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The double bind of oppression: Google+ and Diversity, part 5

also posted, with links and images, on Liminal States at

"Ever since it launched, I’ve spent most of my online time on Google+, and so far am very impressed from both the software engineering and business strategy perspectives. I think it’s on track to be a big success, so expect me to be talking about it a lot."

-- me, in A work in progress, July 16

Google+'s first few weeks were incredibly exciting. It was social network magic, an updated version of my best experiences at places like Usenet, ezboard, tribe and free-association. My stream was filled with visually gorgeous photos and art, great discussions, and interesting new people. It's got incredible potential from an activism perspective.* Professionally, while it discombobulated the plans for my nascent startup qweries, it also presents huge opportunities. Exciting!!!

And then the nymwars started.

Privileged much?

"I am a pseudonymous user in many, many [online] services. I appreciate the ability to go incognito and anonymous at times"

-- Google VP Bradley "Bro" Horowitz**, quoted in Juan Carlos Perez' "Google Feels the Pain of Users Who Can't Get on Google+" , PC World

Bro's boss, Vivek "Vicki" Gundotra, doesn't go by his real name on Google+, so presumably also appreciates the value of pseudonymity. But you wouldn't guess it from their actions.

Google+ continues to police what names people are allowed to call themselves, demand ID from people whose names they don't like, and suspend accounts. For a bunch of rationally-identified guys at a rationally-identified company, Google+'s leadership don't seem to be optimizing particularly well. And despite reports of internal dissension, the rest of the company's going along with it.

So after a promising start, Vicki and Bro have antagonized hundreds, maybe thousands, of passionate early users. In the process, they've squandered one of their biggest competitive advantages. A lot of people are tired of Facebook's high-handed behavior and constant reminders that we're the product, not the customer ... but they've made Google looks even worse. As +Mel Faulkner describes on Venture Beat,Google+ is still struggling to attract more women users. After repeated embarrassing blunders, the tech press and blogosphere are overwhelmingly against them -- and it's becoming a potential boon for Bing, Duck Duck Go, Blekko, and everybody else competing for Google's core business.

You'd really think they'd have gotten it by now …

Alas, they still seem to be following Google tech lead Joseph "Little Joey" Smarr's line that it's too hard to do it right. Really? Here's what +Suw Charman suggested six weeks ago:

Reinstate everyone you’ve suspended. Remove your current name policy. Collaborate with the community on how best to moderate bad actors. If you need some sort of identity policy, let us help you write it. And, finally, apologise to everyone you’ve bullied. There are lots of them, so you might want to start now.

Easy-peasy. But I'm not holding my breath.

About that double bind ...

Even though Vicki and Bro have botched their chance for a short-term knockout punch to Facebook, I largely agree with +Tom Anderson that Google+ will succeed and most people will use it whether they want to or not. So it creates a huge problem for anybody whose name Google doesn’t like:

- Do they accept the penalty of being excluded from the future that Google’s creating?
- Do they expose themselves to the risk of participating under their real name?
- Or do they hold their nose and lie and choose some “real-looking” name that isn’t them and hope that Google won’t ask for ID?***

Hey wait a second. I recognize this situation.

One of the most characteristic and ubiquitous features of the world as experienced by oppressed people is the double bind – situations in which options are reduced to a very few and all of them expose one to penalty, censure or deprivation.

-- Marilyn Frye, "Oppression", from The Politics of Reality

And it’s also a dilemma for those of us who think their policy is evil. Opting out has a huge cost. Staying and participating means going against our values and supporting Google’s oppressive policy. Either way we lose.

On a personal level, I've really enjoyed hanging out on Google+ and meeting such a diverse group of interesting people -- my "people I've met on G+ circle" is up over 300! It's a great place to have discussions and interact, the mix of functionality hits a real sweet spot, and it's been a real treat to see early stars like Christina Trapolino, Daria Musk, Ryan Estrada, Lee Allison, Botgirl Questi and Kee Hinckley get recognized. And with my activist hat on, it's got a lot of advantages; combine Google+ with something like Nation Builder and the possibilities are amazing.

So it remains tempting to take advantage of the opportunities. But it'd also be contributing to Google+'s success. A lot of my friends have had their accounts suspended or left in disgust. Until Google changes their naming policy, I don't feel good about participating when my friends and so many others like them can't.

About that double bind ...

Suggestions welcome.

Now what?

