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Caterina makes a really good point about the need for pseudonyms, pointing out that there are many innocent needs for them. Not everyone using a pseudonym is troll, and indeed, for many it's essential protection.

She says one thing that I take issue with: "“Real identities” have real benefits to users — creating communities of trust, silencing trolls, people standing by their words."

I'd like to see the evidence that using real names changes people's behaviour that much. Whenever I've been trolled/stalked online, it's been by people using their real name. Dicks will, sadly, be dicks whether pseudonymously or eponymously. Whenever I bring this point up, people always point to 4Chan as an example of the sort of negative place that springs up when people are pseudonymous or anonymous. But 4Chan is a small corner of the web, and they are vastly outnumbered by all the pseudonymous people elsewhere that act perfectly nicely.

The 'anonymity/pseudonymity = trollish behaviour' meme has been doing the rounds for years, but it's just not that simple. And it's especially not that simple when the easy way to get round it is to use a pseudonym that looks 'normal' to Western eyes. If I started a profile under some random name, say Sharon Glass, who would pick it up? What algorithm would be able to spot it?

I also think that Bradley Horowitz's response [1], doesn't go far enough. He says:

Third, we’ve noticed that some people are using their profile name to show-off nicknames, maiden names and personal descriptions. While the profile name doesn’t accommodate this, we want to support your friends finding you by these alternate names and give you a prominent way of displaying this info in Google+. Here are two features in particular that facilitate this kind of self-expression:
- If you add nicknames, maiden names, etc. to the "Other names" portion of your G+ profile, those with permission to view those fields can search for you using that term. For example: some of my colleagues call me "elatable," a pseudonym I’ve used on many services, so I've added it to my list of other names.

This doesn't solve the basic problem that people want to use their pseudonym as their main identity, not to have to tack it on to their given name identity. The bottom line is this:

1. Users should be allowed to use whatever name they wish.
2. Bad behaviour should be dealt with when it occurs.

Because at the end of the day, you simply cannot say that you can predict someone's future behaviour based on whether their name looks roughly normal or not.

[1] https://plus.google.com/u/0/113116318008017777871/posts/VJoZMS8zVqU
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I suspect Google's new strict identity policy is related to their plans of commercialising G+. If you open it up as a platform for commerce, you need strict identity control.
 
I think whether that's true or not would depend on the plan for commercialisation.
 
No one ever stalks me, but if they did they'd have to use a pseudonym to avoid the ignominy of bothering to stalk such a boring target.
 
Couple of points...

"But 4Chan is a small corner of the web, and they are vastly outnumbered by all the pseudonymous people elsewhere that act perfectly nicely. "

This is true for any rule (or law), though. To use a rubbish analogy, if there were no speed limits most people would still drive at responsible speeds. The exceptions, though, would cause havoc.

The canonical example of a "real names only" community is, of course, The WELL. The WELL allowed nicknames, but your real name was always displayed - the exception being in forums which were for the discussion of personally-sensitive issues (sexuality, addiction, etc).

The WELL was, and is, one of the few communities I've ever belonged to that managed to be vociferous but didn't tolerate trolling. I'd argue that the use of real names was part of that, but to be honest it's too small a sample as a community to tell.

What I do know is the model they followed - real names EXCEPT in personally-sensitive discussion areas - pretty-much meets the needs and objections of everyone. The edge-cases where anonymity is essential get anonymity. The discussions where it's not required didn't have it.

Of course, this doesn't work in a broad, unmoderated, totally-user-generated social network. But (I'd argue) social networks are rarely communities anyway. Clicking "Like" (or Plus 1) doesn't add up to much.

And I think that's part of the problem: A "one network to rule them all" attitude. We except the likes of Facebook and Google Plus to be forums for every kind of discussion, without wondering if rules which work for discussions of sensitive issues also work for discussing comic books and whether Android is better than iPhone. It's possible - and, I think, desirable - to have different networks that have different aims and follow different rules.
 
This is spot on Suw. There are too many countries where using your real name on line is asking for trouble and leads to self-censorship. It's great that others can't see who is in your circles. But if Google wants this network to take off, they have to stop playing judge and jury. It's starting to impact the trust people feel for putting anything into the cloud, especially if you live in a country with heavy press censorship.
 
