I think it's time to get back to basics. More and more of my friends are leaving or being forced out of Google+. Some refused to submit a driver's license just to prove that their legal name was real. Many cannot safely socialize under their real names. Some just value their privacy. Let's ask this basic question again. Who is harmed by Google's "real name" policy?
These are the people whose voices are being limited or eliminated by Google. These are the people whom Google thinks it's okay to remove from your social network in an attempt to make their identity service fractionally more "real". These are the people whom Google thinks that even if they can
safely be here, it's okay if they can't talk publicly about the same things you and I take for granted.
These aren't abstract examples. These are real people, living in the United States and around the world. People who have been harassed, discriminated against, and stalked online and off. These are your friends, your co-workers, and your neighbors. You haven't heard about their problems for the simple reason that they'd rather not talk about them under their real names. Would you
? You can read some of their personal stories at the site http://my.nameis.me/
Most of these examples have been excerpted from "Who is Harmed by a "Real Names" policy (http://j.mp/pojGSo
) and my post "On Pseudonymity, Privacy and Responsibility on Google+" (http://j.mp/pJC2PO
) (please read that post before arguing about why pseudonyms are or are not a good idea on Google+).
If you read just one of these examples, make it the last one.
Women who don't want to be harassed online. (Women face 25 times as much online harassment as men if they use feminine-sounding usernames).
Mothers or intending mothers, who may face additional hiring, pay and promotion discrimination.
Social workers, mental health workers, teachers, judges, lawyers, members of the military, journalists, academics, union activists, law enforcement, government employees, religious leaders, bank and financial industry employees, job hunters. (All are limited by not being able to talk publicly about some topics under their real names.)
People who wish to talk publicly about things their employer disagrees with.
LGBT people living in regions with no anti-discrimination policies, or where homosexuality or transgender behavior is outlawed.
People who can't, or don't feel it's safe, to scan and upload their driver's license for a complete stranger.
Parents whose legal religion, philosophy, sexual relationships, or sexuality (LGBT, poly, BDSM…) could result in social services removing their children or taking away custody, visitation, or adoption rights.
Parents protecting their children from prior abusers.
Parents blogging about raising their kids.
People blogging about family members with disabilities.
People with disabilities who are forced to choose between disclosure (leading to increased abuse, social and employment social discrimination) or isolation.
Survivors of domestic abuse who don't want to make it easy for their abusers to find them.
People currently experiencing domestic abuse.
Survivors of harassment and stalking, and people currently experiencing harassment and stalking.
Victims of crime or private people associated with a newsworthy event (like the unusual death of a family member), who may be harassed for information by news media or the general public.
People who have had an attack on their real name where someone has mounted a smear campaign to trash their public identity.
Members of any non-majority religion (or with no religion), who may experience discrimination or persecution in the real world if they disclose their religious beliefs online.
People who are questioning their religious beliefs.
People whose names subject them to discrimination based on race, religion, cultural and/or socio-economic bias (for example, anyone named "Mohammed", who might fear harassment/discrimination as a Muslim).
People with relatives living under authoritarian governments.
Prominent people and their families who want to discuss things without their fame interfering.
Anyone in a marginalized group who might be "outed" in some way.
Political dissidents, such as those involved in the 2011 "Arab Spring" uprisings.
Those involved in highly contentious political activity, around issues such as abortion, civil rights, etc.
Anyone with political views (however mild) that may be unpopular or discriminated against.
Anyone concerned about identity theft (how many genealogy "secret" questions do you get asked which could be answered with an online search)?
People seeking physical or mental health support.
People with or recovering from substance addiction (especially women).
People who wish to find out information about marginalized sexual practices (BDSM, Polyamory…).
Authors of erotic fiction (amateur or professional).
People who discuss current or past drug use.
Sex workers.And last but not least…You,
the next time you want to publicly discuss something which might get you fired (your opinion on Palestine?), cause you to lose friends (your politics?), upset your parents or children (your sexuality?), or simply not look good showing up in the same Google search as your resume (your views on abortion?)…so you decide to remain silent instead.andYou,
because you will never hear the unique and important views that these people could bring to conversations on Google+.
When you think about this, please keep in mind that Google has drastically changed the concept of what it means to be "public". In our day-to-day lives offline, we don't carry a sign that tells complete strangers our full name, where we live, and everything we have ever said in public over the past twenty years. Yet that is exactly what happens when you speak publicly online with your real name. In the face of this new definition of "public", the ability to speak anonymously (or in online cases, pseudonymously) has become far more important than it ever was before. Offline you can go to a bar, political event, or public meeting and just use your first name, knowing that your words are not likely to be distributed to hundreds of millions of people for eternity. You can't do that online, so if you want to publicly address anything
controversial, or simply something that is inappropriate next to your resume and work-related postings, you need to do so under another name. It's not a great solution, and it's not completely secure nor safe, but then, neither is speaking out in that room. These are the choices we make every day when we speak publicly. These are the choices that a new breed of generalized social networks like Facebook and Google+ are trying to take away from us.
The forum for public discourse is no longer the town hall, or newspaper, or fliers on the street. It is here on the Internet, and it is happening in communities like this, hosted by private sector companies. Social networks like Google+ are the new public commons, and Google has a responsibility to ensure that important voices are not left out of these forums.Google's motto is "Don't Be Evil". This is the company that stood up to China's privacy violations. This is the company that refused to require real names when South Korea tried to mandate them. This is the company that has repeatedly stated that pseudonyms are an important part of public discourse. It's time for Google to step up and ensure that Google+ adheres to the same moral code as the rest of the company.
Illustration by my daughter, Shadi Fotouhi (http://dotty323.deviantart.com/
). Permission granted to use with attribution under the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Original link to this post at: http://j.mp/qpUEjy