folks are now PISSED OFF.

Personally, I’m ecstatic to see this much outrage. And I’m really really glad to see seriously privileged people take up the issue, because while they are the least likely to actually be harmed by “real names” policies, they have the authority to be able to speak truth to power. And across the web, I’m seeing people highlight that this issue has more depth to it than fun names (and is a whole lot more complicated than boiling it down to being about anonymity, as Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg foolishly did).

What’s at stake is people’s right to protect themselves, their right to actually maintain a form of control that gives them safety. If companies like Facebook and Google are actually committed to the safety of its users, they need to take these complaints seriously. Not everyone is safer by giving out their real name. Quite the opposite; many people are far LESS safe when they are identifiable. And those who are least safe are often those who are most vulnerable.

Likewise, the issue of reputation must be turned on its head when thinking about marginalized people. Folks point to the issue of people using pseudonyms to obscure their identity and, in theory, “protect” their reputation. The assumption baked into this is that the observer is qualified to actually assess someone’s reputation. All too often, and especially with marginalized people, the observer takes someone out of context and judges them inappropriately based on what they get online. Let me explain this in a concrete example that many of you have heard before. Years ago, I received a phone call from an Ivy League college admissions officer who wanted to accept a young black man from South Central in LA into their college; the student had written an application about how he wanted to leave behind the gang-ridden community he came from, but the admissions officers had found his MySpace which was filled with gang insignia. The question that was asked of me was “Why would he lie to us when we can tell the truth online?” Knowing that community, I was fairly certain that he was being honest with the college; he was also doing what it took to keep himself alive in his community. If he had used a pseudonym, the college wouldn’t have been able to get data out of context about him and inappropriately judge him. But they didn’t. They thought that their frame mattered most. I really hope that he got into that school.

There is no universal context, no matter how many times geeks want to tell you that you can be one person to everyone at every point. But just because people are doing what it takes to be appropriate in different contexts, to protect their safety, and to make certain that they are not judged out of context, doesn’t mean that everyone is a huckster. Rather, people are responsibly and reasonably responding to the structural conditions of these new media. And there’s nothing acceptable about those who are most privileged and powerful telling those who aren’t that it’s OK for their safety to be undermined. And you don’t guarantee safety by stopping people from using pseudonyms, but you do undermine people’s safety by doing so.

Thus, from my perspective, enforcing “real names” policies in online spaces is an abuse of power.

Originally posed at Apophenia:
Pete Jordan's profile photoNick Greaves's profile photo
+Manda Arachnid : In the case of PAYG phones, the information may not EVEN BE THERE to be insecure. Anyone can buy a PAYG phone and use it without even registering a name against the number. And it doesn't even have to be your phone that you have the text sent to - it could be someone else's. Or it could be a free SIM that you got, used for a few days and then threw away.

As a means of verifying or tracing anything it's next to worthless. But the main point (in the context of this discussion) is that it's highly unlikely to provide any reliable proof of your name. That would require checking against things like registers of births, utility bills, electoral register, the kind of stuff a bank would check when you open an account with them.
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