«I'd like to see the evidence that using real names changes people's behaviour that much»

Since 2000, I'm editor of the Spanish Slashdot -same software, same topics, same hacker ethics, same troll issues. Our big issue over the years is that karma system didn't work. Regular users use the anonymity to post tough comments, and the community as a whole permits this behavior. Anonymity is a powerful and needed tool in many countries (and organizations), but "With great power comes great responsibility". It is often abused, and it ruined the site experience. Thoughtful users fled. We bloggers promoted comments in every site, including newspapers. But the general perception is that anonymous comments in popular sites suffer the same issue: big noise.

Some years ago, I changed my mind about anonymity after reading +Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs. He has a chapter devoted to free riders in online communities. He said that social rules must be enforced in order to stop free riders (attention whores and the like). I think real names help to enforce this rules, because karma is charged to your real identity, i.e. your comments could show in a Google search.

I don't think trolling has disappeared using real names, but many big sites have been switching to Facebook for comment threads and I think they are very happy with them.
 
Actually, Victor's example reminds me of a case recently which I think deserves some talking about.

A couple of years ago, a mutual friend of ours discovered some particularly foul homophobic comments on Facebook. Rather than just ignore them, she posted links to them on her blog, with (of course) the real names of the commenters.

Pretty quickly, any Google search for those names had her post at the top of them - and thus, that they were offensive, homophobic idiots.

Now, as it turned out, the commenters were teenage boys. And, as they pretty quickly sussed out, anyone searching for their names - including prospective employers in the future - would find their nasty little homophobic comments top of the pile.

After conversing with them for a while, and much apologising from them, my friend took that post down. And I think that a very valuable lesson was learned by the kids involved.

Now had Facebook been anonymous, that would never have happened. Those boys would have sailed through teenage life thinking you could say vicious things about people online, without any kind of come-back, any kind of real world consequence. I happen to think that they have probably learned something valuable from that, and doubt they'll behave in the same way again.
 
I agree wholeheartedly with you Suw. I'm often perplexed that people feel an anonymous account or a pseudonym implies "something to hide"; it's such an overly simplistic attitude. And then there's a tendency to believe that because it's easier to be negative when anonymous, that it's implicitly more common. Not only is it absolutely commonplace for people to be negative whilst also using their real name, it's also impossible to tell how many people are using a pseudonym in their communications and who are behaving online in a perfectly civilised manner.

I should probably acknowledge an interest here: my name is my 'married' name even though I've been through a divorce. But because I feel comfortable with my name and have had it for nearly 20 years it is a name I chose, and is not my 'real name' (if by that we mean birth name). Further, my brother chose a stage name in media and used this to protect himself against unwanted intrusion from unstable fans. Finally, I have several friends who I converse with via their pseudonymous names. I don't care any less for them because they use a name which doesn't appear on their bank statements. And I don't care any less for those people who choose to have multiple presences online. I engage with them using the names they feel most comfortable with in their conversations with me. And I entirely respect their choice to explore their identity in whatever way suits them.

It's a shame that more online users - and Google - do not recall that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet".
 
+Joanne Jacobs While I agree with you that "anonymity = something to hide" is far too simplistic, as is the idea that "real names = good behaviour", the argument "anonymity is proven good in some circumstances THEREFORE all circumstances must permit anonymity" is equally fallacious.

It seems to me that we have two sides here who have set themselves up in opposition and are unwilling to move towards a more flexible approach. That makes for good armchair debating (I'll get the popcorn and watch) but doesn't make for good community management policy.
 
Having been both totally pseudonymous and totally identifiable in different areas of the web, it occurs to me that being present under one's real name can make one more aggressive/defensive/angry, rather than less. One of the nice things about being pseudonymous is that any annoyances are slightly mitigated by standing at one remove from an online identity. You go "wow, someone was just incredibly unpleasant to that character" and you have the possibility of shrugging it off. That can be much harder if an ad hominem comment is directed at your real name.
 
+Nick Harkaway The flip side of that is that you can also be much more assertive and aggressive because "it's not really me, and that's not really them". Disassociating yourself from your onscreen persona also allows you to more easily disassociate other people, and thus treat them in ways which are less civl.

(Memo to self: Read Sherry Turkle's "Life on the Screen" again :) )
 
+Ian Betteridge I didn't in any way suggest that in all circumstances, anonymity was appropriate. In legal issues and in circumstances where a duty of care to vulnerable persons is required it is entirely appropriate that anonymity be minimised. But a social network is neither circumstance and thus should not be considered as such. The flexible approach you're looking for is a matter of choice. I use the name I have used for nearly 20 years online. That's my choice. But I'd defend forever the choice to use a pseudonym if that was the wish of a friend.
 