The pressure on Google will continue. Moms are starting to weigh in</a>. There's talk of an LGBTQ-focused campaign along the lines of "It gets better -- but not on Google+". With sites like "Goodbye Google" and the Genius Files' "Google Plus Strike" series, more and more people are doing with Bonnie Nadri suggests and voting with their (virtual) feet. And I can't wait to see what Stilgherrian and Skud say on "Mononym Monday".

Who knows, perhaps Google employees will decide that "Don't be evil" really means something to them and stop going along with a policy that hurts abuse survivors, teachers, folks with medical conditions, psychologists, women, LGBTQs, mononyms, and dozens of other groups. Or perhaps Larry will realize that the people he's put in charge of his company's key project are sabotaging it. As I described in "Why it matters", the business case remains overwhelming. We shall see.

More positively, there are other options out there: Dreamwidth, free-association, Diaspora, Hibe, Pidder, discussions about a new open source "social stack<".... Even though none of them have the critical mass or humongous resources of Google yet, the nymwars have really highlighted the need for alternatives to corporate-controlled advertising-sponsored social networks. I've renewed my paid Dreamwidth membership, signed up for Diaspora, and will probably help out with some testing and maybe even coding on one of the open source projects. I'm hearing a lot of others say similar things.

And now that we all know each other, we're working together -- on G+ and elsewhere.

To be continued ...


* see for example +Adina Levin "The promise of Google+ for organizing" on BookBlog, +Judith Avory Faucette's "The Potential of Google+ for Activism" on Radically Queer, Brian Murphy's "Four reasons Google+ will improve organizing" on "Lessons in Movement Making", and Colin Delany's "Google+ for Advocacy" on e.politics

** Usually, even when I disagree with people I almost always am respectful enough to call them by the names they prefer. But since Bro et. al. are claiming the right to police others' names, I'm making an exception in this case. Turnabout is fair play.

* If this last choice doesn’t sound bad to you, well, all I can say is that you must not have spent a lot of time in situations where you were forced to deny your identity or hide something fundamental about yourself.
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Great post! I'm still cautiously optimistic that Google is going to back off eventually and end up supporting pseudonymity. So I think we're doing a lot more good staying here for the time being and keeping the issue alive and holding it up to their attention.
Staying and participating means going against our values and supporting Google's oppressive policy. - I don't agree with this. I think there is great value in people who are against the current policy staying put and keeping up the good fight.

If everyone who is pro-nyms packed up and left, who would fight for the right to use pseudonyms? Whatever Google's policy will end up being (and I still believe they will come to their senses), it will have repercussions for all online communities.

As one of the biggest fish in the pond, they will create a precedence for how people should handle their identities and if nobody speaks up now, then we are all to blame when we have no privacy left in a few years.

So please stay here and keep bitching.
I'm going to play Devil's Advocate on this because I see lots of posts- supporting both sides, and I consider myself neutral. I would just like the issue to get resolved so everyone feels supported.

The only issues I see with the reasoning in this post is that it doesn't take into consideration two things:

1). That there is a population of people who would leave G+ if pseudonyms were allowed. I only mention this because both sides usually mention that their side will leave if their position is not met. Either way, that means we would lose a good chunk of interesting people. That saddens me.

2). There are people out there who don't want their stalkers/attackers/abusers, etc to be able to use a false name and "Circle" them unknowingly or otherwise be able to keep tabs on them without them knowing who they are. They want the freedom to avoid (as much as possible) having involvement with unknown people. (And to tell them to just block everyone with a pseudonym brings to mind the "just leave"- kind of argument everyone takes issue with).

I can see both sides of the subject and I certainly don't want to take away anyone's freedoms, but during this argument, it is important to take all points of view into consideration~ to look at everyone's freedoms. As a neutral party, I'd like to see both sides actually consider the others' perspective a bit more. I write the same things when I see a post supporting other side. I mostly just hope this all works out. Unfortunately, I don't have the perfect answer, but I do know that the dialog thus far doesn't seem as productive as it could be. Just my two cents.
Yes +Karin Konotchick Hanson, you are right about your points. I wouldn't want those opposed to pseudonyms to leave either, but many opponents seem to forget, that John Smith can as easily be a pseudonym as SmackMouth27 and in the end the policy is impossible to enforce. There are so many different naming conventions across the world, that a single real name policy can never cover them all.

