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Are 'Real Names' Policies an Abuse of Power? 318

telekon writes "Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd argues in this article that 'The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power.' This comes in the wake of criticism aimed at Facebook and Google for their stance on anonymity and pseudonymity. A related article from the Atlantic discusses how revolutionary the real name requirement really is."
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Are 'Real Names' Policies an Abuse of Power?

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  • Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OverlordQ ( 264228 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:00PM (#36999432) Journal

    Dont use Facebook or Google+.

    Plenty of other methods of communication.

    • Re:Easy solution (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:06PM (#36999494) Homepage

      Mass market solutions always pander to or exploit idiots. Good marketing tends to win out against good product or even being first to market. So products and solutions that target savvy users tend to be marginalized. Since computing tends to create "compatibility" barriers, this becomes especially problematic.

      The sad fact is that most people don't see the danger of broadcasting their lives on the Internet.

      So more dangerous solutions proliferate to the detriment of better alternatives.

      • And at the same time, I notice certain places, where you can anonymously create accounts (like my newspapers online web page) seems to attract a bunch of morons creating multiple accounts to sit and blurt out crap without thinking.. Maybe, just maybe, if their actual name showed up instead of "LovePalin123" they would actually think about what they are posting..

        • It's just terrible, people remaining anonymous online if they wish, and being able to say whatever they want to. There oughta be a law...

          • But companies should be able to offer corners of the internet - or even large rooms of the internet - where anonymous speech is prohibited. And they should be able to offer corners, or large rooms, where non-anonymous speech is prohibited.

            Then, people can exercise their rights of free association to decide whether they want to participate in environments where anonymous speech is restricted, required, or any where in between..

            Personally, I prefer environments where anonymous speech is restricted. I can un

    • Re:Easy solution (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:10PM (#36999540) Homepage

      Futaba style image boards are a very versatile method of communication.
      In my opinion they have a free and openess of communication, which western style forums seem to stifle.

    • Quite correct. In the event I get booted from either service for not using my real name, I will not go back. I have a facebook account, but only so I can look at my sons' pages. I don't actually do anything with my own account at all. As for Google? Well, let's just wait and see... I'll give them up just as easily as I gave up cable TV... turned out to be easier than I ever expected it to be.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I've been stalked by an ex-girlfriend. She is completely goddamn psychotic.

        Unfortunately, she stays just to that grey area of the law where the local police "can't do anything" and lawyers are leery of it. She tried to bug the hell out of my boss at work for a while, then he got the hint to have her ignored and barred from the premises. She started trying to look up my friends list on FB, even to the point of getting hold of a friend's FB password and using his account to spy on me. She bothered every femal

        • by nomadic ( 141991 )
          Why would a lawyer be leery of it? If what you said is true she is the perfect defendant for a restraining order.
    • this just shows a lack of understanding. While google said they'd ensure the "real name" thing is followed, guess what? They've quietly dropped it altogether. I know plenty of people on g+ with pseudonyms, bullshit names, etc.

      • Do you have a link for that? I guess that they just slowed down the policy enforcement after all the complaints.
    • Even easier solution

      Use a real sounding fake name..

      If you want to communicate a message far and wide, you do what you can to get it out.

      • Easy yes, but it puts you in constant violation of the terms. A griefer could then report you, so your solution isn't ideal.

        • How are they going to prove it? What, are they going to start requiring scanned copies of government-issued ID?

          • Correct.
            Facebook have been known to asked for ID for dispute resolution.

            • Easy enough to doctor. It's pointless, unless they require a notary to sign off on it after physically inspecting the card.

              Which is also pointless, as I personally know several notaries who would likely do just such a thing for me.

        • A griefer could then report you, so your solution isn't ideal.

          What's a griefer?

          • What's a griefer?

            Someone who, when he sees an unfamiliar word or phrase, is too lazy and/or retarded to type it into google.

      • Even easier solution

        Use a real sounding fake name..

        If you want to communicate a message far and wide, you do what you can to get it out.

        Hell, my real name (it's rather unusual and immediately recognizable, worldwide) has been rejected or tagged as fake a few times by operators of sites where I registered with it. A few times, I got a free mug or T-shirt out of the error, and probably caused an amazed or embarrassed site operator. If I want to blend in, it's easier to use a less remarkable fake name, such as Mohammad Fong O'Reilly or Krishna Obama-Stalin.