Here we go: http://tech.slashdot.org/story/11/07/25/2132238/The-Internets-Age-of-Rage

«The worldwide web has made critics of us all. But with commenters able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity, the blog and chatroom have become forums for hatred and bile. ... The psychologists call it 'deindividuation.' It's what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed. The classic deindividuation experiment concerned American children at Halloween. Trick-or-treaters were invited to take sweets left in the hall of a house on a table on which there was also a sum of money. When children arrived singly, and not wearing masks, only 8% of them stole any of the money. When they were in larger groups, with their identities concealed by fancy dress, that number rose to 80%».
 
+Joanne Jacobs It's not the choice of the individual, but of the community that matters here. All online communities are intentional, in the sense that you have a choice about joining them or not joining them, and to what degree you take part once joined. There is no right to anonymity if whoever provides that space - whether that's an individual manager or a whole community - decides it's beneficial not to permit it.

I think what's making people particularly freak out about this with regard to Google Plus, though is that Google is incredibly powerful. The consequences of choosing to "opt out" of Google Profiles, for example, could potentially be that you're less visible (or even totally invisible) to the 90% of people who use their search.

Thus, being part of "the Google community" may not be optional. Who opts out of Google?
 
+Ian Betteridge I'd argue it's not as simple as that Ian. It might be true if you were talking about a community hall or a social event in a public space. But both technologically and legally, Google+ is a virtual space defined by the people who inhabit it. Thus whilst Google may provide technical infrastructure (the building contractor who made the community hall) control of the space rests not with the organisation that has built the infrastructure, but with the presence of users. This isn't a website or even a blog, where the content owner has a right to control the commentary. Content is provided by users and for users, therefore ownership of content is maintained by users, not by Google. And if ownership of content is by users, then Google has no right to control how a content author must present themselves. I know some will argue that Google can stop people coming in without their using their real name, but if it is possible to register an account with a pseudonym, and if it becomes possible to enter the room without using one's real name, then it's a 'fault' (or benefit) of the infrastructure, not of the user. Pseudonyms (by and large) are not established as a means of acting in bad faith. If the infrastructure allows them to be established, then they should be extended into the social network.

Google can totally provide guidelines for what they prefer (as Facebook has done), but there should not be a situation where they summarily delete accounts for failing to abide by their guidelines - particularly without adequate notification - that's just appalling. I note they have acknowledged this and are attempting to fix, but their attitude so far has been dreadful.
 
+Joanne Jacobs I'm curious as to why you think that Google has no legal right to impose its terms and conditions, Joanne. To my mind, what you can do with the service is entirely defined by the terms they provide the service under.

To use your analogy: Google built the town hall, it owns it, manages it. It's the janitor, too, and has to clean up after other people's parties.

And while ownership of the content is clearly with the users, use of the service is by Google's permission. Your argument that because the content is owned by the users Google has no right to decide how they present themselves isn't logical: the user might own the content, but Google owns the means of publication and can make any terms about its use it wishes. If Google decided to only allow users to post if they first put up a profile pic of themselves with shoes on their heads, it could - and it wouldn't affect the ownership of any published content.

BTW, I don't disagree with you that summary suspensions are appalling, or that Google has badly misplayed this. I don't even necessarily disagree that pseudonyms should be allowed. But it's Google's playpen, and they get to allow anyone into it - or bar anyone they like, for whatever reason they like.
 
PayPal (and owners eBay) are perfectly happy to let lots of people (including me) use pseudonyms instead of meat names, retaining those for actual 'getting the money' purposes underneath the hood. They turn over a mahoosive amount of cash every day world-wide in lots of currencies.

If it is good enough (and easy enough to implement) for them, then I see no financial justification for Google to not do so either.
 
Alison: PayPal runs atop credit cards and bank accounts with real names.
 
+Nick Harkaway +Ian Betteridge Anonymity and pseudonymity do not necessarily result more anger, hatred and conflict. Judging from what people have learnt managing online communities since the year dot (this is usually the point where I point at Metafilter and Matt Haughey's 7 community tips[^1]) what matters is giving people an identity they are invested in.

A G+ profile is pretty much the definition of that sort of identity, which is the reason why people have been so angry when their profiles have been suspended. The increase in aggression only comes when you have a disposable identity you are willing to let go of when the going gets too rough.

As I've said before, Google Plus acknowledges the need to keep control over what you say and to whom, giving us the ability to organise our voice depending on who we are talking to, and to choose what appears publicly. Without the ability to decide what name applies to which Circle, and what name appears publicly, the privacy controls that Circles offer are meaningless to many people.

