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Nymwars! Part 3 of Diversity and Google+

The version at http://www.talesfromthe.net/jon/?p=2948 has links and formatting


"Keep the pseudonyms and lose the assholes."

– Kathy Sierra

The battle over whether Google gets to police what names people can call themselves rages on. Ten days after Google VP +Bradley Horowitz promised process changes, accounts still keep getting deleted without notice. And while Facebook Director of Products Blake Ross got his account reactivated almost immediately, Skud’s account remains suspended (two weeks and counting) even after changing the name on her profile to Kirrily “Skud” Robert.

WTF?

Is Google listening?

"Pseudonyms are not in themselves harmful. Yes, they can be used for harm, as when people use them for anonymous, slanderous attacks, trolling, etc., but in the vast majority of cases there is no harm done. Importantly, they can serve to protect vulnerable groups"

+Caterina Fake, Anonymity and Pseudonyms in Social Software


When Bradley’s boss +Vic Gundotra talked with +Robert Scoble one of the reasons he thought the current policy was a good one was that “he is trying to make sure a positive tone gets set here”. Of course, as Caterina, Kathy, +Anil Dash and many others explain so well, the key to the tone of a site is good moderation. It’s easy for people whose only experience with pseudonymity is unmoderated comments on blogs or 4chan to conclude that it invariably causes the discussion to deteriorate, but there are plenty of sites allowing pseudonyms which have excellent and remarkably civilized discussions — like Dreamwidth, for example.

"When we decided to start Dreamwidth, I did a lot of thinking about what my ideal online community would be…. One thing we never, ever, ever considered, even for a moment, was instituting a “real name” policy to prevent abuses. Why? Because it doesn’t fucking work."

– Denise

Yeah, really. Presumably by this point everybody’s noticed that there’s no lack on Google+ of people throwing around insults and making sexist/racist/transphobic/ablist/etc. remarks, flaming, and trolling under their real names. And let’s not forget who’s hurt by Google’s policy

"Racists love online anonymity…but so do those of us fighting racism."

-- +Latoya Peterson

"Many of the people using pseudonyms are women, again, because women are at increased risk of harassment online and have good reason to want to conceal identifying information that could end with someone showing up at their door."

-- +s.e. smith

"Please, Google, on the creation of names, be sure to consider a Chinese consumer’s behavior, especially for users in mainland China. Consider the user’s personal situation in China, please do not force them into a real-name system. Otherwise I think this a violation of the principle Google has always pursued, “Don’t be evil”."

-- Newsinchina_tweeter, aka +Tuizong Zhang as translated by +Todd Vierling

Once again, all I can say is “yeah really.” Google keeps assuring us that they’re listening. Are they?

Sociology, not (just) engineering

When +Joseph Smarr of Google talked to +Alex Howard at OSCON, he floated another reason for the policy:

"If you’re going to make the commitment that we’re not going to out your real identity, that actually takes a lot of work, especially if you’re using your real account to log in and then posting under a pseudonym. We feel a real responsibility that if we’re going to make the claim to people ‘it’s safe, you’re not going to get outed,’ then we really need to think through the architecture and make sure there aren’t any loopholes where all of a sudden you get outed. That’s actually a hard thing to do in software … we don’t want to do it wrong, and so we’d rather wait until we get it right."

The desire not to put people at risk is certainly commendable. But Joseph’s example misses the point: the accounts that are being deleted aren’t people who want to “use their real account to log in and post under a pseudonym”; it’s people who want to chose the name they’re known by. The net result is that since the Google engineers can’t make pseudonymity work perfectly yet, they’d rather suspend people’s accounts if they don’t use the names Google wants them to. And “we’d rather wait until we get it right” leads to an initial community that’s biased against women, people with disabilities, transgender people, and all the other groups in Geek Feminism’s excellent Who is harmed by a real names policy?

"This issue of names and being able to choose how and where you express them is about privilege and power and who is free to speak on the internet. What the terms and conditions are of speech on the internet. Who gets to decide you are “real” or not?"

– Identity Woman

There’s been a lot of speculation that the real reason behind Google’s naming policy is that the desire to make more money by making easier to pull together online and offline data about a person. I’m sure that’s a part of it, but Joseph’s response lends support to the complementary explanation Sean Puckett suggested: they’re listening too much to engineers who have specific expectations of how users should behave, and not enough to sociologists. Like +danah boyd for example:

"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."

