Social Networks v. Internet Persona

This weekend there has been a dust up over the use of Internet Persona in place of Real Names. When Google+ started, users were asked for their real names. Over the last couple of days Google has eliminated accounts of people who were using pseudonyms. It seems like lots of people have taken offense to this.

There seems to be a couple of main themes coming out of this dust up. The first is how to balance the worlds of internet anonymity, long standing pseudonyms, internet persona, and real live people. The second issue is how Google deals with it terms of service, customer support, and treating users.

My first reaction to this whole dust up is that this is the old internet conflicting with the net internet. Many of the people I read that want to use an internet persona in lieu of a real name say they have been using the persona for double digit years. They have built a social graphic with that internet persona and now they want to use that on Google+.

A few years ago Facebook changed the rules about real names. Facebook rolled out in a very controlled manor starting with select universities, moving to companies before opening up to the general public. They had a policy restricting people to use of Real Names. I have heard Mark Zuckerberg speak about why, but I cannot find a good link to use as a citation. He said that making people use real names changed the internet from a place that was open, but untrustworthy to a place where you knew who you were dealing with at all times. This is seen as a part of why Web 2.0 turned the corner.

One of the things that strikes me about Facebook, is that people who I have never seen use other social networks use Facebook. Right now the people are Google+ are the usual suspects I have seen on ever start up web site, hanging around with the Internet cool kids. Zuckerberg would argue that the success with people who do not living their life on the Internet is proof that real names have achieved their goal of opening up the platform.

Google+ is trying to play in the world that Facebook has set the rules for. Google has played the social network space a couple of times. I wonder what experiences from those social networks impacted the polices that are set on Google+.

To me one of the places where a lack of real names is a double edge sword is YouTube. YouTube is well known for the worst level of internet trollish comments. I have seen organized campaigns of people trying to get accounts shutdown just because people disagree. People flag accounts just because of religious or political disagreements. I have seen trolls sign up for multiple accounts just to hurt their opponents. I wonder if using real names can keep this from happening.

My reaction to the use of real names is a simple one. If you set a standard, everyone should live by that standard. If I am asked for a real name or a common name, expect everyone to live by the same rule. When I see someone who has a nickname or username not common name, I want that person to play by the same rules. The reaction is simple, but the reality is not. There are some people who have changed their name to be the same as a nickname. I used to work with MegaZone. That is his real name.

It might sound strange that I react this way. Why should I care if someone else breaks the rules? I care because it feels unfair. If it is a professional name or artist like Professor Popular, wait until the professional profiles are available. I know that I am sticking my nose into someone else business, but it makes the concept of the social network feel broken.

After reading lots of people write about this topic, I have come to a conclusion. This whole conversation is about identity and control of identity. The whole issue is a strange kind of identity politics. People want to control their identity and say their pseudonym is who they really are, not the name on their pay check.

From what I read, people write about being anonymous and protection, but that is not the main issue coming through. The main issue I see is one of control. People want to control how other people view them. That is a key point of creating an idenity.

For a lot of people the internet is the first place they could be who they really feel they are. It was the place they could explore the parts of their self they did not see in the world directly around them. In that way their username feels the most authentic in showing who they really are.

In the end I do know the right answer here. I feel that Google might have a good reason behind what they are trying to do. The problem is that we are still waiting for Google to say anything about what they did or what they will be doing. There are plenty of good reasons to make this choice from a business point of view.

There are also good reasons to allow people to use whatever name they choose. I am not sure where the best lines are. I am open to hear all the arguments. I have the feeling I am going to be hearing a lot of those arguments this week.

Further Reading: google the pseudonym banstick and the netizen cultural schism, Google Plus Has A Problem. Fear Not: I Have A Solution, Multiple identities are everyday things, More important than SL or the SCA, Pseudonyms vs Autonyms,


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