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“Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power

Everyone’s abuzz with the “nymwars,” mostly in response to Google Plus’ decision to enforce its “real names” policy. At first, Google Plus went on a deleting spree, killing off accounts that violated its policy. When the community reacted with outrage, Google Plus leaders tried to calm the anger by detailing their “new and improved” mechanism to enforce “real names” (without killing off accounts). This only sparked increased discussion about the value of pseudonymity. Dozens of blog posts have popped up with people expressing their support for pseudonymity and explaining their reasons. One of the posts, by Kirrily “Skud” Robert ( included a list of explanations that came from people she polled, including:

- “I am a high school teacher, privacy is of the utmost importance.”
- “I have used this name/account in a work context, my entire family know this name and my friends know this name. It enables me to participate online without being subject to harassment that at one point in time lead to my employer having to change their number so that calls could get through.”
- “I do not feel safe using my real name online as I have had people track me down from my online presence and had coworkers invade my private life.”
- “I’ve been stalked. I’m a rape survivor. I am a government employee that is prohibited from using my IRL.”
- “As a former victim of stalking that impacted my family I’ve used [my nickname] online for about 7 years.”
- “[this name] is a pseudonym I use to protect myself. My web site can be rather controversial and it has been used against me once.”
- “I started using [this name] to have at least a little layer of anonymity between me and people who act inappropriately/criminally. I think the “real names” policy hurts women in particular.
- “I enjoy being part of a global and open conversation, but I don’t wish for my opinions to offend conservative and religious people I know or am related to. Also I don’t want my husband’s Govt career impacted by his opinionated wife, or for his staff to feel in any way uncomfortable because of my views.”
- “I have privacy concerns for being stalked in the past. I’m not going to change my name for a google+ page. The price I might pay isn’t worth it.”
- “We get death threats at the blog, so while I’m not all that concerned with, you know, sane people finding me. I just don’t overly share information and use a pen name.”
- “This identity was used to protect my real identity as I am gay and my family live in a small village where if it were openly known that their son was gay they would have problems.”
- “I go by pseudonym for safety reasons. Being female, I am wary of internet harassment.”

You’ll notice a theme here…

Another site has popped up called “My Name Is Me” ( where people vocalize their support for pseudonyms. What’s most striking is the list of people who are affected by “real names” policies, including abuse survivors, activists, LGBT people, women, and young people.

Over and over again, people keep pointing to Facebook as an example where “real names” policies work. This makes me laugh hysterically. 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. These ideas and issues aren’t new (and I’ve even talked about this before - ), but what is new is that marginalized people are banding together and speaking out loudly. And thank goodness.

What’s funny to me is that people also don’t seem to understand the history of Facebook’s “real names” culture. When early adopters (first the elite college students…) embraced Facebook, it was a trusted community. They gave the name that they used in the context of college or high school or the corporation that they were a part of. They used the name that fit into the network that they joined Facebook with. The names they used weren’t necessarily their legal names; plenty of people chose Bill instead of William. But they were, for all intents and purposes, “real.” As the site grew larger, people had to grapple with new crowds being present and discomfort emerged over the norms. But the norms were set and people kept signing up and giving the name that they were most commonly known by. By the time celebrities kicked in, Facebook wasn’t demanding that Lady Gaga call herself Stefani Germanotta, but of course, she had a “fan page” and was separate in the eyes of the crowd. Meanwhile, what many folks failed to notice is that countless black and Latino youth signed up to Facebook using handles. Most people don’t notice what black and Latino youth do online. Likewise, people from outside of the US started signing up to Facebook and using alternate names. Again, no one noticed because names transliterated from Arabic or Malaysian or containing phrases in Portuguese weren’t particularly visible to the real name enforcers. Real names are by no means universal on Facebook, but it’s the importance of real names is a myth that Facebook likes to shill out. And, for the most part, privileged white Americans use their real name on Facebook. So it “looks” right.

Then along comes Google Plus, thinking that it can just dictate a “real names” policy. Only, they made a huge mistake. They allowed the tech crowd to join within 48 hours of launching. The thing about the tech crowd is that it has a long history of nicks and handles and pseudonyms. And this crowd got to define the early social norms of the site, rather than being socialized into the norms set up by trusting college students who had joined a site that they thought was college-only. This was not a recipe for “real name” norm setting. Quite the opposite. Worse for Google… Tech folks are VERY happy to speak LOUDLY when they’re pissed off. So while countless black and Latino folks have been using nicks all over Facebook (just like they did on MySpace btw), they never loudly challenged Facebook’s policy. There was more of a “live and let live” approach to this. Not so lucky for Google and its name-bending community. Folks are now PISSED OFF.

Personally, I’m ecstatic to see this much outrage. And I’m really really glad to see seriously privileged people take up the issue, because while they are the least likely to actually be harmed by “real names” policies, they have the authority to be able to speak truth to power. And across the web, I’m seeing people highlight that this issue has more depth to it than fun names (and is a whole lot more complicated than boiling it down to being about anonymity, as Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg foolishly did).

What’s at stake is people’s right to protect themselves, their right to actually maintain a form of control that gives them safety. If companies like Facebook and Google are actually committed to the safety of its users, they need to take these complaints seriously. Not everyone is safer by giving out their real name. Quite the opposite; many people are far LESS safe when they are identifiable. And those who are least safe are often those who are most vulnerable.

Likewise, the issue of reputation must be turned on its head when thinking about marginalized people. Folks point to the issue of people using pseudonyms to obscure their identity and, in theory, “protect” their reputation. The assumption baked into this is that the observer is qualified to actually assess someone’s reputation. All too often, and especially with marginalized people, the observer takes someone out of context and judges them inappropriately based on what they get online. Let me explain this in a concrete example that many of you have heard before. Years ago, I received a phone call from an Ivy League college admissions officer who wanted to accept a young black man from South Central in LA into their college; the student had written an application about how he wanted to leave behind the gang-ridden community he came from, but the admissions officers had found his MySpace which was filled with gang insignia. The question that was asked of me was “Why would he lie to us when we can tell the truth online?” Knowing that community, I was fairly certain that he was being honest with the college; he was also doing what it took to keep himself alive in his community. If he had used a pseudonym, the college wouldn’t have been able to get data out of context about him and inappropriately judge him. But they didn’t. They thought that their frame mattered most. I really hope that he got into that school.

There is no universal context, no matter how many times geeks want to tell you that you can be one person to everyone at every point. But just because people are doing what it takes to be appropriate in different contexts, to protect their safety, and to make certain that they are not judged out of context, doesn’t mean that everyone is a huckster. Rather, people are responsibly and reasonably responding to the structural conditions of these new media. And there’s nothing acceptable about those who are most privileged and powerful telling those who aren’t that it’s OK for their safety to be undermined. And you don’t guarantee safety by stopping people from using pseudonyms, but you do undermine people’s safety by doing so.

Thus, from my perspective, enforcing “real names” policies in online spaces is an abuse of power.

Originally posed at Apophenia:
Sonny Hoaglund's profile photoCherokee Dawn's profile photoDennis Bechtel's profile photoJudith Haw Smalley's profile photo
+Maleko McDonnell: I think what +danah boyd means is that many minorities have names that are difficult for English speakers to spell & pronounce and therefore use nicknames more often for their convenience.
Of the predicted 25 million folk that have signed up to Google+, what proportion have been directly affected by this policy. To quote from a New Zealand singer/songwriter: "Not many, if any".

I'm sure, if you've read my previous posts on the subject, you already know my Mantra... Or you soon will, as I know how this goes, I'll be labeled something I'm not for merely dissenting. I have a thing for respecting Google+'s T&C's, you see.
Agreed that marginalized and vulnerable are most affected, but ALL deserve the same right to control their identity online. I'm a teacher and I don't think I'm particularly marginalized or vulnerable, just socially held up to scrutiny...which I could say about 90% of today's job applicants. Why must we always invoke this kind of fear based scenario to get people to endow us with basic rights.
A significant part of the problem is that G+ hasn't been even-handed in the way they apply their rules. Lady Gaga still has her account. Xeni Jardin still has her account. But I don't; far more people know me as "raincoaster" than know me as "Lorraine Murphy" but I'm not powerful enough, I guess, for them to apply their own rules to me.

This is a community management problem, and it dwarfs their technical issues.
Again, why do only people with "crowds of followers" deserve a pseudonym? I just don't get it. What is the argument for using a real name again? That I'll be accountable and therefore I won't say things that ruffle feathers? Nonsense.
totally agree. the real names policy is seriously flawed. having to use a name that sounds like a "real name" won't make people more honest or accountable. it's ridiculously easy to get around for those who care to do so in order to do harm, and the policy itself is harmful to countless other people who will not be able to or want to participate if their identity must be verified and flaunted. i find it orwellian. and agree that it is an abuse of power, +Natalie Villalobos what are you guys thinking????
The rule is not "real name." The rule is "common name" and the problem is, it seems to apply only to famous people. I gave them more than 20 links to profiles of me identifying me as "raincoaster" including speaker profiles at conferences. Did no good.

