Real Names

Google+ suspends accounts who supposedly violate their real name policy. Google+ then restores accounts of those mistakenly suspended. There are naturally advocates for those seeking to be online under a pseudonym. There do seem to be legitimate reasons to communicate online under a less than real name. Harassment by bullies, stalkers, criminals is just one. Employers are known to fire employees for expressing political opinions, photographs of Macs delivered to Microsoft, and other questionable online expressions. Which is easier? Operate online under a pseudonym or have a good lawyer? Female authors used to publish books under male names because publishers rejected the same manuscript. African-American and Hispanic sounding names on resumes are rejected when the identical one under a Caucasian name is extended an interview.

Then there is the question of brand identity. There were a few years when most people having conversations with me most days in a week knew me as something other than Ezra. Danah describes it nicely…

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.

Of course, there is another side where trolls (people who attack others online), bullies, spammers, and phishers abuse the system. Every web site struggles to deal with these issues. Too large a volume of negativity can kill off a social network. The exodus from Friendster and Myspace started when visitors saw more spam in the Inbox than legitimate messages than friends. Every social network has to figure out how to deal with misuse. Enforcement of aggressive policies are a legitimate strategy when just starting out the idea is not to screw up where the competitor you seek to replace is failing. With enough push back by users, Google+ will figure out what is and is not acceptable. Or… We will find somewhere else.

See! Simple.