Let’s get organized!

As danah points out, though, the vulnerable people are banding together and speaking out loudly — with the support of a lot of privileged people as well. The predictable stream of mistakes by Google field-testing an unenforceable policy with bad processes and buggy software have helped keep the issue in the news; Todd Vierling’s excellent list is up over 200 entries, and there’s a steady stream of tweets on the #nymwars hashtag. And as Skud’s survey of suspended accounts highlights, we aren’t just talking, we’re organizing.

My Name Is Me, supporting the freedom to choose the name you want on social networks, is beautifully designed: people’s pictures along with their reasons for choosing their name. As I write this, the two most recent entries are from s. e. smith, telling us why activists and people with disabilities need to protect their privacy online, and Sudanese blogger Amir Ahmad Nasr aka Drima. And there are quite a few others …

Why yes, now that you mention it, most of them are women, and/or LGBTQ, and/or people of color. Funny how that works.

Some of the other nascent activism campaigns out there:

- +Shava Nerad ’s If We Can’t Dance at Google’s Cambridge offices
- Identity Woman’s Million Persona March
- Potential plans to engage at the Google+ stage at Loolapallooza in Chicago, Bradley Horowitz’ “Plus-up” in Michigan — and no doubt other events

There are plenty of other opportunities for activism as well. If you’ve got thoughts on the subject, please share them!

What next?

Especially since the business case is pretty powerful as well, and employee bonuses are tied to success in social networking, I’m actually relatively optimistic that a sensible solution will emerge on the naming front.

– me, last week, in Why it Matters

Why hasn’t Google extended an olive branch by following through on Bradley’s promise of process changes or reactivating Skud’s account? From the outside, it seems like Vic and Bradley and Joseph are mostly talking to “friendlies” like Robert who endorse their position; so quite possibly they still think that the 80%+ support for pseudonymity in +Jillian C. York's poll** is a fluke and all this nymwars stuff will just blow over. Good luck with that.

Then again maybe everybody’s working behind the scenes to try to come up with a solution. The business logic remains compelling, and I’m sure that a lot of Google employees are getting tired of hearing how evil they’re being. So when Google decides they want to get beyond nymwars, it really won’t be that hard. Here are some good first steps:

"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."

-- +Suw Charman

To be continued …

jon

* long-time Liminal States readers know that I’m a pretty unabashed fan of danah’s. danah boyd joins Microsoft Rsearch — computer science is a social science, from 2008, has some discussion about why.

** https://plus.google.com/105931402039205614444/posts/GgCudeygdNd
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49 comments
 
Cool, sharing it outside Google+ (taking a breather from here, it's too intense!)
 
I just don't understand... more bitching about something that is not finished - have you people never been part of a Beta, Alpha or pre-beta launch before? It's imperfect, and we are the test group. It's that plain & that simple. In order to attain the greatest effect, develop your concerns into the most constructive feedback possible, and amplify it. ...and then be patient, unless you're writing the code...
 
did you actually read the post, Jacob? there's plenty of constructive feedback there, and i end (as i did last week) with a specific proposal. as for being patient, see my response to Joseph's suggestion that we should just wait and see.
 
+jacob bayless I read it as "Here is what is wrong and here are some ways to fix it". If google came back to us and said "This nym thing isn't working and we are going to fix it by doing X". Then we would be patient. However google haven't done this, indeed the closet they have come to an acknowledgement is a statement the policy has been communicated poorly.

Despite the fact that its the policy that we have problems with, no matter how well articulated the policy is the policy and implementation just doesn't work.
 
Yeah, I hear you both. I think the thing that is most difficult for me to grasp is that Google is dealing with a beta(ish) test that involves 10M+ users... so they have forced themselves to organizationally comply with a policy of "no talking about fixes, features or specific issues"... I think that is the real problem. Talk it up, Google. The silence is the momentum killer.
 
oops, i mean to link to +Sean Puckett in the original post ... and for some reason i can't edit it now. oh well. Sean, please consider yourself linked!
 
+jacob bayless It looks like that google have a policy of not talking about changes until there released. Which makes sense if its something like iPhone support or the ability to move circles around.