No matter what one thinks, it should be obvious to all, that Google are handling this in a completely ridiculous manner. They are banning people for having only one name, or being named by hippie parents, while Madonna gets to use a dot as her last name. The policy as it stands is impossible to enforce so they might as well change it to something a bit more fair to everyone.
This policy could even be qualified as racist -- Asian cultures put the family name first and the individual name last. seem a decade ago we were so much more aware, so much more progressive.

I agree with what +Søren Dalsgaard Brath said, but as you see more and more arbitrary and exclusionary behaviour it makes it difficult to hang out here... when FB first started I made a profile and left it abandoned for years because some things there seemed ridiculous to me. I was wrong in doing that. Google is notorious at not getting the social thing, but now they have the buying power to corral people into coming here. That should give them extra responsibility but as it is the case almost always it just makes them more intransigent.

I think because the online world is becoming almost a world of its own, the same arguments, the same growing pains that were once fought for to achieve our modern societies have to be fought for and debated all over again. Legislators have to start waking up and getting in touch with the 21st century and we have to remind them of it.
Actually that gets switched around in different G+ versions, a non-issue really. The funny bit is when you see Chinese character nyms running around with no one saying anything about them :)
sorry, my reply was to +Drew Nicholson
I think that there does have to be a line drawn. If the cancels really do continue, it "puts the lie to" claims made in the Bradley Horowitz video. I wish that more people would call specifically for the cancellations to be put on hold, because Google can't claim there's a "technical issue" there. A phone call from Vic is all it could take to put a moratorium on "throwing the switch" to cancel anybody when their only issue is with the names policy. With cancels on hold, revising the review policy could be given a lot more time.
+Søren Dalsgaard Brath Absolutely, people could just come up with a real-sounding fake names, and maybe never be bothered. I don't know what verifications, if any, the future holds. And I'm not here to debate a side and how it is or isn't enforced. I just want to point out that each side needs to consider that they have strong opinions and so does the person who thinks the exact opposite of them- and that person may have very valid points too.

Seeing both sides makes you realize that each side has examples of situations where people could be very troubled both with and without a names policy. It's not a simple, easy thing to remedy, but I think the first step is to see the other side's point of view.
Thanks for the perspectives +Botgirl Questi and +Søren Dalsgaard Brath ...

+Karin Konotchick Hanson, it's very true that stalkers, predators, criminals etc. use pseudonyms ... but they'll do that no matter what Google's policy is. +Gary X has a great post documenting how easy it is to get around the enforcement if you really want to. so the policy gives the illusion of being safe. the hackers i know who do social engineering say that people are much more likely to trust them on Facebook (which has a real name policy) than in environments where everybody's aware that names might be pseudonyms.

on your point 1, the way i look at it, if people were saying "i'll leave the site if they allow lesbians and gays here here" (or any other minority) I would see them as bigoted -- and don't they should have veto power. so it's the same in this situation.
To me, +Karin Konotchick Hanson, the problem is the same as always -- one side restricts, the other doesn't. No one is making people use a pseudonym. So one side restricts the number of people who can participate comfortably, the other side... doesn't.
+Karin Konotchick Hanson Unfortunately, pseudonyms don't actually figure into your concerns. What you actually need is identity validation and I, for one, think that you really ought to have it. Your concerns are real and valid, they just aren't actually part of the debate at hand. It's telling that so many people have tried to convince you and others with similar concerns that they are.
Yeah +Karin Konotchick Hanson, one side isn't better than the other in this "war" (who the hell came up with #nymwars - I hate that name). I've seen flame wars started by both sides, so I don't think one is better than the other on that count.
+Jon Pincus First, I think the victim of a crime is allowed to have their opinion- if they feel safer with a real names policy then they do. I allow the same argument for the other side (that a victim feels safer being able to use a pseudonym). We are talking about creating a safe (and safe-feeling) environment for people.

I truly cannot lump people who desire to have people use their real names in the same category as bigots and racists. Wow. That completely minimizes and marginalizes the struggle and oppression that minority groups have encountered and continue to fight against. If someone is not allowed to use their pseudonym on Google Plus, you are equating that to the daily challenges minorities face? Seriously, that's insulting to all involved.
+Karin Konotchick Hanson It's not "people who want to use their real names" vs. "people who want to use pseudonyms". It's "people who want everyone to use real names" vs. "people who want everyone to use the name they choose."
Part of the problem, +Karin Konotchick Hanson is that what Google says is a "real" name isn't necessarily a real name! We just gave you several examples. What if a Google employee decided that Konotchick wasn't a "common" name, and suspended your account? Why should you have to prove who you are to a non-governmental (yet, anyway) organization? Not that you should necessarily have to prove it to the government either, but there are people out there named "Sunshine" and "River" and "Apple" and "Anakin"...
+Søren Dalsgaard Brath there's a range of opinions on the term "nymwars". has some discussion. personally, i like it because it's fundamentally about the right to choose a name, and nym's as good a term as any; and being in the heart of it, it certainly feels like a war.