If they changed it to "real names" then we'd all have different expectations.
+Maleko McDonnell Did you read the next sentence: "The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power." The main reason that I see teens of color using pseudonyms more than their white counterparts is because they are systematically marginalized. The whole point of the post is to highlight the differences in power.
I do think there is an argument if people want to use pseudonyms there are social networks where these are allowed and they might be happier on them. Facebook especially offers a way for people to connect with people they actually know, yet it is hard to find people if they don't use their real names.

It seems to me that Google Plus has a lot of tools whereby people can remain hidden if they so wish.

Livejournal allows pseudonyms as you know, and it has some strengths. But there are a lot of people who use their anonymity to troll, harass or just be rude to people.
As I've said more than once...Require me to wear a name tag everywhere I go and I'd be increasingly agoraphobic. That's just me. If they weren't saving everything I say and do online for eternity...maybe I'd reconsider. Once upon a time, my audience was a small group I chose to share with. Now it's everyone, and always out of context.

All the danger and rights and abuse of power and everything aside, I think a certain freedom of spirit is provided for by having the choice to wear the tag or not.
Anywho, you have no intrinsic right to use 'fake names' on Google+ - this is a private invite-only (currently) service, and you are here at the whim of Google. If Google figure it all out, great. If Google keep policy as it is, you 'fake namers' are on borrowed time.
They would have done themselves and the Google mystique a huge favor by saying, "call yourself anything you want, we know who you are and what you'll buy."
I read this entire thing, and I think I can break this down into something much simpler.

Let's say I have a lawn. Now let's say I invite everyone in town to come dance on my lawn this Saturday. I tell you not to wear red because it angers my dog. If you come in a red shirt, I send you home. Granted, there are a lot of other people besides myself that are affected by this, but you're forgetting that it is still my lawn, I am responsible for the actions of everyone there, and if my dog bites you, it's my ass on the line. But mostly, it's my lawn. You can sit and complain that I am running my lawn poorly, or you can get off of my lawn and go dance on another lawn that isn't my lawn.

Maybe you have a valid reason for wanting to wear red while you dance on my lawn, but it's still mine, and I don't need a valid reason to tell you to go away, because you are on my lawn. So change your shirt or go away. If it's dangerous for you to be on my lawn, you shouldn't be here anyways; it was your own mistake for coming. If that means you miss out on the dance party, then I guess you just realized you can't have your cake and eat it too. Go grow your own lawn and you can do whatever you want there. If this attitude means that nobody wants to dance on my lawn, then whatever, I suppose I have to decide whether or not I want to let people wear red and deal with the problems that causes for me, or whether I just want to have an unpopulated lawn. But either way, it's still my lawn.

I get to make the rules on my own property whether you like it or not. Not because it's fair, but because it's mine. And I very well may make a choice that leaves me all alone on my lawn because nobody else wants to be here. But that is my decision not yours. It is not my responsibility to care for your needs, that is your responsibility.

If you go to the zoo and climb over the fence, falling in the gator pit and get eaten, it's not the zoo's fault for not building a tall enough fence. It's your fault for going where you shouldn't have. Pseudonyms are in many ways a shield for those who want to express opinions that affect the public without the reaction affecting them. I have no tolerance for these people, if you cannot be truthful, shut up. If you have put yourself in a position where you cannot be truthful, either shut up or change your position so you can speak freely. That's on you. If you are tryingto say something you believe is too important not to say that you know will put you at risk, you need to decide if you message is worth your safety. If it is, say it and deal with not being safe. If not, shut up.

If you are avoiding stalkers, why are you leaving information about yourself public at all? You shouldn't even be out dancing on lawns if there are people in the neighborhood walking around trying to hurt you. Is that fair? No. It's just the truth. Too many people don't like that. Sometimes you need to give up some luxuries for the sake of safety. If you are worried about being found, it is YOUR responsibility to not be found, not mine. There's my two cents. Take it for what it is. Social media is not a right. It is a priveledge granted to you by the people who put the time in to bring the system together. If they want your money enough they will listen to you, but they are not obligated to. I am not in any way afraid to have my real name attached to this opinion. In the end you are always responsible for your own well being. That is the way of the natural world, and it doesn't matter how many opinions or laws try to glaze over that, it will always be that way.
+Scott Wakeman Isn't what all this polemic is about, trying to get Google to understand, and change their terms? I'd argue that Intrinsic Rights are not erasable by Terms of Service.
+Brian Dayhoff Why in the world would you ever be afraid to have your name attached to such a non-controversial opinion? You are basically saying "play by the rules or go home."
+John Jackington Google will understand what 'it' wants to understand, nothing you nor I can do about it.

+Brian Dayhoff An amazing analogy - Thank you for that post.
+John Jackington 'Play by the rules or go home' is my Mantra... Mr Dayhoff was more diplomatic that I was...
I get why Google wanted real names. There's a single reason. FRAUD. With new tricks to create internet fraud created every couple of minutes, asking people to use their true identities creates less problems with fraud down the line... particularly when your Google+ account may be tied to your Google Checkout account and so forth and so on.

Is it right? No. But if you look at problems with community safety, ACROSS THE INTERNET... kvetching about the policy doesn't make that much sense. I don't think they will change it, and I don't think they should have to.

The general desire of ANY COMMUNITY SITE is for people to be honest about who they are. It adds to the safety of the community and the service. People also tend not to do things under their real name that they might under a fake one-- like spam their friend list with photos of kittens for days.

(And I'm saying that as a woman who's been stalked in real life, and on the net, and by cellphone... you just have to be smart about it. Its not that hard to use both your real name and to not have people NOT know where you live, or what your new number is... and to file a restraining order... etc.)
Meki Cox
Jumping here to have my 2 cents...

There are a lot of us who have "Stage Names" or Nom De Plumes - or Brand names --- Mine is Lyrics Express.

I was suspended until I put my birth name in - and this does 3 things;

1) Opens me up for harassment
2) Ruins ANY branding I've done as a writer, etc. (which is years worth of work)
3) Forces me to "OUT" myself online - to various agencies or people - NOT THE LEAST OF COULD BE: Stalkers, Credit Agencies, Collection Agencies, Companies that want to submit advertising, Legal Agencies, Law Enforcement, etc.

Which - in my opinion is beyond acceptable for ANYONE... let alone just me.

Might I add tho --- I go by Lyrics when meeting people OFFLINE - so for Google to tell me WHO I am - and WHO I am NOT... is a bit uncomfortable.

Otherwise - I love Google and Google plus - but this is extremely uncomfortable.
Lyrics Express should wait til Google+ opens up for businesses and enter under that rubric.
+Scott Wakeman Actually from what I understand about Google, they are listening to this ongoing debate, actually are interested, and plan to respond to users' concerns, not just in this area, but across the board. Because it's in their business interest. So what you just said sounds like the opposite of what I understand to be true. each their own. I'll stick with "Orwellian," thanks
+Astrida Valigorsky , is the reason fraud, or is it money? Google's main source of income is advertising. Their "real name" policy allows them to construct targeted lists of names associated with interests, which they can then sell to marketers.
+Astrida Valigorsky But the problem isn't that I'm LYRICS EXPRESS for Business.... I am a writer - it is my "STAGE NAME" - much like T-PAIN's name is not his BIRTH NAME - yet he has been allowed a Google+ account.
Had a good laugh at what you said about teens using fake names on Facebook. It's so true.

I don't seem to remember there being a similar media frenzy when Facebook started to enforce their "real names only" policy. Was there one?

I am very active on Second Life and there has been furious debate, and much anger, over Google+'s policy. Upon sign-up, Second Life users were forced to choose a lastname from an ever-changing but limited list, and therefore everybody in SL has a pseudonym. There's a direct clash going on between people who for all intents and purposes are known only by their SL avatar name, and Google+ policy, which is being very unevenly and heavy-handedly implemented.

The website is EXCELLENT. Every Google+ employee should take a good long look at it.
Fraud and money are always connected in more than one way-- and I am not naive to think that Google+ may become an amazing datamine for Google in many ways (just like facebook has)... but if you look at it PURELY for community... you need people to be real. It makes for less bullshit.

I do agree that an ANONYMOUS feature for certain kinds of things... might be a very useful idea.
I agree with almost all of this post (which is excellent and informative, by the way), except calling it abuse of power. It may be semantics, but as no-one is forced to use G+, I don't think it can be described as such. Google has stated that they want people to use their real names to make it easier to find each other, which is a fair reason.

However I don't agree with Google on this. As you, I think there are plenty of good reasons to use pseudonyms and G+ will loose out on a lot of interesting and important voices with their current stand. I wonder how they will explain letting Lady Gaga use her pseudonym (which I assume they will), while banning "normal" people for doing the same.