Offering advanced privacy controls over your name is a logical extension of the way Google Plus functions in every other way.

Also, what annoys a lot of people is how inconsistent Google is in handling cases. Ex-Googlers get a free pass for names that violate the 'common name' standard, while others don't.

Not to mention the fact that they really really should use some other term than 'common name' if they plan to stick to this policy, it doesn't mean what they want it to mean (hence the confusion).

[^1]: http://fortuito.us/2007/05/some_community_tips_for_2007
 
+Ian Betteridge Let's go back to the content owner's perspective: as an author you have a right to have control over how your work is presented, including the presentation of the author's identity. This is not within the control of the publisher (and shouldn't be, IMHO).

Now let's look at the community hall constructor. I'd argue that Google is a building contractor using third party materials (telecommunications network infrastructure, hardware and even software licences), thus they do not own the whole building; it belongs to the community. They may have put the materials together. They don't own it. They might control who gets in, but if they are opening the door to account creation under a pseudonym, then they have no right to boot people out after establishing their presence.

I'd also argue that this resistance to anonymity is in direct violation of Google's own privacy policy #4:
"Give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy." It's also in direct conflict with their design principles about trustworthiness:
"to make sure that Google demonstrates respect for users' right to control their own data" - including the right to control how they appear online.

Of course, we're getting into legally grey territory. But for a firm that wants to be known for not being evil, allowing user control over their identity online is a good place to start!
 
+Victor - that is the point I am making though; PayPal are entirely happy that the public identity can be anything so long as they have access to the 'real' one in the background. G+ could easily do likewise - letting us use a preferred handle as the top-of-the-page name, and keeping the 'real' one as a supplementary datum, with an option to display or not.

AlisonW
 
+Joanne Jacobs: "Let's go back to the content owner's perspective: as an author you have a right to have control over how your work is presented, including the presentation of the author's identity."

No, you don't - not legally, once you agree to a contract (which is what T&Cs are) which limits how your work is presented. And even then, your ownership of your content doesn't mean you can force a publisher to present it in a particular way. To use a print analogy, if you've signed a contract for a paperback, you can't make the publisher also issue an ebook. You can, of course, do it yourself - just as you can take the content you've created here and put it online anywhere else.

What's more, if Google remove you from the service in entirety, they are no longer "using your content" - so the point is really moot.

"I'd argue that Google is a building contractor using third party materials (telecommunications network infrastructure, hardware and even software licences), thus they do not own the whole building; it belongs to the community."

You're not arguing that: you're asserting it, and your assertion has no basis is law. What's more, the things you list don't "belong to the community" either: they all belong to particular private companies or individuals, and unless they have licensed their services to Google in such a way as to limit what Google can do with them, they don't affect what Google can do with Plus.
 
+Alison Wheeler So would you be happy if Google allowed to present any name you liked, but you HAD to verify a real-world identity (for example, though a credit card) with them?

(As an aside, I'm not sure what you're saying is totally correct. Certainly when you make a payment to a merchant, they have to give you some real wold information - company name, contact number.)
 
+Ian Betteridge - I'm not saying it would solve all the issues, but it would certainly solve many if we could use our choice of 'name' as the public face here and the name which Google would prefer us to use as a 'hidden field'. As regards verification they haven't asked me to prove that I am a specific Alison Wheeler amongst all the others here and elsewhere on line, and I would not expect them to need to do so in the future, but this is about only using one's "real" name when it is necessary to do so and not just because it is allegedly nice for them.

Billing "AlisonW" wouldn't work, but if you don't need my full name and address (which are, co-incidentally freely available online and published by myself on a number of my sites) then why should I be forced to give it? G+ is not the 'only game in town'. Yet.
 
+Alison Wheeler I think that's an interesting route, and one that Google could take. But given the HUGE kerfuffle that happened when Second Life implemented a verification system, I can imagine just how unpopular such a move would be from Google.
 
+Ian Betteridge How is what Google is doing now (algorithmically locking down accounts for real ID verifications) not a verification system? And, yes, it is very unpopular.
 
Thanks for all the comments.

I think the key problem I have is that the idea that the name you choose to use has as much of an impact on your behaviour as the way that a community self-moderates. I've seen pseudonymous communities be very civil, and I've seen them be awful, and the same with real-name communities. I've even seen some of the rougher communities argue that when you joined up, your social contract was to joining a rough-and-tumble community that swears a lot, and that thus to ask it to become nicer was actually breaking that social contract. (Though they didn't put it exactly like that!)