and i disagree with you: one side is better than the other in this. judging somebody on the basis of what name they choose is bigoted. a company basing its products on a policy that's harmful to women, teachers, parents, transgender people, activists, etc. etc is evil. standing up for people's rights is good.
+Botgirl Questi I guess I don't see that. I know some people will voluntarily choose to leave if they don't like the policies (whatever they may be), but I don't see anyone telling a certain group of people that they have to leave.

For instance, if I went to a site that told me I had to reveal how much money I made or something, I wouldn't like it, and I would feel it was way overstepping its bounds (etc, etc) but I wouldn't feel it was singling out a group of people and excluding them. I would just feel that they were enforcing something I found absolutely ridiculous.
"but I don't see anyone telling a certain group of people that they have to leave."

Then you haven't been looking very far. Really.
As I said +Jon Pincus, I was referring to the tone of the discussion. Unfortunately those in favor of nyms can be just as rude as those against it.

I am in favor of nyms, and have been so ever since +Kee Hinckley and others convinced me of the good that comes from everyone having a voice here, so I agree that one side is more right than the other.
Listen, ok, this isn't a forum where people want to explore the entire issue, and that's fine. Mea culpa. Not one of you can even concede that the other side has a point (and they do, I promise). I simply came here offering up that you should all consider the other point of view.

+Jon Pincus as a woman, and a victim of a crime, I think I can speak to both sides. My point to both sides it that no one should ever think they are speaking for a whole community (victims, minorities, etc) because I see just as many people on both sides of the fence. (PS. What you are calling "harmful" to women, teachers, etc, etc... is being disputed by those very people who I see posting in support of the names policy).

+Drew Nicholson If Google decided "Konotchick" wasn't real, I would show them my ID. Not a big deal to me really. And yes, as I've said before, I understand that people can get around what is "real-sounding", etc. I get it. Clearly, there's not perfect fix, but that doesn't mean that other people aren't asking Google to try. That is the point to understand.

+Botgirl Questi anything besides a real name is a pseudonym, not that semantics really matter. People have a variety of reasons for wanting the freedom be able to use them, and people also have a variety of reasons for having the freedom of having people use their real names. Again, both sides have a point.

I'll just sum up my two cents: Both sides of this argument have valid points and I'll add in the bonus thought: Being "forced" to not use pseudonyms on Google Plus is not comparable to being discriminated against IRL. Not even close. That's all.
Yes, there are people who have said they would leave if pseudonyms are allowed. There's a word for such people: misled.
They have been propagandized to overlook the obvious fact that any "John Smith" could be a fake. When that is pointed out, they cling to the "verified" mark, which requires a process. A process which may not be scaleable, but that discussion can be held separately.

I think they want a "walled garden" of people who will provide documentation of who they are, and I think they want Google+ to eventually provide them a switch to make every submission from every non-verified account invisible to them. But they could still have that. Which would be kind of funny when some don't want to ID themselves, but ... whatever.
Great post, Jon, and thanks for quoting me.

I've had similar reservations about staying here on G+, although my recent quiet has been as much about a nasty experience with griefers as anything else. But I am also rather worried about the potential risk of griefers reporting me and getting me cut off from Google products that I rely on. Hope you don't mind me linking to my own stuff, but I wrote about it here:
+Karin Konotchick Hanson I totally agree that there's a range of opinions within every community and I respect that many people feel safer in limiting their own personal online contacts to people that they actually know; Google should accomodate them as well. My "harmful" comments are based on _Geek Feminism_'s list at ... as +Bob O'Bob says, the arguments by real name advocates in the other direction don't hold up.
+Drew Nicholson - bratty children who throw rocks to shatter windows, because destruction is the only way they can imagine having an effect on the world.

But translated to online.
Thanks for the link, +Jon Pincus. Very interesting read! I do hope that G+ start to understand more clearly just how easy it is for people to seriously abuse others here and find some ways to make it easier to deal with. I also hope that they figure out that, as Xeni puts it, they really don't want to be the Name Police. It's just never going to work.