But for policy it needs to be a dialog. G+ has people inside it who are at least sympathetic to the nym side, widening the discussion and engaging the community will dull a lot of the anger.

Also stopping suspensions until the problem is resolved would be a good faith move.
 
+jacob bayless, agreed that the scale of the field test and their keep-it-quiet policy are both complications for Google. The thing is, they did talk about this issue -- and they haven't followed through on their promises. +David Formosa makes a great point that it needs to be a dialog; and right now they don't give the impression that they're really engaging with people who see things differently than they do. Maybe they are, and just keeping it quiet; if so, as you say, it seems a mistake.
 
+David Formosa one of the aggravating things is that Google execs said they were going to stop no-warning suspensions, but they haven't
 
I'm convinced at that point it isn't an engineering/sociology impedance mismatch, but instead an edict from corporate legal. What they are not coming out and saying directly, but should: "Google, Inc. is not in the business of providing a medium for safe/free speech." See my stream for more thoughts.
 
And if Google reads these points of feedback and says "Yeah, great. But you will still play the Social Network Game our way"? I imagine you'll go into 'overdrive' with the anarchism and insist on Google bowing to 'fake names'. I hope instead you will do the honourable thing and just walk away from Google+, and leave it to us real-namers.
 
+Scott Wakeman Ah, but this is the Internet. You know there's going to be a significant portion of people who'll do what they want, either way, because a social network isn't anything without the users. The street finds its own uses for things remains true.
 
+Tzctplus Google has other options:
★ Deny Google+ from EU members;
★ Tell the EU to shove it;

Google is as Google does, and if they wish to implement an 'unenforceable' rule, who are you to tell them no? If they make a boo-boo, it is theirs to make.
 
That's the thing, exactly +Tzctplus - Google may pull through and keep us all happy, or it could do something that spells the end of Google+. Whichever way it goes, as you say, 'one never knows'. I'm going to enjoy the ride, though :-)
 
+Sean Puckett very interesting thoughts -- and everybody else, i'd encourage you to read https://plus.google.com/111265687988264628462/posts and https://plus.google.com/111265687988264628462/posts/MCqwYhdcgSo ... I certainly agree that those kinds of calculations factor into Google's decision, and there's a quote from Eric Schmidt about how governments will demand that people online be identified. on the other hand, they certainly realize that activists will find ways to use G+ no matter what their policies are -- as +Michael Kerney says, the street finds its own uses. And Twitter and Orkut is a proof points that social networks that allow pseudonymity can succeed even under repressive regimes. so my initial reaction is that can see arguments both ways -- more thought required. In any case, though, this just highlights the importance of the battle.

+Tzctplus - it's not at all clear that Google's policy is illegal under EU law -- see http://www.francisdavey.co.uk/2011/07/googles-name-policy-is-not-illegal.html Even if it is, Google (just like Microsoft) has shown a willingness to ignore local laws, fight the battle as long as possible, and then pay whatever settlement is needed as part of the cost of doing business. So I'm not sure this will have much of an impact in the short term.

+Scott Wakeman I think we have different ideas of "honourable". when corporations (or for that matter governments) have policies that I see as odious, I don't just shrug my shoulders and give up, but work with others to try to get them to change. I see the right to self-identity as a fundamental human right -- and just like other rights, we have to fight for it. And since Google is one of the most powerful corporations in the world today, they shouldn't be allowed to discriminate against women, LGBTQs, and all the other groups that are affected by this policy. So no, I won't just go away, and I suspect neither will a lot of the other pro-nym people.

Great conversation!
 
+Jon Pincus Have you not seen Google's 'It gets better' campaign? Obviously not. Google is in no way discriminating against the groups you mentioned. You Dare even think that? +Dan Savage would not be impressed with that claim.

You do not have an inherent right to use fake names on Google+ - and that is a fact. Of the 25 million users already here, how many users exactly have a problem with following Google+ T&C's - not many, if any. Got any numbers on your side? I find the lack of evidence to back up your claims astounding.
 
+Scott Wakeman The "tyranny of the majority" isn't exactly a good argument to make in favor of your position. And I don't think you get demand actual numbers if you don't have any yourself.

Also, it's not a zero-sum game. Google can do something good with "It Gets Better" and it doesn't cancel out doing something wrong on G+.
 
You think the other 24999000 users of Google+ are tyrant's against you? Ludicrous.

Your second paragraph is a non sequitur, +Michael Kerney - I don't do non sequitur's.
 
+scott wakeman So I guess you are unfamiliar with the common phrase "tyranny of the majority?"

I hardly made a non-sequiter. It's not logical to assert that because google has done a specific good thing that it can't do some other bad thing.
 
The non sequitor there? 'Zero sum game' - Google did some good, Google did some bad, so it all becomes zero. Ludicrous and irrelevant - and most certainly a non sequitur.

That phase is not common in New Zealand. Your Google+ profile withholds where you are on the planet - but if you use that turn of phase in your neck of the woods, don't assume it is for the rest of the planet.
 
+scott wakeman I said it's NOT a zero-sum game. Your assertion that google doing a good thing is not evidence of it not being able to do a bad thing.

Ok, we'll use argument from popularity if the other phrase is unfamiliar to you. Your numbers claim remains invalid.
 
Apparently you can't edit posts in the android app...

Your pointing out google did a good thing is not evidence that it isn't or can't do some other bad thing.
 
I never claimed that, +Michael Kerney - I hold that no 'fake names' on Google plus is a good thing. You have no inherent right to fake names on the Google+. Google, in actuality, is neither right nor wrong in not allowing fake names.

So in my eyes:
★ Participating in 'it gets better' - a good thing
★ Preventing fake names on Google+ - a good thing

WIN-WIN game if you ask me...
 
+scott wakeman That's not what you said. You told +jon pincus how dare he say a group is being oppressed and invoked the "gets better campaign.
 
OK, +Michael Kerney you've got me off my Android experience, and onto my Ubuntu experience. Perhaps your phone screen is too small to take in the whole discussion. Here's how it unfolded:

1) +Scott Wakeman wrote:
And if Google reads these points of feedback and says "Yeah, great. But you will still play the Social Network Game our way"? I imagine you'll go into 'overdrive' with the anarchism and insist on Google bowing to 'fake names'. I hope instead you will do the honourable thing and just walk away from Google+, and leave it to us real-namers.

2) +Jon Pincus wrote:
...I think we have different ideas of "honourable". when corporations (or for that matter governments) have policies that I see as odious, I don't just shrug my shoulders and give up, but work with others to try to get them to change. I see the right to self-identity as a fundamental human right -- and just like other rights, we have to fight for it. And since Google is one of the most powerful corporations in the world today, they shouldn't be allowed to discriminate against women, LGBTQs, and all the other groups that are affected by this policy. So no, I won't just go away, and I suspect neither will a lot of the other pro-nym people.

3) +Scott Wakeman wrote:
*_+Jon Pincus Have you not seen Google's 'It gets better' campaign? Obviously not. Google is in no way discriminating against the groups you mentioned. You Dare even think that? +Dan Savage would not be impressed with that claim.

You do not have an inherent right to use fake names on Google+ - and that is a fact. Of the 25 million users already here, how many users exactly have a problem with following Google+ T&C's - not many, if any. Got any numbers on your side? I find the lack of evidence to back up your claims astounding._*

Understand this: Google+ is in no way discriminating 'against women, LGBTQs, and all the other groups that are affected' by not allowing 'fake names', as +Jon Pincus and a handful of others have suggested. You have no intrinsic right to 'fake names' at all while using the Google+ service, and we are here merely at the whim of Google. This is a fact - undeniable and indisputable.

So I thank you +Michael Kerney for attempting a very poor job of making it look like I said something I did not.
 
+Scott Wakeman - +Jon Pincus Have you not seen Google's 'It gets better' campaign? Obviously not. Google is in no way discriminating against the groups you mentioned. You Dare even think that? +Dan Savage would not be impressed with that claim.

I reply to this:

Also, it's not a zero-sum game. Google can do something good with "It Gets Better" and it doesn't cancel out doing something wrong on G+.

I hardly made a non-sequiter. It's not logical to assert that because google has done a specific good thing that it can't do some other bad thing.

... are you getting it now? I said those things in reference to your first paragraph. I don't think you understand what I was referring to.