The big problem here is that there's no social contract. G+ is too big, too unwieldy, with too many differing opinions as to what it even is. There isn't a sense that you can learn the 'rules' through observation, and if you break them, it's not clear whether you'll be adequately censured by the community (not Google).

Secondly, because G+ is so big, different groupings may have different ideas of what G+ is, how it should be used, and what is good/bad behaviour. You see this writ large in Twitter which is used in quite a specific way by us early adopter geeks, but in a very different way but later adopters from other backgrounds. That's not necessarily a bad thing, although it can be annoying when those groups clash.

Finally, trying to enforce a real names policy is just security theatre which punishes obviously pseudonym'd good actors but lets the well camouflaged bad actor carry on until their behaviour gets them in trouble. The policy is unworkable. Trying to figure out if every one of 20m-and-growing people has a real name or not is both Sisyphean and fucking stupid.

Better to set some broad community standards for behaviour, make sure they are well known and maybe even make people explicitly agree to them on joining, and then give the community to tools to self-police and give those reported a clear opportunity to defend themselves prior to being censured. Think of this as a community of individuals, most of whom want to do the right thing, and less as data that can be shoved through a magic algorithm which catches all the nasty people.

People are messy. It's a fact of life. They won't become neat and tidy through enforcing a real name policy.
 
If you need to post something anonymously, don't use Google+.

I'm constantly amazed by the "activists" whose sole method of communication is a FaceBook page. Then they act outraged when FaceBook deletes all their hard work and scatters their cause's followers to the wind.

If you need anonymity, or require control over your content and its presentation, don't use a third party service. You don't own it, you probably have no rights over it, and you certainly can't control it.

That said, a strong requirement for a "real" name leads us straight into the tricky world of identity. What we're called, what we're legally known as, how we spell it, etc. all have a degree of flexibility which most systems don't allow for.

If Google feels they have a strong need for a "real name" policy - it's their playground. I ask you to remove your shoes when you visit my home, if you don't want people seeing your socks, we'll meet at the pub.

I don't see why Google needs "real names" - and I understand why people don't want to use them. But the answer is simple; go elsewhere.
 
+Baldur Bjarnason The method that Second Life used was very different: You had to provide real-world ID (passport number, drivers license number, etc) that they could verify against. So it was a long way beyond what Google is doing.
 
I'm finding it interesting (and odd) how many people are equating anonymity with a pseudonym. I never post a comment annoymously, but I often post as vlb (or vlbrown, depending on whether the site insists on > 3 letters). That's "me". I'm not anonymous, I don;t just slip unnoticed into the great fog of Anon, and you can track me through various sites. My Twitter ID, email id, home login, is vlb. But that's not what's on my birth certificate.

p.s. "Vicki" isn't on my birth certificate either, so exactly how are we defining "real name"? As Suw points out, anything that looks "normal" to Western minds is going to feel like a "real name". No one insisted on a copy of my drivers license when I signed up.
 
Huh. Here we are, arguing over "real names" and the comment above mine is from Tzctplus -.
 
+Tzctplus: "This comodization of what should be our personal information is a worrying development"

I'm always kind of puzzled about comments like this. I don't mean any disrespect here, but Google is a company that makes 95% of its money from selling context-sensitive advertising - your personal information IS a commodity as far as it's concern.

If you're not paying for a service, it's because you're being sold by it.
 
Has anyone else noted that, in debating the use of real names, we've actually created a microcosm of the exact environment we are discussing? Reading through the comments I am struck by the civility, even in the face of disagreement, that everyone has taken. I will make one point. Just because I know your name does not allow me to overcome the barrier of anonymity. Granted, as aptly pointed out by +Ian Betteridge, your name provides the option of accountability within your own social circles, even though it may not hold you accountable to me.

The question of anonymity is actually a question of accountability and which social, political, economic or familial authority we want to enforce the acceptable standards of behaviour. Pseudonyms are, in some circles, are more identifiable mark than ones given name.
 
+Tzctplus About ten years ago, I wrote a feature on identity theft. It was trivially easy - and that was very much pre-social network. Basically, given someone's name and a city, it's been trivially easy to find out everything about them within 24 hours.

Which is my way of saying: Your fears are not overblown. But short of never using your real name with anyone, anywhere (online or real world), anyone who wants to steal your identity will do so.
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