Have you thought of one funny thing? Internet is the Eldorado of anonymity, yet most people are on Facebook under their real name. Facebook has an authentic identity policy, but it is not really enforced. You can sign up under any name you like and they don’t make any attempts to verify it. But Facebook is typically an extension to your real-life social network, so it is natural to sign up with a name your friends know. Yet another example that guiding users towards something in a natural way is so much more effective than laws and mandatory policies.
So you can use a false name if you like, but most people use their real names, established nicknames or well-known artist pseudonyms. (* All these names have one thing in common. They may or may not be what’s written on the driving license, but they all have a strong link to the person’s social network in real life. And that’s what really matters. Most people don’t deviate from their real names to be anonymous. Quite the opposite, using well known pseudonyms can make them easier to recognize.
The coin always has two sides. Truly anonymous accounts are used for harassment, libel, fraud, scams, identity theft, you name it. Facebook’s real name policy has been in effect for years and this is probably the primary targets they had in mind. It works so that anyone can report other users. Facebook will ask the users to provide some kind of identification, and keep the account closed otherwise. But this issue became headline news lately when it became clear that the policy itself can be used to harass others. Representatives for minorities, like Native Americans and drag performers, became the target of numerous reports. Their names were not meant to be anonymous, they were artist names and Native American names.
This is why EFF reacted and published a petition to change Facebook’s rules. They have a long list of problems in the current policy. Many valid points, check it out.
One of the main problems on the net is the lack of verified identities. The symptoms are a wide range of issues ranging from fraud to pranks. But one of the most visible effects is the deteriorating debate culture. We have all run into discussion forums that have turned into arenas for venting hate and mental illnesses. You can run into that on Facebook too, but not to the same extent as in other forums. And the reason is clear. People may use pseudonyms, but they are not anonymous to their real-life social network. It’s easier to express hateful opinions in writing than when talking face to face. But you still have to stand behind your opinions on Facebook. Your friends know it’s you no matter what name you use. I think this is a good thing that makes Facebook a better place. But the real name policy can’t take credit for it. It’s the nature of Facebook itself that keeps the debate at a more civilized level.
So a community with a pretty strong real name culture is no doubt an asset. But EFF is also making many good points about why the policy goes wrong. So I have two questions for you today. What kind of name are you using and what do you think about real names on Facebook?
PS. LinkedIn is by the way another example of a service where it really doesn’t make much sense to appear under a false name, unless you’re a sockpuppet.
Image by Vincent Diamante
(* Facebook estimate themselves that about 9% of the profiles “aren’t real” in some way. About 1,5% are violating Facebook’s policies. More info here.
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