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Your Social Network Identity: Real vs Pseudonym

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After Facebook, now with Google+ requiring users to use actual names instead of pseudonyms / nicknames, an old debate about Real identity versus Pseudonym identity has kicked off. Matters have gotten little heated up with Google temporarily suspending some of user profiles and with lot of users making protesting posts. Let us figure out what this debate is all about!

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How all this got started?

Google+ guidelines on name policy require users to only keep names through which they are identified. Hence no anonymity and no pseudonymity! Although they don’t have a full-proof way of ensuring it (photo id?), they rely on two things. First, they check if characters and format of the name submitted is proper or not. Second, if the profile reported by other users, they send the profile name for review.

As result of above, lot of profiles got suspended which in turn generated wide spread angry responses from users. Whereas some users are merely angry about the way Google handled these things i.e. suspending profiles without prior notice, others have been criticising the Google+ name policy, and hence sparking off the Name Policy debate.

What is Name Policy debate?

Effectively, there can be 3 types of identities on the Web: Identified, Unidentified, Pseudonymous.

Identified identity is the information through which you are known in real life i.e. among family members, friends, co-workers etc.

Unidentified is equivalent of anonymous.

Pseudonymous identity is usage of information through which one is not identified in real world, for example: students in my college using names like Slayer / Destroyer while playing on network games.

Unidentified is out of question for a Social Network, so main debate is whether a Social Network should only allow Identified (known) identities or should also allow Pseudonymous identities as well.

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Arguments of Pseudonymity supporters

Argument surround around question of enough protection to users, who would like to share / discuss information that possibly put them in a vulnerable situation. There are many examples for that such as:

  • Many Chinese users demand pseudonymity because of their fear towards communist governments.
  • Situations like Egypt uprising, users using social media to support / help revolution put themselves and their relatives at risk if they have to reveal their real identities.
  • Many gays/lesbians want to engage actively in social networks but not comfortable in revealing their actual identities.
  • Person with schizophrenia seeking help from others on web, but not want to reveal this to his/her friends.

List of possible scenarios can be endless, but conclusion is that there are situations where people want to express themselves without revealing who they actually are in real world!

Arguments of Real Identity supporters

Advocates of real-identity express that web social networks are just extension of our real life social behaviour; hence both the identities should be same. If some interactions do require Pseudonymity, there are other ways to do them on internet, but not on Social Networks like Facebook and Google+.

According to them, following are disadvantages of Pseudonymity:

  • It leads to creation of more fake profiles and hence more spam.
  • It promotes the behaviours like online stalking and cyber bullying.
  • It makes difficult to search for users on network, ex: Orkut
  • It makes users less accountable regarding the stuff they are publishing and comments they are making. Hence more likelihood of hostile environments (youtube comments?).

 


Conclusion?

It is a on-going debate with compelling arguments from both the sides. In my opinion, Pseudonymity is definitely a boon for certain group of users, but Real Identities helps overall in shaping up a healthier and more engaging social ecosystem. Hence I feel Facebook and Google+ are justified in compelling users to use their real identities.

Look forward to hear Readers views on this!

[Image Sources: 1 & 2]

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About Sachin Sharma

Sachin Sharma is Co-founder at XStudio Technologies, a startup working on mobile products & web applications. You can follow him on Google+.

3 comments

  1. Jim: 1) Not just result of investigation matters but also cost of investigation. Especially when Social Network involves user base of hundreds of millions. 2) In example mentioned by you, there must be a name through which Theravada monk would be addressed by his fellow monks, a name through which he would be receiving letters etc. That name is what Social Networks would consider as his real life identity! (as per their definitions)

  2. 1) None of your Real Identity arguments holds up under investigation, and. 2) there is no such thing as a Real name anyway. (What name is a Theravada monk who took up the name Bhikkhu Bodhi on entering the the monastery supposed to use? The name means Follower of Knowledge, and a very large number of Theravada monks are known by it. It is specifically intended as a way of rejecting their 'common' name.)

    • Jim: 1) Not just result of investigation matters but also cost of investigation. Especially when Social Network involves user base of hundreds of millions. 2) In example mentioned by you, there must be a name through which Theravada monk would be addressed by his fellow monks, a name through which he would be receiving letters etc. That name is what Social Networks would consider as his real life identity! (as per their definitions)

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