I hope they come to their senses (and it is worth remembering this is only a beta making everything prone to change), but if they should change policy, they better do it quick, before too many of those affected are alienated permanently (although it is probably too late already).
Ok I was on my way out...but wait a second. +Brian MacKay Are you really using the analogy of businesses that bar people from entering because they refuse to have their identity scanned at the door? This is not an age check you are referring to. If so, I think I've just heard the scariest example yet, and the best example yet of why the debate is increasingly important.

Are we really progressing to a world where we have no rights when we are in the stated realm of any business or corporate entity? "Play by the rules or go home" becomes a pretty big freakin place. And +Scott Wakeman you do understand that (at least in many countries) we do have some rights that override corporate policies, right?
+Meki Cox - while I understand your pain, if the name is a brand you have built, why didn't you want to protect it for yourself somehow by making it into something you can keep legally? There is ample legal precedent for Nom De Plume for writers... go back to Google with that, and watch them change their mind.
+Brian Dayhoff that's not it. The problem is, if you show up wearing red, some people are getting rejected with "that's not the kind of red I meant" and some, wearing the exact same colour, are getting admitted.

Once again, people: Google is not insisting on "real" names. Google is insisting on the name you are commonly known by.
Oh, yes I do +John Jackington but 'fake names' is not one of them.
I think my point is more that if it is OK for T-PAIN to have his name on here - it should be ok for those of us who have made names for ourselves...

I'm not an UNKNOWN factor - I've published and I've been involved in heavy duty circles.

But Google tells me that the name I've chosen is NOT acceptable.

However - it IS my name...

I'm seriously considering ending the issue by going to the court house and paying to change my name. GRRRRRR.

Again- I understand in some circumstances (SPAM - FRAUD - ETC) where Google would want to quash some of the issues.

However - there are a bunch of us - who have established who we are --- NOT FOR SALES --- but for community and such - as individuals --- STAGE names...

Because you can research who I am (IN GOOGLE, MIND YOU) - online and offline. For GOOGLE to FORCE me into my Birth Given name -- is unfair --- and every CELEB should have to do the same...

Would be interesting to see all those real names - where no one knows who they are -- for a change.
BUT +Meki Cox don't you think a few of those celebrities have had their names changed legally too? I have a good friend who is a successful NYC Comedienne... she had to change her name to the name of her act so she could get paid. (At a certain point when your act becomes you, a change is needed).
The ones we're referencing haven't legally changed their names. Lady Gaga hasn't.
+Astrida Valigorsky I have approached them - but in the meantime - I have placed my birth name in. I'm awaiting a non-bot verdict. grin
By the way it's VERY weird to see +Meki Cox it's like WHO IS THAT??? LMAO
The (imaginary aliens from the show Star Trek) Vulcan's have a great saying - and it isn't just 'Live long, and prosper' - 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one' . How many out of the assumed current 25 million Google+ users are really affected by this? Not Many, If Any... And I doubt that Google will be swayed by the 'give us fake names' crowd.
it's a matter of freedom of speech too. The NFL couldn't keep Chad Johnson from becoming Ochocinco and wearing it on his jersey. Even +danah boyd chooses to keep her identity in all lowercase, which could be seen to violate Google's sketchy policy. But as she writes: "...[I]t's my name and i should be able to frame it as i see fit, as my adjective, not someone else's." (
What is most depressing in a discussion which involves rights of less privileged minorities, is when someone says "STFU! I and the majority want it like this" :(
Uhm +Scott Wakeman - maybe you haven't been reading online about this "PROFILEGATE" stuff - but Google's Profile Policy is affecting more than just a FEW people.

I'm not looking for fake names -- I'm looking for validity for names that have been established.

There are a lot of people putting in FAKE John Smith or whatever names - and Google can't tell the difference.

Those of us that are standing up and saying - hey - wake up... we'd like to be counted as "US" --- and all that we've done...

People do not recognize my name... My friends offline would NOT go looking for me by this name. They would look for Lyrics.

Same thing with people online.

So - short of sending me a BILL - there really is no need for Google to DETERMINE that Lyrics is NOT my name.

Especially since this has been my identity.

This goes for Writers, Musicians, Artists, Celebrities and a few more.

We have ESTABLISHED these identities as WHO we are.

And this makes it different than just someone coming up with GIRL90120-1220 or any handy pseudo name that is not attached to their lifestyle.

I think MANUAL exceptions NEED TO BE MADE.

Considering they allowed T-PAIN in with it...
"The scan at the door in Alberta is not an age check. It is used to manage individuals that cause trouble, get punted, have gang associations, etc." +Brian MacKay +Scott Wakeman If this doesn't sound a little problematic to you on its own, then I really don't have a chance in hell of making my point. Honestly I think the names policy for Google+ will change in some favorable way and all will be fine. But your example...yeesh. That's what I'm really worried about.
I'd say dying of starvation in Africa is far more depressing, +Markus Breuer , than being denied the 'right' to use 'fake names' on Google+
+John Jackington I understand +Scott Wakeman 's point of view - He's saying too bad so sad... And turning around and walking off - because it does NOT affect him.

He has no personal stake in the issue - and therefor it has no literary value for his perception. Google demands - therefore play by the rules or get out.

I get that. I'm saying that - perhaps sometimes it is important to state your opinion - and perhaps change views...

Doesn't mean I'm right - or that he is wrong --- just a differing of opinion.

And since he can opine his opinion - I think it only fair that everyone else can opine theirs.
+John Jackington I do not partake in 'the end is coming' Book of Revelations NWO mumbo jumbo - I'm a futurist, and would be quite happy to get chipped. Can you imagine swiping your arm at the car door and it unlocks for just you? Swiping the same arm to get into a nightclub? Swiping the same arm to pay for drinks? Swiping your arm at your home door, and it unlocking just for you? Walking past scanners as you walk down the street and have adverts personally addressing you on screens ala Minority Report? I personally can't wait for that future to arrive. And hiding behind fake names will slow that future from eventuating - how selfish of the 'fake namers'...
So you're ready to lose individuality to become the Hive Mind.
One thing that Joseph Smarr of Google said in an interview (Joseph Smarr (Google), interviewed at OSCON 2011) is, and I paraphrase, "Using a pseudonym and not being traceable are not the same thing. If Google is going to allow such then they don't want to do so until it really is untraceable." (starts at 8:58 into the video)
+Meki Cox Don't mistake my disagreement for a belief that I'm the only one entitled to an opinion. Quite the opposite. I'm arguing for inclusion of all; no matter the color of their shirt, name tag or not.

However I do think one of the most valuable points that +danah boyd makes here is that those arguing for name accuracy seem to be the ones with less to lose, and often, less controversial things to say.
+Scott Wakeman If you are a Futurist then you know it includes a lot more than conveniences for transactions and door locks. The world you describe is not improved or enlightened, it is simply convenient. It is a nightmare to me, and in my opinion is not what Futurism is about. I suspect even Bruce Sterling would agree. I don't see him on here yet so I can't tag him. Maybe he's going under another name.

Getting off-topic here, and I'm out of hot air. Cheers
You make it out that humanity will turn into the Borg +Meki Cox . I have 'faith' that humanity is far greater than that :-)
Oh the humanity!!!! I need some cheese to go with the collective whine.

I use G+ because of the lack of "nyms". If you hate the name your parents gave you, use a different "real name" on G+ -- or go back to Facebook. Hullo? How hard is that?

The entire rest of the Internet is pseudonym'd. If you have something to say that you're afraid of the consequences -- well, Life is a series of consequences from your actions. Deal with it, quit whining, and offer some original content. :)
+danah boyd just wanted too say thanks for writing this :) just came from a thread a mile long on the topic.
+Stuart Lounsbury I realize you may reside in a safe bubble world. grin Just kidding. But - I do know the ramifications of using your real name online... As I have a girlfriend who was stalked and more because of it.

Thankfully that is not my issue.

My issue is that I've been told my "stage name" --- what I am known by in multiple areas of the world (in press, etc.) is not acceptable.

How then will people who have been calling me this name - and using this name - Paying bills to this name - be able to locate me? Unless I expose my Real name to them?

I mean - yes - of course - I could become a fake name --- Jane Doe - but then - really - what's the sense in that?

It's just like using my birth name - which I prove by showing ID to Google.

It does my "Stage Name" no good - it does my following no good - it does my resume no good - it makes my family freak out - it makes my friends uncomfortable to communicate with me online - because they just are not used to it.

There are a few of us out here - that have "become" our names.

Big difference than just using a cheap old throwaway "HOTGUY101" or "SALLYDOESNAILS" or whatever... Yanno?
I'm just glad my name is common enough to be able to keep my anonymity.
+Brian MacKay Ok one last thing. Glad you aren't advocating routine invasions of privacy when going to a pub. Also, the things you say at a cocktail party are not (at present) archived for eternity and searchable, not just by everyone who was there, but everyone in the world...maybe someday in our bright techno-future that technology will exist ;-)
+Meki Cox I don't live in a safe bubble. Google me and you'll understand. Interestingly enough, you can actually do that because I use my real-real name.