      • It's difficult to come up with a handle as difficult to trace as JSmith or JJohnson. Plus, if somebody does manage to notice the similarities between two different accounts you can always deny it as those are presumably common names for folks to have.

    • Yup. I've never used Facebook and never will, but I do use a lot of Google services, and I generally like the way Google do things, so I was very interested in having a play with G+. It's kind of useful, but certainly not worth giving up my (admittedly very superficial) pseudonymity for. If you really want to know who I am it's easy enough, the link in my sig is my blog, and there's easily enough there to work out who I am in the real world, but if you type my real name into Google it's not all that easy
      • I've done something similar. I've started migrating all of my mail, calendars, etc out of Google. I enjoy the social networks and I can get free services anywhere that aren't all interlinked. I don't want to risk losing access to other Google services in order to use Google+.

        Well that and the fact that they are all linked together. Everything in my online life seems to be touched by Google lately. I'm not comfortable with that anymore.

    • Yes! Why do you REALLY need their watered down idiot filled tribute to mediocrity!
      You have the ultimate power, the power to not participate, In stupidity, in war, in unjust government, in rigged elections, in absurd "justice" systems (jury based show trials), political theater, etc.

    • I use Facebook and did not give my real name. It isn't too difficult. Facebook doesn't know your "real name" so anything that makes it past their filters is you "real name".
    • Other methods of communication become irrelevant if everyone you have reason to communciate with uses Facebook or Google+ exclusively, which is already the case for many, many people.
    • "Don't use it" sounds like a logical idea, but over time, you might not be able to "not use" something. It will be forced upon you, one way or another.

      A pretty good example is having a checking account. Do you have to have one? It's not like you can't pay with "real" money anywhere, right? The first inconvenience may be that you can pretty much forget shopping on the internet, but you should be able to forgo that, right? I mean, it's not like you cannot buy everything locally. Or ... well, less and less so

  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Improv ( 2467 ) <> on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:02PM (#36999452) Homepage Journal

    Google is not obligated to join you on whatever your crusade is, no matter how worthy. There are real plusses and minuses to anonymity, and it is reasonable for a social network operator to either allow or disallow pseudonymity.

    • Re:Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:24PM (#36999716)

      If you'd ever had to deal with someone stalking you, you'd understand why having pseudonyms can be so important.

      Additionally, I have a friend who insists her kids use a fake name, and she has the password to their account so she can check up on things if she believes anything is wrong. The fake-name is so that nobody can try to trace them in a phone book. And they've already been warned about the punishment for giving their real name out.

      The fact that Google and other social networking sites can't seem to grasp this basic concept just surprises me.

      • Re:Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Alkonaut ( 604183 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:41PM (#36999910)
        Having my real name on fb/g+ only means one thing: people who don't know me can see my profile picture. Thats all. Why is this a problem regarding stalking? If one of my real friends (i.e. those that can see anything about me) is stalking me, then I have a real life problem, not an internet problem.

        Kids on the other hand can't be trusted to judge who is a real friend and not, and also can't be expected to configure their privacy settings. That is why there are age limits on google, and your friend should probably tell her kids that.

        • Having my real name on fb/g+ only means one thing: people who don't know me can see my profile picture. Thats all.

          Or anyone that runs a facebook add-on/game/etc that any of your "friends" have signed up for. Or anyone with a friend working at facebook. Or anyone working for a government agency that facebook has given privileged access. I'm sure there are more people than just those groups, that's just all I could up with in 30 seconds.

        • Having my real name on fb/g+ only means one thing: people who don't know me can see my profile picture.

          You just don't get it. Information about you isn't restricted to what you choose to post about yourself in one place. If that was the case, you'd be right.

          In the real world, people post and spread all sorts of information about other people all the time. That information is disconnected when pseudonyms are used, but if there's a unique "real name" handle, then all that disconnected informat

      • If you'd ever had to deal with someone stalking you, you'd understand why having pseudonyms can be so important.

        Yup,one ex-GF (from more than 20 years ago!) is known to be still fixated on me, and has an actual license-to-kill (i.e. certified insane, legally). This is one of the reasons I don't use my real name online very much, and don't publicize names for my wife and teenage kids. Thankfully, I have a very famous "predecessor" who copiously pollutes all but the most skillful Google searches. So, apart from defensively making and abandoning a slew of diversionary FB accounts with my real name, I prefer to use a fe

      • And then there are the people who start stalking you because they are insane and can't tell the difference between one name and another...
    • by PhxBlue ( 562201 )

      There are real plusses and minuses to anonymity ...