One point, though, +Karin Konotchick Hanson, that seems to get missed is that in a G+ that included 'real' people and 'pseudonymous' people it is easy enough for people who only want to be friends with real-named people to only circle those they know are real, and to block anyone they think is pseudonymous. That's entirely their choice and the system allows them to do it. So in the case of the victim of crime or abuse survivor who wishes only to communicate with those he or she knows is genuine, then that's pretty easy to do.

But in a G+ that demands a 'real' name, that means that there's a group of people who are excluded from using the service because either they feel uncomfortable using a service that bans their friends, or because they themselves are banned. And you have to remember that if you are banned, you don't just lose access to G+ but all Google products that rely on your Google Profile, e.g. Reader, Picasa, +1s, etc. Some people have even lost access to their entire Google account, despite the fact that Google say that shouldn't happen. So this isn't like Facebook, which one can simply choose not to use. (I have an account there, but I barely touch it.) This is much broader than that and if you rely on Google products for work, it's quite alarming.

Add to this two facts:

1. People using their real names can and do still act like assholes
2. People with vendettas can easily get you kicked off G+ and get your GProfile suspended

And, well, that's queuing up a world of hurt for a bunch of people who've done nothing to deserve it. It just doesn't sit well with me, I'm afraid.
+Suw Charman. I didn't miss it at all. In fact, I addressed it in my very first comment. (See above). I do have to say, if you guys are this hostile to someone who's fundamental point was that "each side should look at the other's point of view", I don't see how you can state that the other folks are "giving you grief". I'd say there's grief all around. Again, just my two cents. I get that you guys think you're right (and so does the other side). 
+Karin Konotchick Hanson, there's a big difference between disagreeing strongly (as we do) and reporting profiles, sending harassing messages, and following people to other blogs and being annoying there the way griefers do.
Well, I'm feeling the need to write something unpopular. Feel free to call me on it.

+Karin Konotchick Hanson, you always have the choice to use your real name, or a unassuming pseudonym. For you to ask a major international corporation to deny the same choice from innocent people because you want to play your crime victim card that way is selfish, unreasonable, unfair, prejudicial, anti-democratic, and probably a few more seriously wrong things I'm not thinking of right now. If you want to have that power over folks whom you don't know, I suggest that you move to one of the increasingly fewer countries that support that kind of political perspective.
+Bernard Matthews. You're going to say something "unpopular"? How about "ignorant", "idiotic", "nasty"? You clearly didn't read my posts. I challenge you to read them. I'm not "playing" any card, nor asking any major corporation to do anything. At all. I simply am mature and rational enough to weigh and value both sides of the argument. Requiring someone to use their real name on a social media site is inherently none of the things you mentioned. How terriby self-entitled and self-important it is to think your opinion is the end all be all "Truth". I'll tell you what. I started this post as a neutral person trying to facilitate some dialog. I have to say I leave here much more in support of the names policy, if only because the people who defend against it so nastily don't strike me as able to have rational and respectful dialog.
Requiring someone to use their real name on a social media site is inherently none of the things you mentioned. Ok, but it's also not necessarily what Google+ is requiring. There are a lot of people who have tried to use their real names, only to be told that it doesn't look "normal" enough. Surely, at least, you can recognize that the western/english/american format that they're requiring doesn't work for all sorts of cultures that have their own definition of "real names", right?
+Drew Nicholson, I think she's a troll. I believe her first sentence started with: "I'm going to play Devil's Advocate ..." If she is going to represent the Devil and can't take the heat, there are far more places than just the kitchen that she has to get out of.

Before anyone calls me sexist on the kitchen reference, there is an old phrase: "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." It's gender neutral.
+Karin Konotchick Hanson - a policy is only as good as its enforcement. You clearly don't understand how hypocritically Google has been about enforcement. I personally know someone kicked out because google pronounced the only name they had ever had to be "Unacceptable." That family will be avoiding everything from Google for a very long time. We have some people who have been kicked off and reinstated and then suspended again. At least one is now going through a third review cycle - one should have been enough but apparently nothing gets recorded.
+Bernard Matthews , while I don't agree with +Karin Konotchick Hanson, she's not acting like a troll. She's stated her position clearly and is engaging respectfully. please stop being a jerk.

and no, saying that a woman needs to stay in the kitchen is not "gender neutral".
Please ease off on +Karin Konotchick Hanson. She said she's neutral on the matter. She was just pointing out a different side of the argument and being perfectly neutral in tone while doing so. Unfortunate for her is that most people in this threat are pro pseuds/nyms so her opinion (rather, kind reminder) seemed out of place. Personally I use my real name. I am pro pseuds/nyms, but sometimes the supporters of this side get too hot headed and simply start attacking anyone not in their favour. It's a shame, really.
Hi +Jon Pincus, 1) I didn't say that she needs to stay in the kitchen, I said she needs to leave the kitchen because the environment makes her uncomfortable.