If you insist on not using your real-name (which I have no problem with), and you have something to offer via this particular free G+ service -- why not come up with a new "not-real name" and prove what you have to offer is of interest to people? Take as a challenge and consider your utilization of G+ to be an opportunity to re-prove what you offer is valued by others who have no history with you.

I still don't see a single valid argument for twisting Google's arm about requiring unvalidated "typical names" as user ID's. Stalking, rape, stupid ex-boyfriends, ID-theft, my boss, my neighbors, whatever. They're invalid arguments based on Google's current rules.
+danah boyd You make some very strong points and have changed my opinion on this issue. I'm just curious, how would you feel being able to use a fake name but having a flag on your profile?
+Stuart Lounsbury I think the +Meki Cox argument is that is the typical name in this case could in principle be validated. A problem for Google and +Meki Cox in this is that it requires a cost to verify the typical name is valid and that might not scale functionally for G+ as it requires some form of moderation and it acts as a barrier cost for the individual to adopt the social network. So an interesting issue for me here, isn't so much the pseudonym/anonym/legal name argument but how the costs of establishing identity is established in a Web that is more aware of naming and identity problems. G+ as a new social network has to deal with these issues out of the gate, rather than wait for a critical mass for notice. Interesting to see how this plays out.
+Stuart Lounsbury Hmmm - to be honest - I have proven my value to many communities - to several publications (online and off) and to many friends, family, businesses who use me - or my services... Including, but not limited to, many celebrities.

I'm not ashamed of my own birth name - not in any way.. I just know - that people will not recognize it - within the circles I am in... NOT ONLY THAT...

I introduce myself AS Lyrics... This is MY name.. Much akin to people calling you "Stu" or "Stewie" or your middle name.

For me - and for other people in this industry - your name is who you are.

Could you imagine people running up to Madonna and calling her by her Birth Name?

Or Lady Gaga?

NOT THAT I EQUATE MY "STATUS to that - but what is fair for one is fair for all - is it not?

I provide value - I write --- erm... or hadn't ya noticed? LMAO

I'm a prolific opinion writer in many areas...

I would like to think that I help others - or add value to conversations - or bring a smile to people's faces.

The point is - I've created this identity - I've verified this identity - and I'm told I must use my BIRTH name... Hmmmmm...

Then so should ANYONE in any industry.

It's either all or none - or we'll work with you.
+Meki Cox I understand your points regarding your feeling about a new service not allowing you to use a name you developed over time.

Google has never required you to use your birth name, and G+ is a free service that no one is requiring you to use. You've established your identity elsewhere and users acknowledge your value on several other services (self-acknowledged above).

"Do what I say or I won't use your free/optional social forums service" is the common argument in these threads, and it's growing really thin by now.

Don't like it -- go somewhere else.
+Stuart Lounsbury Hmmm - I'm guessing you didn't understand that I AM using my REAL Birth Name right now because my "Stage name" had been suspended.


OK - so - you're saying it's ok for one group of people to be treated with special privileges and not others - based on $$$ value?

Interesting coming from someone who just quoted that it's FREE.

Keep in mind you have no idea who I am - but there are quite a few around here who know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I've been an extremely strong supporter of Google.

I do NOT like this particular rule - and I'm openly vocal about it --- because why???? Because it AFFECTS ME....

What better reason to be upset about something?

Because it does not affect you - you could care less.

Therefore the fact that it DOES NOT affect you should make your argument thin.

I'm advocating the use of SPECIFIC TYPES of Names - or Nicks.

My name IS Lyrics for all intents and purposes.

For Google to tell me that it isn't --- when I have a track record and significant sources of documents and online content that say otherwise - is kind of.... hmmm... how to say this... uncomfortably odd and a mite bit controlling.

Trust me - I see the validity of the need for names being significantly True...

HOWEVER - in the end --- it doesn't matter what a person's name is...

It matters what they do...

And if a person comes in here harassing others - regardless of what name they use - their ACTIONS should be terminated.
+Meki Cox You are free to disagree all you want, and be vocal about it! That's AWESOME! Go to town with this -- but you can hardly expect to be free from call-outs on your opinions.

I disagree. You are the one asking for special privileges by demanding aliases, and nobody made you sign up to G+ with your birth name -- that was YOUR decision. Don't complain about something you voluntarily did on your own.

As far as dollar value, my point remains that this a free service -- if you don't like how it runs, don't use it. Nobody is making you use G+.
+Jonathan Langdale Although you weren't asking 'me' this question, I'd like to give my answer to it. If having a flag on my profile allowed me to use a pseudonym, I'd be fine with that. Although, this reminds me of those who had to wear designations back in WWII, and that was demeaning in addition to identifying.
+Stuart Lounsbury I value the fact that you have an opinion. Even if it differs than mine.

I disagree on what you are saying - FREE to use it.. yes yes - of course - I'm free to use it.

But - so is everyone else.

And don't you think if it is provided for one faction - it should be provided for others?

THIS is the deciding factor on whether many will stay with Google.

It's a no brainer for me - I am staying here - I'm just VOCAL about what I want.. I want to be able to use my nom de plume.
I think this thread proves by example that a "real name" policy does not prevent trolls from trolling. :-)
+Cassidy Curtis So very true. It is not the name, but the person that can be social or a troll. So we really shouldn't be judging people by their name or require them to use a certain name. It is all about the people. :)
+Meki Cox Indeed! Back at ya. I appreciate that you're holding your ground and sticking with how you feel. Totally!

As you stated, the end-game in the "alias vs real name format" argument is how many users will utilize G+ and stay with the service in the long-run. We know Google will live through this, and so will we, regardless of the outcome.

But I still don't understand your point about how the free service is provided for "one faction", and not for others. I don't agree with that reasoning.

My view is the factions who are excluded or being treated "differently" are so due to their own voluntary stance/opinions -- by wanting to use an "alias", vs a real-name format ID. I see that as those folks excluding themselves, not G+ excluding them. If G+ was a required service, or a government offering, I do believe I would be 100% in your circle. But G+ being a free service and stating their ID-format requirements up-front, I don't see this as discrimination at all. I see it as cramping some long-time online contributers who want to participate in G+ but don't like the TOS. Hey -- Life is full of consequences for our opinions and stances of conscience. Some are very unpleasant, but it doesn't mean you should back down, or agree with me!

So -- please, keep hollering about this! Change the policy if you're able, because I'll still use the service either way, and I have an infinite amount of respect for people who stand up for what they think in the face of significant odds -- more than you know. :)
We had a couple of pieces on this in the inaugural issue of The Four Peaks Review, up here at the University of Washington's Masters of COmmunication in Digital Media program - though the issue came out in June, before Google Plus launched. The link is here:

And the two articles in question are here:

Both, not surprisingly, were heavily influenced by danah's work.
I disagree with real names enforcement from Google, but for the following reasons. All of these are governance arguments, not the arguments that the "elective names" crowd wants.

- Google should not be the world's identity authority because that's too much power on top of the dangerous amount of power they already have.
- Google should not police everyone's G+ identity because it's impractical to do this for billions of people with proper care, accuracy, and fairness. They should only resolve impersonation.
- Since G+ is a major public medium, it should allow anonymity for important information disclosures intended for the public good, such as WikiLeaks or Arab Spring (although not everyone approves of these disclosures).

That said I'm fully in favor of the real names policy intent. If G+ emerges as a forum where everyone uses a real name, as intended, I'll see it as a success and a major force of good in society. If the community rejects real names and abuses (what should be) a non-binding real names policy to join with false names, I'll think of G+ as a failure. In my eyes the community will have destroyed a potentially great social advancement through short-sigthedness or frivolous selfishness. The entire point of G+ is real names. G+ with aliases would be no better or different than existing web media.

I've attempted to state why in several recent posts. Here's another attempt: G+ is the street. It's the public place where everyone, from the mayor and the rich mansion owner, to the everyday person, the kid, and the really poor homeless woman all meet. The street brings people together, and this is why it has value. G+ is a street at the global scale and this is why I'm so passionate about it's potential value for the good of society and don't want to see it destroyed by anonymity. Early indications are that G+ delivers connection between people who are far apart in society. I want this to continue and not fragment into a millon friend sites and blogs.

The street is not a club or an isolated part of the woods. Everyone is expected to act mindful of their reputation, and of everyone else watching. That is good! It affects the rich dude and the bullied kid alike. I don't expect either to share what they really feel. I expect them to share what they think is OK to share under the pressure of public eyes. This is what the street is for. But then something miraculous happens. Because everyone shares within the limits of public discourse, the limit of public discourse goes up. Very slightly, imperceptibly, but it goes up. If a million people take a tiny risk, sharing something slightly controversial, it's not controversial or risky any more. Society has become better. But this only works if real, identifiable, people do the sharing. Anonymity just makes visible the range of opinion beyond permitted discourse, which is also essential but already covered in places other than G+.

