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There and Back Again: the JoshMeister's Tale (of getting temporarily suspended from Google+)

I found out the hard way that Google is really, really serious when they say that they want everyone to use their full legal name in their Google+ profile.

From Friday evening through sometime Wednesday afternoon or evening, I was unable to post, comment, or +1 anything on Google+, and nobody could access my profile or any of my old posts (including those I had shared publicly—not even via a direct link; everything was producing Google 404 errors). I was forced to make changes to my profile, then make further changes and resubmit my profile for review, and then wait for it to be reviewed again before the suspension was finally lifted.

Google didn't say specifically that they had a problem with my name, but that seems to have been the case. My name was "the JoshMeister" which is how I'm known to most of my friends and followers online. Right after my account went into "being reviewed" status, I changed my name from "the JoshMeister" to "Josh Long (the JoshMeister)" which sadly was not approved either. This is really unfortunate because there are lots of Josh Longs on Google+ already, and distinguishing myself as "the JoshMeister" is the easiest way anyone would be able to find, recognize, or + mention me. Now I'm just "Josh Long" which lots of my followers won't recognize, and many people are now going to have a harder time finding or recognizing me, and maybe even + mentioning me.

After my first change from "the JoshMeister" to "Josh Long (the JoshMeister)" was rejected, I not only changed my name to "Josh Long" but also changed my profile picture to an actual photograph rather than my cartoonized self-portrait, and I rewrote the Introduction section of my profile in the first person, just in case Google had a problem with those. I knew Google was also cracking down on unauthorized business profiles, and a Google employee who's not directly involved with the Google+ project recently mistook my account for an unauthorized business account (although that seems to have been because my name started with the word "the", not so much because of anything else in my profile). I didn't want there to be any reason whatsoever to mistake my profile as a veiled attempt at promoting a business; it most certainly wasn't, but I didn't want to get rejected twice in a row so I wanted to be absolutely sure it didn't happen yet again.

Prior to last Friday, I thought that I would be fine using the name "the JoshMeister" on Google+ since I was "us[ing] the name [my] friends, family, or co-workers usually call [me];" many of my friends and coworkers know me as "the JoshMeister", which is how I'm known on nearly all social networks, all my podcasts (which have over a million downloads) including at MacTech Magazine where I am employed as the Podcast Producer and Host, and my security blog (which has been mentioned by CNET, CBS News, PCWorld, Yahoo! News, The Register, and many others). Furthermore, one of Google's standards pages says "If you use your full name,"—note the use of the word "if" which implies that using one's full name is optional—"you'll help people find you online and connect with the right person. If you’re referred to by more than one name, just choose one, and place the others in the “Other names” section of your profile." I did indeed already have my full names in my profile under "Other names" so I thought that should have been sufficient. So much for those loopholes.

Let this be a lesson to anyone using a pseudonym, any non-letter or non-English character (i.e. no numbers, symbols, etc.), any title (e.g. "Dr."), or more than one person's name (i.e. a couple using both of their real names, e.g. "Mike and Michelle Michaels") in your Google+ display name; any of these could get your account placed in "being reviewed" status (which as far as anyone aside from you and the Google+ team can tell is effectively equivalent of suspension) or it could get your account actually suspended.

If you have any questions about these policies, you can refer to the following documentation, and be sure to err on the side of caution; if there's anything in your name, profile, or use of the service that a Google employee could potentially view as a violation of any of their terms or standards, or even a violation of statements about the service made by Google+ team members, or even if there's something for which an angry Google+ user might use as grounds for reporting you in an attempt at getting you suspended, you could be at risk of getting cut off from Google+.

Make sure your name, profile, and use of the service are in full compliance with Google's rules and policies:

https://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?answer=107107
https://www.google.com/support/profiles/bin/answer.py?answer=1228271
https://www.google.com/intl/en/+/policy/content.html
https://www.google.com/accounts/TOS

Good luck. =)
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5 comments
 
Use "Josh Meister" as first & last name & that should Trick the google+ bots. 
 
By the way, I'm not the only one who's been treated this way. My friend Daynah (whose name on Google+ was "Daynah .net") just got suspended today. Daynah is a lot more popular than I am; she's a Senior Editor at Beatweek Magazine and a blogger at GeekBeat.TV. She is ONLY known as "Daynah" on the Internet. She doesn't use her last name online because she's concerned about stalkers, etc. There was nothing whatsoever about her account or her use of Google+ that was inappropriate, and yet Google suspended her presumably because of ".net" being in her name.

Meanwhile, +Soulja Boy gets special treatment, and there are tons of Lady Gaga impersonators all over Google+ that are all getting ignored. Google is not being consistent, and is alienating an awful lot of people by suspending those who are doing nothing wrong and turning a blind eye toward others.
 
Another recent suspension (much worse than mine or Daynah's):

* A guy who used a pseudonym on Google+ ("Thomas Monopoly") claims to have lost his entire account including "approximately 7 years of correspondence, over 4,800 photographs and videos, my Google Voice messages, over 500 articles saved to my Google Reader account for scholarship purposes … all of my bookmarks, having used Google bookmarks … my Docs account with shared documents and backups of inventory files … my own personal calendar of doctors appointments, meetings, and various other dates … collaborative calendars, of which I was the creator and of which several man hours were put into creating, community calendars … my saved maps and travel history … medical records and a variety of very important notes … [and] My website, a blogger account for which I purchased the domain through Google and designed myself": http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/why-you-shouldnt-trust-google-or-any-cloud-service-with-your-data/13860

Lists of suspensions:

* Robert Scoble (linking to Skud's link below) inadvertently began compiling a public list of suspended Google+ accounts here, along with some good discussion of the topic and links to other lists: https://plus.google.com/111091089527727420853/posts/YnzXfbpe9Nj

* Skud (a former Google employee who has always gone by the name "Skud" in real life and was kicked off of Google+) is compiling a private list of suspended Google+ accounts here: http://is.gd/nonplussed (redirects to a Google Docs form)

More examples of Google's double standard and inconsistency:

* +Die Ennomane (die means "the" in German) was suspended but then was allowed to keep his pseudonym after German media coverage

* Several people have gotten away with violating Google's policy against including a title (e.g. "Dr.") at the beginning of one's name (including but not limited to +Dr. Kiki Sanford)

* You can type various words into the "Find people" search bar and get results that are obviously not people's real names; start typing any of the following or think of other things to try: "the joker", "idiot", "stupid", "loser", "crap", "doctor", "rapper", "city", "google", "twitter", "facebook", "coca cola", etc.
 
+Daynah Morita got her account back. Her story: http://geekbeat.tv/doing-time-in-usrbinjail-when-google-suspends-your-account/

Meanwhile, Dr. Kiki (a notable Internet personality) got suspended but several other "Dr." accounts of people I've never heard of are still active. (How's that for irony? Ban the famous person for using the name by which she's known to everyone, and allow all the nobodies to keep violating the same policy.) I suspect what happened is that someone reported Dr. Kiki's profile. In any case, I hope this brings more awareness to the problem. When this happens to higher profile individuals, it will get more coverage and cause more embarrassment to Google, and hopefully help them see the light and change their ridiculous "ban first and ask questions later" policy.

An article by +Danny O'Brien of The Irish Times http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/finance/2011/0722/1224301115193.html says "A person whose surname is Dick was thrown off for obscenity. Real celebrities have had their accounts suspended for being fraudulent versions of themselves." The latter is not surprising, but the former is a bit more so; there are plenty of people with the last name Dick (including comedian/actor Andy Dick).
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