2) I respectfully disagree on her not being a troll. She entered the discussion claiming that she wanted everyone to feel supported, but really wanted us to support her, which is what she wasn't getting.

3) I have no problem with being called a jerk. I knew I was saying something that targeted an individual's opinion, rather than a solution to the problem as a whole. I did that because I feel that crocodile tears are not respectful engagement. I also feel that for her to claim her position was neutral, and then to show ignorance of the problem in multiple ways, was not stating her position clearly.

To sum up, I make mistakes. Maybe I made one here. But I do not yet think so.

(Edit: add +Annie Yim to this footnote)
+Bernard Matthews She pointed out the other side of this debate that you didn't like, that's all. She didn't advocate strongly, she simply pointed it out. How's that a troll? We could benefit from seeing other opinion. Otherwise it would just be a sea of "yes, I agree" to any comment made on the pro-nym side, how's that helpful in creating better understanding?
+Annie Yim, I've just re-read her first post for the umpteenth time. She did not point out the other side of the debate because she clearly understands neither side of the debate. She wanted to play empathic mediator without knowing what was at stake, and was additionally foolish enough to display her ignorance by pretending to know what she was talking about instead of being honest about her ignorance.
I'll chime in here just with an opinion on the phrase "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen." I believe the origin was Harry S Truman, who said it to other leaders. If it was at all sexist, which I doubt, then it was mysandry, not misogyny.
My other vote: not a troll. She started with an explanation, clearly true, that there are people who think Plus is "better" with the policy. Now I personally am totally convinced that the right word for such people is "misinformed," but there's no point in trying to argue that they don't exist, or that there isn't room for reasonable people to hold a pro-policy view. Again, I insist they'd have to be reasonable and misinformed, but that's an opinion.
+Bob O'Bob, thank you for my new word of the day. Since it was HST saying it, would that make it "misandry by proxy?" (I think you may be right that HST made the quote well known).
+Bernard Matthews, your description up above is not respectful. [And yes, this is a great example of how real names don't necessarily lead to a more civil environment.]

Thanks for chiming in, +Annie Yim. You're now the third person on this thread who's talked about how some pro-nym people attack people who disagree with them. Three points determine a line ...

Thakns also for chiming in, +Bob O'Bob. To me, in the context of a discussion about the hostile-to-women climate on Google+, a guy using a quote involving a kitchen to attack a woman's toughness is not gender-neutral. Your mileage may very. In any case, it's a bit of a digression so if we want to continue the discussion please start up another thread.

+Suw Charman, if "Ignore" is any indication of what Google's thinking, I'm not particularly optimistic about the tools they'll be introducing. it'd be great if they were working with people like the Geek Feminism crew to get it right but somehow I'm not optimistic...

EDIT: I updated the first paragraph after a discussion with Bernard.
Just to be 100% clear, I'm not interested in debating whether or not +Karin Konotchick Hanson is acting like a troll. It's my thread, and I say she isn't; a couple of others agreed. I deleted a lengthy comment discussing it. Please try to keep things focused in a positive direction.
The fact is that no matter how disrespectful Google management's actions have been, and no matter how many realnames trolls are taking delight in reporting people they think are nyms, there are still people of integrity on both sides of the argument, and reasonable arguments for and against pseudonyms.

If you dismiss the opinions of the people who disagree with you, they aren't going to want to stick around to be convinced otherwise.

Personally, I think a lot of the arguments being put forward in favor of real names need to be taken very seriously; unfortunately, I don't think that real names will solve problems the way their proponents expect. Google is going to have to spend a lot more resources moderating things here in a way they've never been very interested in doing. Real names or nyms, it could all melt down when it's no longer invitation-only.
After another long comment, I blocked Bernard. It's nothing personal; it's just that he's not helping the discussion, and ignored repeated suggestions that he should knock it off. Apologies to everybody. Maybe I should have done it sooner.