      Just no Google Pluses. *Rimshot!*

    • Google is not obligated to join you on whatever your crusade is, no matter how worthy. There are real plusses and minuses to anonymity, and it is reasonable for a social network operator to either allow or disallow pseudonymity.

      Another concern for someone like Google is what if they allow pseudonyms but screw it up and someone's real identity is revealed?

      This is a much bigger problem for Google than it is for, say, slashdot, because Google's reach into the typical person's web usage is so much more expansive. If someone relies on their Google account being pseudonymous but Google's extensive suite of products connected to that account results in the individual's real identity being linked to the pseudonym, perhaps in a way that

    • Google is not obligated to join you on whatever your crusade is, no matter how worthy.

      But we do have every right to publicly criticise them in order to influence their actions.

      Billion dollar corps like Google and Facebook speak with voices that are a million times louder than ours, so for you to even suggest that we don't have the right to call them out for socially destructive policies is like blaming the ant for protesting that the 800lb gorilla is sitting on him.

      • by smelch ( 1988698 )
        It's more like blaming the ant for protesting that the 800lb gorilla is sitting in their sun, when the ant can just move out of the gorilla's shadow. But the ant wants to be near the other ants that find the shade cooling and useful.
    • by Jonner ( 189691 )

      There are real pluses and minuses to search results prioritized by economic incentives and it is reasonable for a search engine operator to either allow pay for rank or not. If Google starts to allow you to pay for your rank, just use a different search engine.

    • by jeko ( 179919 )

      First of all, ket's kill this nonsense idea about businesses and their private property rights. Inside your own private home, you can implement whatever racist, sexist, discriminatory policies you like.

      Once you form a corporation and open to the public for business, you agree to play by different rules. When you file a corporate charter, you make the explicit black-letter deal that in exchange for limited liability and tax considerations, you are going to serve the public good. Just as it's time we put an e

  • Yes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sakdoctor ( 1087155 )

    Pseudonymity is such a core part of Internet culture. "Real names" are a very recent artifact of companies trying to monetize the web. It offers no value to users.

    • Re:Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dward90 ( 1813520 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:19PM (#36999638)

      It offers no value to users.

      This is demonstrably false. You can say that pseudonymity has great value. You can say that to you, it has vastly more value than "real names". However, to say that real names offer to value to users, whose goal is to connect primarily with people they know in real life, is either ignorant or defiantly stupid.

    • I find product reviews made by different people who have done other product reviews on disparate types of goods much more valuable than product reviews on a website where users can make up names. I can think of other examples where, as a consumer of products and information on the Web, I appreciate the use of real names. Sending someone money would be an example, instead of sending money to some random email address.
      • And this points out why we should be able to have public and private personas, but they dont necessarily have to be embodied by the same service. Its FINE if Google+ insists on real names, use other services for your privacy needs.
    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:29PM (#36999776)
      Most of you are too young to remember, but once upon a time there were no pseudonyms on the Internet []. All schools, companies, and organizations on the Internet voluntarily adhered to a policy where each user's online identity was easily linked to their real world identity. It was staunchly enforced by admins who believed the net would fall apart into a morass of misbehavior if people were allowed to post anonymously.

      There were a few people running their own servers who bucked the trend, but it wasn't until AOL joined USENET that pseudonyms became a fact of life. AOL allowed each account to have up to 5 usernames, to facilitate families sharing a single AOL account. Obviously these extra usernames were quickly taken up by people wishing to post things anonymously online, which was good for free speech. But not surprisingly, spam was invented shortly thereafter.

      So it's actually anonymity which is the "recent artifact". All that's happening now is that the pendulum is starting to swing the other way as netizens struggle to figure out the best balance between real names and pseudonyms.
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Not true, social networking sites function is find people and to be found. To be found you need to use a well known identity. Other sites are about using and often abusing free speech. Slashdot allows people to use an alias or post as an AC. Frankly I wouldn't mind seeing the option of posting as an AC going away because I feel that if you will not take the karma hit for saying I don't need to hear it. Others disagree including the people that run the site and that is okay.
      Then you have sites like 4chan an

  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:09PM (#36999518)
    i am not putting my real name & address or photo on any social networking website, because i know there are some people out there that would milk it for all its worth as far as identity theft or blackmail or just plain meanness to make me look bad,

    (besides i do a good enough job of making myself look bad and i dont want any help from anyone else)
  • That is, there is a place (and a reason) to use real names on line. It reduces flame wars etc.