The street also allows masks. Either individual masked people or everyone during the carnival. Appearing on the street with a mask has value. It brings controversial, out of bounds talk in the midst of the street. However masks are the exception. If you have some really important critique to make, sure, come out and speak with a mask on. Then go home, take the mask off, and come back as your real self. If you wear a fancy mask all the time, I'll roll my eyes and think you are being stand-offish, selfish, or only half-participating in the public space. That's my opinion of the "my name is me" people.

I'm a rich white guy and so don't have many reasons to control what I say (I do have some). I don't want to diminish or deny the much more serious reasons other people have for anonymity. Anonymity in general is essential. However, G+ is the street. If rape victims, or women ingeneral, started going out every day with their faces covered I wouldn't say yay! anonymity protects these people! I'd say they are being further marginalized. I'd be happy to see a sexual abuse awareness van show up on the street, and for the people who run it to wear masks or otherwise protect their identities during the event. Wait for brands in G+ to do this. Argue for proper protection of brand spokespeople. Don't sign up with your brand identity instead of your name and complain about the real names policy.

In this thread I agree mostly with +Brian MacKay, well put. I disagree with +Brian Dayhoff because I see G+ as a public, not private space, so arguments of governance and not ownership apply.
+danah boyd thank you for writing this eloquent and well researched article. I belong to several marginalized groups and I agree with everything you said. Also thank you to each and every person who spoke up against Google's very clear abuse of power. In addition to the many excellent points that people brought up in this thread is the fact that Google is so big that it sets a trend and a 'legal precedent' for future social media policies of other organizations with their unethical, abuses of power. So each and every person who spoke up is indeed making a difference by working to end the abuse of power (hopefully ending the precedent) even if you only speak up to say 'thank you' to those who speak up to identify it as the abuse of power that it truly is.
I want to add to the examples of reasons why people might be justified in wanting pseudonyms: many countries beside the US are dangerous places to say whatever you want. In countries like China, Syria, Libya, and many others people are in real, physical danger if they can be so easily tracked even on a website that originates outside of their country. Google should consider its international role, and prevent itself from becoming just an American website.
+danah boyd, G+ and Facebook are competing hosts of what you call the "universal context". If universal context means the end of limited contexts, that's bad. But if the world offers many venues for limited contexts and along comes someone also offering a universal context, that's good.
“Real names” policies aren’t empowering; they’re an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people.

First, thanks to +Pavlos Papageorgiou for a really interesting perspective, and very well presented at that!

Your characterization of G+ as "the street" does lead to all of the conclusions you've reached. And if this mediated space could be mapped exactly to our existing concepts of public space in every respect, I'd agree with you on all points. However, there are two key ways in which that characterization is inaccurate.

(1) G+ is owned by Google, not the public. It's private property, and they reserve the right to kick you off if you don't obey their rules. If you don't like their rules, you can't run for elected office and try to change them. Your only recourse is to leave. So it's more like "the mall" than "the street" in that sense. (danah has written eloquently on why the mall is inferior to the street as a true "third place" for teens. I'm sure that's true for other marginalized groups as well.)

(2) Only some of the conversations taking place on G+ are entirely public. Many, perhaps most, are private: shared only with a specific circle of people. The ability to do this (not, imho, the "real names" rule) is what distinguishes G+ from Facebook and the internet at large. So in that sense, G+ is not only "the street" but also all of the private spaces, large and small, behind closed doors along that street. We don't apply the same standards of discourse in our homes that we do on the street in real life. Why should we be required to do so here?

There's a third point that applies even if you accept the imprecise characterization of G+ as "the street": there are many people we encounter in public in real life whose real names we may never know, nor care to know, but who are nonetheless real to us. Not random strangers, but specific people. Some are local celebrities, like San Francisco's Emperor Norton, or more recently the Red Man. If you mentioned the Red Man's legal name, I wouldn't know who you were talking about. I know him only as the Red Man. So there's a real-life precedent for pseudonymity that I would argue is valuable in public spaces of any kind.
It's fascinating to compare the comments here versus the comments on danah's blog post. G+ definitely gets more comment volume and more inter-comment discussion. I'd be curious to know which requires more moderation. There seems to be a bit more civility here.
Chris A
I get the fact that Google may want us to use our "real" names when registering our accounts and I actually agree with this policy. What I don't agree with is them forcing us to use that name as our display name and the name that people can use to search for us. People from all walks of life may need to use a pseudonym for one reason or another and it would be truly sad if the major social networks did not allow them to participate because of this issue.

Easiest solution in my opinion: Force users to register using "real" names, but allow them to hide that information from other users. The google profile pages contain a field called "other names" which would be a great way to allow users to place their pseudonym and searchable name into. Let users be able to set that field as their default display name.
+Chris A - that would be fine if people trusted that the data would be protected. However they have no reason to do so. I actually do trust Google with this data - they're competent and the reputation damage from a breach would be severe. But they are required by law to turn over data like this to government, and as we saw in the recent UK press scandals, government databases are an open book to criminals willing to pay trivial sums to private investigators.
Ok. For the first time in years I disagree with +dana boyd on this issue.

Yes, some people are stalked or frightened. There are other social media sites, and they are welcome there.

Yes, the policy has been badly applied. But it was in closed beta. That is where trials are worked through.

Yes, various social groups routinely use 'handles'. There are other social media sites, and they are welcome there.

Google is offering a service. It is not a state mandated provision. Others in this thread have explained superbly.

To my personal experience, handles are also used to hide the identity of scammers, flamers, trolls, thieves, hate-crimers, bigots, zealots and scumbags. I would rather we made life much harder for them.

If you have made an online career of being provocative, and want to stop your employer or relatives realising who you are in real life, then there are other social media sites, and they are welcome there.

Equally well, society allows stage names, trade names, nom de plumes and blogger handles, so I feel that the google+ community is best served by reaching an accommodation

It is also obvious that non-English / non Latin script names may need an English language version

I am perfectly happy for Google to enforce:
- common names as part of a
- traceable identity
- full profile revealed on request
- clear flagging of translated names, stage names, trade names, nom de plumes,
- with a clear way to appeal against the use and to ask for genuine / traceable identity in case of dispute

I genuinely think that strong anonymity is a bad thing is social media, and the balance is very much on the side of googles current (amended) policy
Chris A
+Viveka Weiley I agree with you here, but that's a different topic in my opinion. Any tech company handing over information to the government, should do so only after having obtained judicial authority to do so (like a search warrant for example and users should be notified of this.)

+david j w bailey SO you think if we eliminated handles on social networks they would be clean of flamers, scammers, hate-crimes, and spammers. I'm pretty sure I've seen more hate-crime related posts and groups on facebook than on twitter. And spammers will just find loopholes to take over user accounts to spam as can be seen any day when you log into facebook and see tons of spam posts in your feed. On any given day my news feed sees more spam posts then what makes it to my gmail inbox.
+danah boyd .. I do respectfully respect your opinion but your conclusion that "enforcing “real names” policies in online spaces is an *abuse of power.*" is an overkill.
Google+, Facebook, MySpace etc. are FREE online social networks that are NOT necessities for the public to use or to be part off. If certain people have any safety concerns then DON'T post anything that will compromise this. If certain people don't want to be found online, then DON'T be online. If you are hiding, then feel free to do so... Why should we demand a company to change their rules for us on a service that we are not even paying for!
I can absolutely understand the desire for those who have been stalked or are being stalked to prevent the stalking from finding more information about you. What I don't understand is why G+ requiring users to use common names would allow said stalkers to find them any more easily?

Every aspect of your profile information can be set to whatever circle you desire, or none if you so desire. If they can only find your name, or common name, but no location information and cannot see any posts (if you limit your posts to only your specific circles and only post generic information public) will they be able to stalk you any more easily? They already know you exist so if they know you use a certain service, how is that different?

I can see this as a potential issue if your stalking is an accomplished hacker or the like, but at that point wouldn't it just be better to avoid having any sort of profile online? Even using a fake name that only your close friends know wouldn't really stop someone with that skillset as they would just need to know your friends (which one would think they would) and they could then hack your friends and figure out your new fake name.

It seems that the argument should be more focused on the privacy options that are available in the account settings. From the short time G+ has been available, they seem fairly comprehensive so far. There is always room from improvement.

Personally, I have been a fan of the common/real name usage because every comment thread and debate I've seen utilizing it has been fairly civil...I've noticed that, unfortunately, behavior and civility seems to erode rapidly for some posters when engaging in this type of debate. The discussion on this post has been rather civil I would say.
Chris A
+Tom Weizenegger I think a lot of you are missing the value of pseudonyms and because of that are considering it a non-issue.

Do you think the only reason why news of protests and abuse in countries like libya, syria, or egypt spread faster on twitter then on facebook is because of the public nature and the 140 characters. I'll bet a big number of those tweeting those messages are doing so using a handle that they feel won't be able to be tracked down to them. Using handles and being a bit "anonymous" has its advantage and allows people to put out important information that they might never feel safe to put up if they had to use their real names.
I like the "common name" policy currently in place, and I DO NOT want it to change. Twenty years of online message boards have shown me that pseudonyms encourage the worst in people, and turn message boards into flame-ridden messes. YouTube is a great example of this, although you could go to almost any message board and see the same thing. For every 10 people with a legitimate beef with the policy, there are 20,000 flamer/trolls chomping at the bit to lower the level of discourse here. Remember: The neighborhoods with the most stringent and hated homeowners associations also have the most desired places. And although stated rather bluntly in other posts, this IS Google's territory, after all. They have Terms of Service, and if you ignore them, you're going to get hassled or suspended from Google+. End of story.

You also don't have to live your whole life on Google+. If there's an aspect of your life you think will cause you hassle if publicly known, here's a concept: Don't talk about it publicly. Or just talk about it on another social network. There's many, many other places where you can feel comfortable.

Finally, if you have problems with gangs / stalkers / religious oppression / political oppression, you have a real-life problem that Google+ was never designed to solve. There's a thousand other sites you can use. Try Twitter or something.
irish d
+Vic Gundotra should read this article here. best i've read about the real name debate.

i think this real name policy should not be done via mandate but thru INCENTIVES. for example in facebook, there's a reason my friends would usually go by their real name is because there's an approval process and if i don't know their name, i am unlikely to let them into my page. since we have only a follow system in g+, that's not gonna be the case here. but PERHAPS other google properties that they will integrate into the system can be used. for example to qualify for a google voice integration, you have to have a real name (there will prob. be a lot less outrage there than in g+). basically, IF YOU WANT OPTIMAL EXPERIENCE, YOU HAVE TO USE YOUR REAL NAME.

another problem is that g+ has allowed the feature of PUBLIC COMMENT. it's both a boon and a bane (i say more boon). but since many would usually opt to post their comments as public, then this becomes more like myspace than a facebook in terms of spam and troll attraction. for me honestly i post them publicly because there are not many of my real friends yet in the system. but i appreciate google's foresight that this will be a main problem once it opens to a lot more people and the step they're taking.

whatever solution they come up with, personally, i want the intimacy and civility of conversations maintained at whatever cost even if it means the real name policy will still have to be enforced. yes i am very selfish. simply because i find the experience here really good in terms of engagement and maturity of conversations. but i do hope they could achieve the same thing thru different means.

i also believe the ANOTHER MAIN REASON that this community feels more civil is DUE TO THE AGE RESTRICTION. i think they should maintain that policy. i don't want this to dilapidate like the comments on youtube.

therefore this g+ is really gonna be a very DIFFERENT communication medium. it has both elements of myspace and twitter with a lot less in common with facebook though it can be used in that way as well. i know businesses and schools are excited and i think that's the right target group anyway that will make this big. everything about it is really very professional looking to me. so pls mr gundotra, i hope you're listening. +Tom Anderson
Google gives us a free platform and the rules to use it (hopefully clearer rules soon), and we join and complain about the rules as an 'abuse of power'?
I read this because it was recommended by +Tom Anderson , but I must say that I've now lost little respect for his ability to analyze objectively prior to communicating..
Chris A
+Tom Weizenegger I have no outrage over G+ and I don't think +danah boyd does either. She is making her point in a way that will bring attention to the cause and spark a discussion like this one in hopes that people can see the value of pseudonyms and maybe if enough users demand it G+ will listen.
+Chris A My first thought was that there are different tools with different purposes. Your example of protests in Libya, Syria, Egypt, etc. was perfect in illustrating my belief that I don't believe there are tools that allow for everything. Those people are posting with a different purpose and different stakes and are using a tool (Twitter) to those ends.

With the current policies, G+ isn't designed to accommodate those users. The question is...should it? G+ does allow for public posts but, to your point, if you're using a real can't really accomplish the same thing that those users are accomplishing through Twitter...Is there a way to balance that? Choice to make public posts made by pseudonyms but restrict comments to only the common name/real name? I don't know.
I entirely agree that people should be free to choose how they will identify themselves. I believe there are many and sundry justifications for using a pseudonym. I also believe Google is making a bad decision on this point, hurting its image and damaging its' business. I, however, as my friend Vanni also points out, believe that Google is, in the end, a private entity and firm and free to make whatever decisions, good or bad, that it wishes. They own their servers and they, in the end, get to make the rules as to how those servers and the services they offer get used. We can disagree with Google, we can try and persuade them to change, but in the end it is their sandbox and we can either play by their rules or leave.
I think that this is open for discussion and not a TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT policy at this point.

I think it is an unfair policy - if people like SNOOP DOG - MADONNA - T-PAIN - EMINEM and others can use their stage name - yet artists online and offline - cannot use their stage name.

What - are you saying because I don't make $$$$ that I can't use my name Lyrics?

Wow --- ok - then you can't go by JIMMY --- James...

Or Johnnie - John...

Sorry- doesn't work.

But what bothers me even more????

Is the people who say TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT...

Yeah - ok - fine - all those who can't "play" can just stay outside.. Just wait until something happens to YOU personally and someone says --- TOUGH -- Don't like it - go use another medium.
I believe your ONLINE ACTIVITY and ACTIONS - should speak louder than your name.

HALF of you are using FAKE NAMES anyway -- they just sound like John Smith - or something real.
Arguing that a policy is a policy and you can abide by it or leave is a degenerate argument (in the sense of one that reduces to 1=1) when the debate is about the policy itself.

Yes, by gum, Google has the right to require whatever they care to -- that I should go by a name that sounds like a birth name, that I should go by the name that I am generally addressed by in person, that I should go by a handle that I've used for the past decade, that I should go by my full legal name that I never use, or that I should provide nude photos in order to gain admission to the site. Whatever. And still Google is a private company and they get to make the rules and if we don't like them we can go home, get off my lawn you damn kids.

And still I am a private person and I get to have the opinions I have about what would be best for Google to do, and it is entirely appropriate to note that policies that have a disparate impact on various communities that may wish to partake, which then on top of this are differentially enforced, are problematic.
+Tom Weizenegger i have trouble understanding your point in reference to mine. When i say that Google is a private entity, I am attempting to distinguish it from a public one (as in, state owned, supported, etc). Your point that Google is shareholder driven and will make decisions as it sees fit is exactly what I was saying. I may disagree with the choices they make, but they have every right to make them and, as Google+ is a private service, if we can't disuade them or persuade them otherwise, we either comply with their terms of service or depart the service.

Certainly a fair criticism would involve arguing that Google should have clear and consistent policies so that their existing and potential users know what to expect. Fair criticism would also involve pointing out contradictory policies among Google services. Fair criticism can also include attempting to persuade them that it is in their own long term business interests to adopt a particular policy (such as permitting pseudonymous accounts).

Fair criticism would not involve stating that Google has no right to select the policy it deems fit for their products and services.
+Tom Weizenegger You are absolutely correct. That distinction makes all the difference in the world. All the discussion around what should and shouldn't be done revolves absolutely around what Google wants their social service to be. If Google wants their service to accomplish the same sort of political protest that is possible through Twitter (or other anonymous sites/services), then the changes and policies they enact/enforce will be completely different to a site more dedicated to just interpersonal relationships and relationships with fans or the general public.

+Meki Cox I absolutely understand the idea of fairness...if other artists are allowed to use their stage names, it should be universal and the "take it or leave it" argument really sucks. The problem is completely within Google's right, fair or not, to do so. I imagine that there are many, many other benefits that Snoop Dog, Madonna, T-Pain, Lady Gaga, and numerous other celebrities receive that aren't fair that none of the rest of us receive. Anything as simple as getting priority seating at a restaurant or show.

Hopefully the ability to use a stage name will be worked out...until then this is exactly what needs to be done...those who have been affected speaking out on it until enough outcry is raised that Google makes a decision and using those celebrities who are using their stage names as examples of how the rules are bent...if enough people are upset, a change will be enacted...if not, then it does come down to making a decision if this is the right product for you to use. It's not fair, and we are completely within our rights to say's all up to Google for response (or non response if they choose).

There are MANY ways to allow for both.

For example:
1) Require some sort of "real" name, as they are "trying" to do now.

2) Allow a "semi-anonymous" use of the system.

...2a) Users can opt to make posts (replies as well) under a "protected" or "semi-anon" way for each post. Users can post under their "real name" OR their "semi-anon" name ie: user2354 which is not tied publicly to their "real name" however will remain a constant name just like their real one.