+Kent Rigel (or anybody else for that matter), what arguments in favor of real names do you think stand up under scrutiny?
+Jon Pincus I hope you all realise I was pro-nym from the beginning, just to be clear on that. :)
I suppose Karin did mention something note worthy. That some trolls/stalkers etc might use the advantage of pseuds and stalk their victim. On such occasion of course they'd opt for disposable, non-worthy nyms. We pro-nym advocates may know the difference of a long-standing nym/handle, yet the general public does not know the difference as such. Education is required.
Honestly, it's not that the reasons people cite justify the realnames policy, it's that Google doesn't have any other plan. They're thinking they can just launch this thing, require real names, and that all the other moderation will just happen by itself.

People whose posts or whose actual pseudonyms are objectionable can be deleted under the realnames policy if they can't prove who they are. If their behavior is so objectionable that they manage to get deleted even though they can prove who they are, they can't re-register using that real name.

But beyond the special case of trolls using obvious pseudonyms, policing user behavior requires someone at Google to make a judgment call about the content of what the troll has posted. Google has never been very interested in providing support, so making all those judgments isn't going to happen. And I don't think they are really planning to provide the degree of support they will need to police even the names violations themselves. (We've seen how well their attempt at automation is working.)

So it will be easy to delete nyms like "BurnDaNiggaz" which are obscene, racist, and threaten violence, just because they aren't real. And if Google persists in the suspend-first-ask-questions-later plan, they might get deleted fairly promptly.

But a troll using the name Michael Brown may continue to troll for months because the other Michael Browns can hardly claim impersonation, and because the software can't distinguish offensive from playful speech. And they probably haven't hired enough people to do what machines can't, certainly not in all the languages that will be used here.
+Annie Yim agreed, trolls/stalkers take advantage of pseudonyms. Of course they do that no matter what the environment is; like I said earlier in the thread, social engineering experts find it even easier too fool people in a "real names" environment like Facebook. Unless the enforcement of a real-name policy goes as far as asking everybody for ID before they register, it's not likely to have any impact at all, and even then it's easy to get around. So, I do agree this is an argument worth taking seriously; but it seems to me the answer is that you need education in either case.

+Kent Rigel it seems to me the key is coming up with what the community policy is on things like hate speech and obscenity, and then enforcing it equally no matter whether or not it's a real-looking name. Agreed that something where Google polices it all isn't likely to scale ... instead they have to give people better tools. Again though I think it's basically the same consideration no matter what the policy is.
+Karin Konotchick Hanson I'm not at all hostile to looking at someone else's point of view. Indeed, I've been very polite, as have most people on this thread. But I have looked at the other point of view on this, and I find it wanting. This is why I don't agree with it.

When I say that people were giving me grief, what I actually mean is this: I was abused by several people both on public threads and on private threads that only they and I could so. This wasn't just someone disagreeing with me, this was full-on abuse where the abuser actually went and got his friends to join in so that they could all weigh in. It was very, very unpleasant. It was not about "seeing the other side" it was about people who felt power over a stranger through being extremely unpleasant to them in public and in private, and apparently all under their real names, too.

It was nasty enough to knock me off G+ for a couple of weeks, and I have now seriously limited much I write publicly here, because I'm wary of suffering another round of attacks for saying things that some people don't like. I have, so far in this wider nymwars debate, seen a tiny number pro-pseudonym people act like morons, but most are polite, thoughtful and when they read something that makes them think slightly differently, they change their minds. I dislike the morons on both sides - I don't think they help anyone understand the issues.

I would like to invite you to lay out in black and white your concerns about pseudonyms so that we can talk about them, rather that just writing off opposing views as hostile or saying that someone's experience was invalid. You say you see both sides of the argument. Which aspects of each side to you agree with? And disagree with?
+Jon Pincus In all reality, I'm not that hopeful about Google's ability to understand what effective moderation is, or provide the tools that would be needed to do it, either. I really don't believe that Google "gets" social. I gave a tech talk there a few years ago about social, and got the distinct sense that I was talking Greek to many of them. That's a shame, because they have the scale and engineering skill to do something awesome, yet their failure to understand how online discussions work threatens to undermine a lot more than just G+.
I updated the post with an edit in the section "About that double bind..." Here's what I added:

it creates a huge problem for anybody whose name Google doesn’t like:

