Just when it seemed like Google+ could do no wrong and would eclipse Facebook in just about every way, it made a blunder that would earn it the ire of both developers and laymen alike. Google+ took their Real-Name Policy seriously and began a mass deletion of all accounts using pseudonyms. This put off a lot of potential Google+ users and created a huge backlash from critics and privacy advocates. But still Google+ has decided not to budge from their stand. Google+ continues to require users to provide their real names if they want to continue the service, but at least they would be given fair notice if the company plans to delete their account for the said violation.
What’s ironic is that Google+’s policy isn’t anything new. It’s actually the same as Facebook’s, except that they’re much stricter about it. Google+ and Facebook are actually like-minded when it comes to the matter. They believe that the solution to cyberbullying would be to abolish the general concept of online anonymity. They believe that people behave better when there’s no shield of anonymity protecting them and have even gone so far as to urge governments to outlaw the creation of pseudonymous accounts. But many people beg to differ. After all, there are those who use pseudonyms not so they can cause trouble, but so that they can protect themselves.
Microsoft researcher, Dana Boyd, is one of the most fervent of those who oppose the policy. She classified the policy as an abuse of power on the part of Social Media Networks. “Real-names policies aren’t empowering; they’re an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people,” said Boyd. A prime proof of this would be the poll conducted by blogger, Kirrily “Skud” Robert. Most people listed that their reason for using a name other than the one printed on government issued cards is privacy. Some of them had legitimate reasons for hiding their identities. School teachers, for example, have an innate need to make themselves inaccessible to students, especially now that the very practice of adding one’s student as a friend on Social Networks is frowned upon and, in some cases, downright disallowed. There were some users who were victims of stalking and thereby had the need to hide their identities.
Most interesting, though, is how Google+ claims that their Real Name policy aims to “help connect and find real people in the real world”. I fail to see how people are any less ‘real’ when they use their nicknames. For example, a guy named Charles but known by those who know him as Chuck would be rather difficult to find in a network where the Real Name policy is enforced.
Google+ and Facebook’s arguments and assumptions are very weak and ineffectual – so much so that they seem forced. In fact, the whole thing reeks of ulterior motives. After all, wouldn’t social networking giants just have a field day with our real names – a tasty dish that they can add to the repertoire that they offer to their advertisers?