    On the other hand, there are MANY MANY MORE reasons to not use real names.

    The question is, which is the bigger market size? Which do people want? From what I can tell, the far majority of people do not want to use real names.

    Frankly, if you want to make a forum safe for kids, then yes, real names would be appropriate. But I am not a child. I can take an insult. My privacy and protection is far more important to me, and to most people.

    The idea to use real names for a general forum for use by everyone is an insane idea. Companies and corporations want it, people don't. Build a website based on what the users want, not the corporations, governments. etc.

    I would love to use Google+ - if they let me keep my privacy. I won't use it as is.

    • Real names make it easy to find people you know on a social network, and to remember the identities of people you connect with on them. Social networks are most valuable for "loose connections" like friends from grade school or non-immediate relatives. You might be interested in their lives, but can't commit the energy or mental capacity to identifying them in the first place or remembering the association function between their pseudonym and their identity.

      You or others like you might not care about w
      • You make a great argument for ALLOWING people to give real names, but a totally incompetent one for requiring real names.

        As for the Ad hominem attack on my social ties, (irrelevant and just put in to insult me - don't worry, I can take it). I tell you three things: 1. Any person that thinks the internet is a good way to make strong social ties needs to get OUT a lot more. Social Ties are built in the real world, not online.

        2. If you can't commit the energy to identify them then you are NOT really inte

    • Frankly, if you want to make a forum safe for kids, then yes, real names would be appropriate

      Huh? I say it is the very reverse of that. Unless you think having your kid read a bunch of swear words that they probably hear at school everyday is a greater risk than some malicious stranger figuring out how to make contact with your kid in real life.

  • It is going to be Windows Genuine Pseudonym Advantage (tm). Will be release at 7 trim levels. From Starter Edition to Ultimate to "All your bases are belong to us" level. Gartner is releasing a Total Cost of Owenership study. It got advance notice about this product because it a member of the Windows Genuine Shill program.
  • It is because of these policies that I set my profiles to private and not searchable, and why I don't put my picassa pictures to public. I'd share more if I didn't have to provide my real name, but as it is, I share as little as possible and still have the services be usable.

  • Why not just allow the users to choose to use a verified profile or not and then decide if they want to communicate with unverified profiles?

  • Slippery slope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:15PM (#36999590)
    Widespread requirements by social media to give one's "real name" are, on the surface, only harmful to those who would prefer to remain anonymous but would rather give up anonymity than the utility of these sites.

    One may simply say "if you want to remain anonymous don't give up your information. There's no one forcing you to use these sites" But there's a side-effect of this requirement.

    Like it or not "what a lot of people do" always defines what is okay and good and normal. to most people. It makes it much easier to pass laws that forbid anonymity in many areas offline and on. So even though I don't use facebook, google plus, or other such services specifically because I prefer to remain anonymous, this "real name" crap is indirectly harming me.
  • My profile with a pseudonym, Drew from Zhrodague, is blocked by Google+, despite my repeated requests. I've been posting on the Internet for a long time as such, and even my resume, business cards, printed authorship credits, and other online profiles identify me as such. I'd love to use Google+, but there is currently no way for me to do that. I do not use my real birth name online, for obvious reasons.
  • When facebook was still .edu only and decided to open up, one of the details I learned (wasn't on it) was that most people use their real name. I thought "oh there's no way that will fly once they open up", but they had already achieved a certain critical mass where new sign ups just figured that's the way it works, and that's the way it is, so they went along with it. I could almost see it in the .edu only context, but it still astounds me to this day that relatives of mine who will bitch mercilessly about
  • by iteyoidar ( 972700 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:22PM (#36999682)
    The author got a lot right in this article. The thing about using real identities is the effects are asymmetrical, it's not some egalitarian system that always improves discourse. The people in positions of power, authority, privilege, etc. are the ones who determine what is and isn't acceptable to begin with, so obviously they have nothing to lose by being identified. When we say "civility" we mean don't really mean "civility" according to everyone, just according to whoever defines the status quo. There's a reason Facebook is now mostly parents posting baby pictures and employers doing corporate promotions, that's all its useful for when everyone can see it and everyone can identify everyone else who uses it.
  • by genomancer ( 588755 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:22PM (#36999684)

    What I call someone, what they call themselves, and their real identity are three different things. Why force them to be the same?