Do they accept the penalty of being excluded from the future that Google’s creating?
Do they expose themselves to the risk of participating under their real name?
Or do they hold their nose and lie and choose some “real-looking” name that isn’t them and hope that Google won’t ask for ID?***
* If this last choice doesn’t sound bad to you, well, all I can say is that you must not have spent a lot of time in situations where you were forced to deny your identity or hide something fundamental about yourself.
+Suw Charman agreed all around. Five years ago I was in Microsoft's Online Services Group working on competitive strategy. My charter was game-changing strategies which was code for "What the heck are we going to do about Google?" I inherited a project with Mckinsey that involved a competitive simulation: teams role-playing Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, the telecoms, consumers, and Hollywood. As part of this we did a lot of analysis of the corporate cultures of various companies and it was very clear that Google has historically primarily been about algorithms, machines, and people who act that way. By contrast Yahoo! was primarily about content; I argued that Microsoft, which had the hugely successful MSN messenger and Hotmail, a partnership with MySpace, a great international presence including a developer ecosystem, and a couple of early-stage social network projects with interesting potential had a chance to dominate by focusing on people. Instead Microsoft put their money into search, MySpace dropped the ball, and Facebook went for the people. And quite successfully too; but now a lot of people are ready for something new.

So there's a great opportunity there, but Google has botched it -- in a rather predictable way, alas.
Andi S
+Karin Konotchick Hanson, the one time I have ever suffered serious, consistent online harassment (not counting flame wars/random trolls, but something that made me fearful for my/my family's safety) was by two people operating under their own names.

They stole photos from a gathering that I had posted online (it was a group of Goths raising money for a historic cemetery -- we dressed up, had a picnic, brought our kids, and had a lovely afternoon.) Someone thought it would be funny to steal the pictures and post them on a hate site -- including pictures that focused on my then-10-year-old daughter.

Comments on the site (which was ANONYMOUS, btw, not PSEUDONYMOUS -- the people there were NOT accountable for what they said, versus people operating under persistent pseudonyms that they use consistently, which is what the pro-nym side is asking for) included threats of rape and explicit violence.

I contacted the people who had put the post up (since they were local people who had done it under their own names, "for the lulz") and asked them to take it down. I even said "You can make fun of the adults all you wish, but take my daughter's pictures down. I am frightened by her picture being up next to comments talking about the horrible, violent acts that these posters are saying they'd commit if they saw "people like us" at their cemetery."

They refused, and laughed in my face. I tried to contact the site owner who had reposted the photos (I'd long since taken my own pictures down), but it was a privately-owned domain, owned by one of the people posting the pictures. Contacting their ISP had no results.

I called the police, who basically said "It's the Internet, there's nothing we can do about it."

This is the behavior of people who G+ would allow in, under their "real names" policy. But they banned my now-teenage daughter's account because she was only using her first and last initials, because she didn't feel safe (understandably) using her distinctive, unusual name online.

As a mother, I am deeply uncomfortable with a policy that asks my daughter to expose herself to easy tracking (she's the only person in the world with her firstname/lastname combination, I'm one of only two people in the world with mine, and the only one in an English-speaking country.)

Unless Google decides to turn toward "Moderate bad behavior, don't ban for pseudonyms," people like the ones who harassed us are welcome under their red-carpet policy (and since the harassment didn't take place ON G+, they undoubtedly wouldn't shut them down if the behavior occurred today), but people who don't feel safe (for whatever reason) using their full legal names are banned. I'm technically in violation right now because I'm only using my last initial, even though this is the name I used when I signed up for Gmail many years ago.

Unless they implement full-on identity verification (not just requiring an ID, but a credit card), it will still be comically easy to circumvent the real-name policy by coming up with a plausible-sounding middle-American name, so there's no point to this other than security theater.
Great comment from +Helena Brusic on the discussion of Pete Cashmore's article at

Ok, so to summarise on the Google MUST use real name camp:
1. don't like it go away na na na na (picture some foot stomping)
2. but I like real names so I know who I am talking to
3. its the social internet, play by the RULES or see point one

The would like the freedom choose camp:
1. Why should you care if someone wants to use a fake name, its not like you know everyone anyway
2. Did someone say skynet?
3. WHY does google want my real name? (cue x files music)
4. I am NOT AMERICAN why does the American government want my name? (cue x files the remix)
5. I am not a right wing religious nut. My opinions get me harrassed, put on death lists, either I stay silent and let the nutters win, or I go anonymous.
6. Did someone say skynet?
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