...2b) Users can choose to see all or none of the "anon-user" postings/replies etc as a setting.

...2c) users can "ignore" a particular "anon-username" which would not stop the "real name" postings from that user from being blocked.

...2d) Posts by "anon-users" can be flagged/reported for real abuse, illegal uses, spam etc and have their "anon-user" privileges revoked.

...2e) If and when needed the "anon-user" postings can still be identified to the "real" account for law-enforcement issues or judgements, subpoenas etc... but only when required legally.

...2f) Posts/replies etc by "anon-users" will be easily identifiable as such.
3) For more "credibility", "validity" or "reliability" users may post under their "real name" as well.

This way any "legal" reasoning is thrown out while still being able to allow for "semi" anonymous communication and expression of opinions without fear or at least minimized fears.

This same type of freedom would/should allow for an almost perfect compromise.
+Derrick Rayburn Thank you derrick - I do appreciate the thoughts.

Like I said - I'm fully aware that some people may not understand this.

I've been told -- You can't lead a horse to water...

Of course Google is within their rights to do whatever they choose - I have ALWAYS backed Google - and I probably always will.

Like having a friend - when you are a real friend you point out the things that are wrong.

Because this affects me - personally - and it is something I feel strongly about - it is something I will be very vocal about.

Does that mean I am not going to accept the final say so? Nah... I will deal with it as I have to - if I want to be a part of it.


But - I want to let everyone know how I feel about it.

Because this is a different situation..

I'm not HOT GIRL 4 U --- or SKANK MY BUTT --- or PORN on the RISE - or BUY MY STUFF...

I am literally a name for an artist...

I am the nom de plume...

I want the fairness that is achieved by allowing my name to be recognized.

AND --- there are two ways I can combat this:

1) Discuss it with everyone - so that Google can view my side of the argument - and perhaps either (a) choose to include people like me... or (b) change the policy or (c) manually accept it... or what is happening (d) ignore it - and carry on because no one else really cares...


2) Go spend some serious cash - change my name legally and trademark my name.

In which case - Google should not deny it.

It is - of course my choice --- but this is actually pretty PETTY in the whole scheme of things.

I just think that it isn't quite justified - and as a social medium - I think the action of saying people have to use a REAL name -----

so that if they decide MY name isn't real....

and I have to submit proof ---- is insane...

AND --- not only that --- I know for a fact that there are others who are using --- FAKE NAMES --- that sound like REAL names..

So - Google needs to choose to NOT PICK ON some people...

OR ask ID from EVERYONE.

Or - allow names...

I can prove (and so can you) that Lyrics has been around for some time as my name...

I have people who will vouch for my name....

and I can show a bank statement that shows AKA Lyrics....


What kind of fair is it --- that someone can use John George as a name --- whose real name is Kenneth Watson (just an example)...

And because my real name is UNIQUE --- as you obviously can tell.. just HOW fair is it - that I cannot use Lyrics?

As a name?


And I think even more distressing to me -- is not that I can't use it --- is the lack of communication from Google's side...

No customer service - no help - no place to go to - in order to get help.... No one to talk to to explain...

This is a SOCIAL place - and so far - Google is not being very social about this situation.

Oh - and trust me --- My name was not brought under scrutiny because of policy --- my name was sent in as a complaint...

Sorry charlie... I know better.
The only arguments for pseudonyms here that I find at all persuasive are those of +Meki Cox and +Lorraine Murphy asking for consistency with celebs like Lady Gaga.

The points about safety and privacy just don't wash with me - if you don't want something to be public, don't post it publicly. Haven't you heard the adage that you shouldn't post anything on the internet that you wouldn't be happy to see on the front page of a newspaper.

But back to the inconsistency of approach. I get the problem, I just can't see a good solution. At school I had an English teacher who used to say, "to every problem there is a simple answer, and it's wrong". I think that applies completely in this situation.

- Google's current approach is inconsistent and has left people feeling annoyed, marginalized, and lots of other bad things.
- Insisting on birth names wouldn't work unless you plan to check everyone's birth certificates.
- Insisting on "real" names is too subjective - would Peaches Geldof be told, "sorry, Peaches isn't a real name"?
- How can you determine the name someone is "commonly known by" - do we have to get their contacts to vote?
- A free-for-all allowing people to use any name they like would probably put most of the population off and likely lead to a rise in all the things the "real names" advocates are warning against.

I really don't know what the answer is, but what I'd say to +Meki Cox is, are there any writers associations or any official organization that can verify your professional name and that it is what you are known by?
+Steve Long You or anyone else can Google Meki Cox and/or Lyrics Express together... I've established this name in some publications online --- but a lot offline.

Doesn't really matter tho - I say it's the name I'm using - I shouldn't have to prove this --- in any way --- just like You didn't have to prove you were Steve Long...
"Using a pseudonym has been one of the great benefits of the Internet, because it has enabled people to express themselves freely—they may be in physical danger, looking for help, or have a condition they don’t want people to know about. People in these circumstances may need a consistent identity, but one that is not linked to their offline self."

You know who said that? Google:

I guess they've decided they only want G+ to have one "mode," but Google as an organization is pretty clearly already up to date on why people might prefer to be pseudonymous. This makes it even stranger that they had not anticipated that people, many of whom may have pseudonymous accounts on multiple Google-based services already, might dislike the idea of suddenly being forced into a different mode here.
+Meki Cox Yes, I admit I'm in the happy position of having a name that doesn't arouse the suspicions of Google's algorithm.

My suggestion was probably of no comfort, but it is the sad truth that people with uncommon names have a harder time using those names than the rest of us - even simple things like being asked to spell their name when giving it over the phone.

Sometimes policies can't handle the edge cases and so those have to be managed by exception. Unless someone comes up with a satisfactory policy that can handle cases such as yours, I'm sorry to say that there might not be a simple way around your having to verify your chosen name (while people like me don't have to) in order to maintain the feeling of legitimacy and transparency that real identities creates for all of us.
+Steve Long awww thank you for being politically correct (and polite) about saying basically unless someone at Google takes pity on peeps like me ---- we're screwed... LOLs


But you did it very eloquently - and what you say is precisely true.
+Ĵono Reĝo I don't know enough about that case, so don't really understand why there was a need for anonymity. Unless she(?) is employed to represent corporations with interests like those she(?) was speaking out against.

But it's presumably a similar situation to whistle-blowing, which also requires anonymity.

In either case, I really don't think a social networking site would be the correct forum. So social networking can still remain based on real identities, and there are much better forums for things like whistle-blowing.
I simply do not like the idea that people have to show their passport (or their credit card, for that matter) in order to use Google Plus or similar services. I do not like the idea that people have to interact with some Google bureaucracy to get their names "checked" and that some Google employee has the power to reach a verdict on some name she does not like. I have chosen to use my real name but I like the thought that other people can chose not to do that. As long as there is the option to not have a person in my circles and to mute that person in my stream and comments, i am not feeling threatened by people not using their real names.
There are lots of good arguments for the use of pseudonyms and for anonymity for a lot of customers and there are a few good arguments for Google to forbid them.
+Tom Weizenegger For purposes of this argument/discussion, the public/private difference I was highlighting was the important one. Regardless of whether you are a privately held firm or a publicly traded one, the fact is that as a firm that is not part of the state or public patrimony, you have the freedom to make decisions that serve your personal/company purposes. People who argue that Google NEEDS to do this as part of a public good are wrong. Google does what it wants to earn profits, just like any other company with assets it controls.

Separate from that question, is the one of whether the policies it is pursuing are good for the long term for Google as a business. The question of pseudonymity really has two parts here. One is should pseudonymity exist at all. That question is existential and political and people have various views on this (I personally am in favor of allowing individuals to choose how they portray their identity). Separate from this is the question of Google's policy. We can certainly have a debate regarding how Google should do this and make recommendations, suggestions, etc to Google. But, while the first question can be grounded in Constitutional and International Convention on Human Rights grounds, the second is grounded in rights of private property. Those who favor permitting pseudonyms can hope to make cogent, persuasive arguments to Google and get them to adopt a policy that supports this. But, Google is the one who decides. All we as users can do in the end is accept their final policy or leave.
I'm annoyed that G+ requires I use some form of electronic gadgetry to post my musings.

But I jest, or do I? Requiring a computer, smart phone, tablet, etc. to interface with G+ can be just as sociologically alienating and marginalizing of the potentially powerless by the powerful. Maybe even more so. People on the margins of society more often cannot afford the tools to use social media.

Where is the outcry against Google making a platform that requires the expense of a computer that many cannot afford?

