Microsoft researcher Dana Boyd calls out the Google+ real-name policy as an abuse of power of the privileged and geeky, and the not so privileged and geeky.
researcher came out swinging at the stringent "real-names" policy for Google+
requires the jettisoning of accounts on the social network that have been forged
with fake names or pseudonyms.
requires its 25 million-plus users to fill out Google user Profiles, public
pages on the Web that users may fill out "to help connect and find real
people in the real world."
position is that by providing a common name, users will be assisting
their friends, family members, classmates, co-workers, and other
acquaintances to find and create "a connection with the right person
Google had initially killed accounts that flew in the face
of its Profiles approach
-those it detected with fake names or
pseudonyms-outright. After considerable backlash, Google revised its real-name
policy in late July, pledging to warn users that their fake or pseudonymous
account is in violation.
gives those users a chance to provide their real name before the account is
suspended. Bradley Horowitz, vice president of Google+, said Google would also
provide a "clear indication of how the user can edit their name to conform
to our community standards."
That was not
enough to satisfy that those who have been abused or politically persecuted
have a voice without putting themselves in harm's way. Danah Boyd, a well-known
speaker on online identity and culture for Microsoft, blasted the real-name
policy in a blog post Aug. 4.
people of color use pseudonyms or nicknames on Facebook, where fake names are
also prohibited, Boyd said, adding that people who most heavily rely on
pseudonyms online tend to be those who are most marginalized by power
policies aren't empowering; they're an authoritarian assertion of power over
vulnerable people," Boyd said
. "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."
Facebook users who tried to use nicknames on Facebook rarely spoke out or
lacked the public platform to do so. Google+, by contrast, is populated by
tech-savvy users who also tend to use nicknames but do have such pedestals.
She alluded to
bloggers such as by Kirrily "Skud" Robert, who polled users who use pseudonyms online and found myriad
reasons for doing so
, most of which center around privacy. Boyd
cheered the outcry against Google+.
at stake is people's right to protect themselves, their right to actually
maintain a form of control that gives them safety," Boyd wrote. "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
Leaders at Google and Facebook shouldn't dictate real-name policies based on
their assumptions for why users choose to use fake names, noting that there is
no set, universal context, Boyd said. She asserted:
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
That is why,
Boyd said, enforcing "real names" policies in online spaces is an
abuse of power.
Boyd made a
compelling argument, but it might be better to look at why real names are so
important to Google and Facebook.
Facebook may require real names because they want to more accurately target
users for contextual advertising-the kind with users' real names included in
It might be
too early to expect the sort of iris-scanning real-name ad approaches featured
in "Minority Report" a decade ago, but it's a direction Internet
companies one day could take to match the right ad to the right person. It's
all about making more money, of course.