And really, quoting the whole thing back like I can't read and making snide fanboy comments re: android/ubuntu isn't helping anything.
 
For you to jump into a response to another person with some nonsense about zero-sum game, that is a non sequitur - and I don't do them. There is nothing for me to get.

It's not logical to assert that because google has done a specific good thing that it can't do some other bad thing. Please note, this is where you have your wires very crossed. I asserted no such thing, so try not to imply that I did. Understand I did not, and if you inferred that, you inferred incorrectly, and that is between you and your understanding of the English language.
 
+Scott Wakeman You're in a public discussion. If you don't want people to reply to what you say here, don't say it here. I don't know what else to tell you.

"Have you not seen Google's 'It gets better' campaign? Obviously not. Google is in no way discriminating against the groups you mentioned. You Dare even think that? +Dan Savage would not be impressed with that claim."

Perhaps I'm reading that wrong, but I don't see how it could not say that Google's "it gets better" campaign somehow proves Google couldn't ever discriminate against those groups with a policy on G+.
 
I certainly know what I wrote, and I certainly know you inferred what you wanted out of it. So when the original writer tells you that is not what they meant by your inference, you better believe them. So I say again, you inference was incorrect.

I never said couldn't ever - so again do not twist my words.
 
+Scott Wakeman So... are you saying that you meant "Google's "it gets better" campaign proves Google isn't currently discriminating against those groups with a policy on G+?"

And I should perhaps clarify, "It gets better" isn't Google's campaign. It's a campaign started by Dan Savage that Google has made contributions to in the form of videos and other things. It's not their campaign alone. http://www.itgetsbetter.org/pages/about-it-gets-better-project/
 
No thanks, +Michael Kerney , I'm not playing. You word games mean nothing to me. Have a good day :-)
 
+Scott Wakeman So basically you're going to deny what you said. You're a deliberately obtuse waste of time, Wakeman.
 
New Zealand is a very forward country, check out our Parliament - had a transgender Minister (George →Georgina), very open to the gay community, and just a whole lot different than the US. The world doesn't always revolve around the US of A ;-)
 
That's right, venom time, +Michael Kerney - can't beat 'em, verbally abuse them. I told you I'm not playing that game.
 
I still disagree +Todd Vierling - but I admit I don't understand the issues from a US perspective. Just realise that if you do get people on Google+ who disagree with you don't get antsy with them. It may just be because they are in the global community, and not the US community, and have already resolved the issues that the US hasn't.
 
+Scott Wakeman Look, what you said to +Jon Pincus in the first place came off as kind of rude to begin with, whether you meant it to or not. And you're making a pretty unfounded "USA-centric" assumption to both +Todd Vierling and myself. Nobody is verbally abusing you, it's just being pointed out that maybe you're not being terribly intellectually honest here.
 
+Scott Wakeman By keeping that up, you are in fact just being annoying. If you're going to respond to a point in the discussion, do so. If not, don't post. Doing what you're doing is just like a kid loudly announcing they're not listening to you.
 
That's no reason to have a go at Google for not allowing fake names, though, +Todd Vierling
 
I agreee with +Michael Kerney that Scott had become very annoying on this thread -- apologies to everybody for the excessive notifications. Yet another counter-example to the myth that "real names lead to civility." So I blocked him. Yay for moderation.
 
Guh. I just did a little looking around Wakeman's posts. This guy has already gotten himself bounced from other nym threads before now, for the same behavior.

Sorry all, I should have looked into the guy before I even started talking to him.
 
Well, in his first couple of posts he didn't come across as unreasonable -- so I engaged too. But yeah, once he started going overboard it probably would have been better to ignore him.

Y'know what we really need? The equivalent of a Usenet "kill file" to make it easier to share lists of flamers/trolls/etc.
 
For one thing, I'm pleased yet disturbed that such an extension has already been adapted to Google+ (apparently it was for Buzz before.) I didn't think there were that many trolls around already. I guess there were at least enough around the person who made the extension, anyway.

But I'm still an incredibly hard person to please since I'd kind of like to see it in G+ itself, because extensions tend to get screwy, often due to unannounced changes in the site they're supposed to work on. I get that from using Better Gmail and Better GReader for a very long time now in Firefox.
 
Thanks Kathy, great post!
 
An oldie but goody. Still relevant!
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