As I stated, I sort of jest. The name issue is a complicated one. I don't have solid position yet. At this point, G+ is not so widespread that applying name restrictions does not affect large numbers of people. It is not an accepted standard, such that those excluded are not truly disenfranchised. However, given time, G+ could become a standard and lead in social media. Then those that where told to shut up and go elsewhere are left out of the discussion that the rest of the conforming world adheres to. Then you have the institutionalized exclusion of a set of people. That is never good, and sounds (if not is) evil.
+Tom Weizenegger , your comments to me were interesting, however, after I read the comment thread, I can see the answers you seek were very intricately given to you at great length by +Mandy Galileo and +Derrick Rayburn. The discussion from both sides is an important one and I am glad so many people want to respect everyone's chosen name. Today I read a very detailed blog post from a former employee of Google who had their account suspended. More details here: Google actually sent him letter stating "Please reply to this email with a copy of your government issued ID, which we will dispose of after review. Once we receive this information we can review your appeal and come to a final decision." How much worse does this have to become?
/me points at his last nym. - Seriously folks - Everyone I know IRL, knows me, and recognizes my online presence. Furthermore, anyone I meet online that I'd find worthwhile to keep as friends/in my circle - would understand why I do that, or simply would not care. It should be my choice if I protect myself from identity theft (again) even by way of the small steps like this, not someone else.
Life is risky. I am tired of living in a society that over the years has shifted the responsibility from the individual to anyone else. If you are crazy enough to put a cup of hot coffee, in a fragile Styrofoam cup between your legs, you need to take responsibility for what happens. If someone is truly doing something harmful to someone else, than yes, they should be held responsible.

Google should work on educating people about the dangers of trusting people online that you don't know personally. People who might be dangerous are probably not going to create some obvious fake name but will instead use a name different from theirs.
+Brian Dayhoff Brilliant analogy, I couldn't agree more. Too many people seem to think these days that because something is invented or created, they have a right to be part of it and to bend it to their preferences. Take the issue a few years back where the Boy Scouts of America was sued to allow girls in the organization, even though the Girl Scouts and Explorers (co-ed) already existed. The ultimate in absurdity and selfishness. NO ONE has the RIGHT to ANYTHING on a social media site. If you join a club, live by their rules or leave. Or start your own club. Again, brilliant.
Rg Papp
Here's my take on all this "Real" name crap. If I have a "Real" long lost friend that dont know who I am and if they were really that close to begin with ..then they have some options to find me. 1) the telephone. 2) my mom or sister. 3) a mutual friend.

Most social sites and/or most timeline post are frivolous (a fun thing) including those on FaceBook and Google+. I really dont need the Real Name Police like Facebook or Google hawking my smart phone number or my credit card number in exchange.

I wonder .. with the upcoming 2012 USA Elections, are the Real Name Police going to make sure there is no name calling and no exposing personal information of their opponents?

What's next? Are the RN Police going to tell us we cant Photo Shop are real pictures? Are they going to expose Santa Claus' Real Name?
+Tom Weizenegger Google's stock structure is very different from typical public companies. Google's shares are structured in a similar way to some media companies, where to avoid being completely beholden to shareholders, there is one class of shares that have much more voting power than common shares.

This means that at the moment the two founders of Google own around 60% of the votes; therefore the remaining shareholders are largely irrelevant in a vote as long as the two founders agree.
Parece imposible seguir comprendiendo y participando del mundo globalizado, tan rico en culturas, formas y opciones de vida, si con tod@s tuviésemos que interactuar en los mismos términos y esperásemos aprobación unanime. Para ser aceptad@s y eludir el conflicto corremos el riesgo de silenciar las diferencias y entonces vivimos a medias, alienad@s. Pero cada un@ es irrepetible: Somos universos diferentes con lenguajes y esperanzas diferentes. Las relaciones sin expresión real (políticamente correctas) son superficiales, insípidas, mediocres e inútiles. Las relaciones autenticas entre sujetos diversos y cambiantes rebasan la ilusión de la identidad (el perfil estático en la red) y confrontan los juegos de poder que nos ahogan en la cotidianidad.
Los circulos de Google + aparecen certeramente como estrategias virtuales inteligentes, para recuperar la individualidad y la confianza en nuestro potencial, para incidir eficazmente en el disfrute y transformación de vidas reales, en armonía con el mas complejo e incierto cyber_ecosistema.
En contraste con esto; el perfil de Google, por el contrario, te expone y te hace vulnerable ... Al limitar al sujeto a su nombre real, le obliga a dejar de ser si mismo. Esperemos se resuelva pronto la contradicción.
I don't particularly care whether G+ wants me to use my real name on it. My problem is its integration to my existing Google account which I use to log into comment systems on various blogs where we discuss criminals who are sometimes not currently in custody. Sometimes these are very bad people, the kind who will zone in on someone they don't like and dedicate themselves to tracking that person down and getting rid of them. Credible death threats have been made in the past to others who've been on these blogs longer than I have, and I don't have the luxury of hiring private security to protect myself or my family like some others do.

Make me use my real name on G+ if I must, but don't tie it to an account that's already been in use for years in a way that would put my life or the lives of my family in jeopardy in the process please! This wouldn't be a problem for me if my Google account weren't usable as an authentication service for so many third party sites that I'd rather not share my information with by setting up an account there too.

I've probably been too naive already and should always remember that any real security is always going to be the maximum possible pain in my own butt, or I'm taking something for granted and leaving myself vulnerable.
why do you discuss criminals not being in custody and being able to threaten your families life on public blogs??? Sounds to me like taking a walk on a freeway with covered eyes... This sounds stupid but I am sure there must be a reason why this kind of discussions are more important as the own or family life. In my opintion most anonymous escape responsibility. I am gonna go now and have my ID chanced to anonymous so I can drive as fast as I can :-)
I just came back to this post after a couple of days and read through the several dozen new comments. Just one general observation: I quite agree with the comment by +Kai Dracon to the effect that Google+ is in a field trial phase and is actively looking for feedback on problems and issues with the service. In view of that, comments of the form "Google can do what they want and if you don't like it you can just leave", while trivially true, are kind of beside the point and counter to the goals of this field trial.

I imagine that Google is looking for feedback from from the early adopters on what the policies should actually be. For what it's worth, I'm largely in agreement with the positions of +danah boyd , +Meki Cox , and +Kai Dracon .
It's just plain stupid to use your real name online. I never do unless it's absolutely necessary, like when buying a plane ticket for example.
I think this post might be more persuasive if it were written in a less condescending manner.
i've always hated giving out my name online, it just puts you in the eye of anyone, and its really easy to track people down, in my case, i have traced people's user names, private facebook, and twitter accounts, and other misc, from an email, and a slip of of the person name and various usernames, and if i just do it out of curiosity, someone else can do it to me or anyone else out of malevolence, i'd really like to at least be able to hide my name if i can't use a pseudonym.. you never know who's looking for you
So many words, so little reference to the use of pseudonyms & anonymous as pen names throughout history.

Priests who had wavering faith would often pen heretical tracts under pen names, using a printers who would ask no questions. The same applies to those expressing ideas of radical politics. Those who distributed seditious pamphlets. They had the same problems & fears of reprisals (often far more serious than getting SWATTED or having their site disrupted by some kiddiescripters or a pissed off boss).

If you are unsafe using your real name in an online environment, use a service which can be anonymised/allows pen names. It's not that hard to redirect someone to a link by someone you know if what you need to say is so dangerous/radical that you're going to have the DHS knocking on your door the next night. There are no shortage of internet properties that permit anonymity that can be used - G+ isn't the whole of the internet, neither is FB.
Congratulations on firing a shot heard around the nymworld, but it seems to be a bit specious to let FB off the hook for its "real names" policy just because it was forged in a college dorm room many years ago when everyone knew each other (whereas Google is starting a social networking site afresh) - FB could have changed their ID policy at any time during their phenomenal migration path. I hope that Microsoft's sizable investment in FB does not = research/advocacy bias...
great article! any reason to enforce this policy is nonsense. like banning private transportation and saying that's likely to lead to accidents. internet is internet, not real world, so why should it be like real? more serious, bad things happen on the streets than on the internet. can that be the reason to ban the reality and ask people to live on the internet? it sounds more reasonable that real names policy. 凸(Ծ‸ Ծ)凸
I hope Google gets "real." I'm not in hiding from the law or anything! Google has NO RIGHT to make me lose my safety or invade my privacy. I am LGBT and in poverty, internet is my only luxury (no TV) and I am a writer. Writers have used pseudonyms for centuries! I need to be spontaneous and "real" and my writer/artist/poster/screen name is a safe way to say what I REALly mean. How many actors change their names? Most, if not all. I am lucky to have several legal names, so I am not jeopardizing myself nor violating policy to use less known parts of my legal name. I have been raped, stalked, and twice forced to draw my knife to enforce my safety, even though I have never fought. As a professional cook I learned some interesting knife abilities, so it looks impressive, just a bluff. It worked. I feel that revealing one's name to God and everybody is dangerous and poor policy. It's like leaving your front door open.
have always used legal name still sheparded in account .
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