    A) if Google/Facebook only grant accounts (or verified account status, as others have suggested) to people who disclose their personal identity... that's the company's choice. It certainly makes me more likely to use their service (for the obvious spam/troll prevention reasons).

    B) but there's no reason they need to publish that information for anyone else. They could then let my friend Robert Snee sign up for an account, choose his public name to be "Dread Pirate Snee" and then, most importantly, let me override his name and avatar with one of my own choice... probably Bob Snee with a picture of something other than his newborn baby.

    C) And if Rob wants to use a total psueodonym but still accept his friend request/add him to a circle... he'll need to tell me in private "who he is" and prove it to me. Possibly by *choosing* to reveal his google/FB-verified real-identity. If he doesn't, I'm not going to let him into my friends/circles... which is the difference between social network-based sites and open communication tools like email/forums which have global acceptance for historical/practical reasons.


    • Let me just hop onto anonops and ask for the Annonymous cert. I'm sure nothing bad will come from that.
      probably signed by GoDaddy...
  • by faedle ( 114018 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:24PM (#36999708) Homepage Journal

    I'm reminded of the "Real Names" policies on many of the BBSes (especially the early IBM PC-based ones) of the pre-Internet era. It wasn't about any real advantage, percieved or not, with using real names in online discorse.

    It was solely about a petty dictator and his fiefdom, and maintaining some sense of "control."

    I now view Facebook and Google with the same pity and indignation as I viewed the dickish SysOps of the pre-Internet era, who were more worried about somebody stepping on their dick than building a community. Congratulations.

  • by MikeURL ( 890801 ) on Friday August 05, 2011 @03:24PM (#36999714) Journal

    So Usenet was established about 30 years ago and the author is figuring out, just now, that what you post online is persistent?

    I really don't expect people to be omniscient but isn't this a level of ignorance that should exclude him from commenting on online privacy issues?

    I mean, what very basic thing will he learn NEXT week that causes another tectonic shift in his belief system?

  • []

    If you never have read this book, you need to drop everything and get this right now by any means necessary and read it.

  • I call BS.

    "Anonymity" is a nonsense commodity generated by the information age, and which has had much emo-currency invested in it by those with vested interests, but which is a complete sham.

    Until the age of the telephone, anonymity was a rare and unusual thing.
    You were known by what you said, and your words carried meaning. Because of the general immobility of the population, these words hung around you like a cloud, which then made up (along with deeds) your 'reputation'. This could last GENERATIONS.


    • Anonymity has always existed. Back in the day they were called "strangers". They were the people we would see walking the streets, but would never talk to. They were the names and numbers in the phone book between those that mattered to us.

      The problem today is with those who confuse "strangers" with "people". To be a person, one must acquire an identity, or they do not deserve to be taken seriously. An anonymous phone call warning of a bomb is not courteous, but suspicious. Why would they hide their identit

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by idontgno ( 624372 )

      Nice troll, "Styopa". If anonymity is an information age commodity, you must extend the definition of the information age into the 18th Century []

      Or are you really that ignorant of political history? It would be astounding if your obtuseness were genuine.

  • I am quite sure at this point no one is forced to be on google+. Yes, this may change if google starts leveraging its other services to pressure or force people onto goolge+, but that would be an abuse of their monopoly, not the authoritative abuse of power postulated in this article.

    Since when has google had authority over any of us?

    Wake up people! Just because you got an invite, doesn't mean you have to.

    "Real names enforcement" was just a bad idea, and just because it sucks. And for no other reason, excep

  • "Many names were almost as good as none, when a being wished not to be found. But some name was necessary, if a being wished to be found sometimes."
    --Daniel Keys Moran, Emerald Eyes

  • Maybe someone will come up with a competing service that focus on privacy, and will bite a large portion of the market share for social apps. If Google and Facebook keep messing around with information that users consider private, this can be a huge opportunity for somebody to improve upon and come up with something that works for people.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern