This is about Google’s policy of only allowing “real” names for participants on Google+. Before I go into why this is evil, I want to point out without providing any details that I’ve already spotted dozens of pseudonymous people on Google+ that Google+ authorities have missed. So, their policy, as implemented, is absurd to a level that should be embarrassing if the people who run Goolge+ have that emotion. I sense that they do, and I sense that they are in fact rather embarrassed. I’m confident that Google+ will change its policy shortly. In the meantime, this comentary is for people like Benno Hansen who said “Activities that need anonymity will produce the demand for anonymous sites….With anonymity there is no accountability. People should grow up and treat each other properly, using their real names.”
Benno Hansen is a moron twice over. First, he’s a moron because of his religion. His religion is Teh Free Market in which he has misguided faith. Second, he’s a moron because he does not know that without anonymity, an uncomfortably large percentage of those who make an effort to communicate on the Internet will suffer what the two friends I’m going to talk about now have suffered.
Both of my friends are female, and both have blogged or do blog about science as well as certain political issues, education, and so on. I’ll call them Mary and Jane. You know them by their pseudonyms, and I happen to be lucky to know them by their real names, which few people do.
Mary decided to blog about science. I have to say that it was probably me that talked her into considering this seriously, but obviously she made the decision on her own, and when she did so she set up a blank blog at a well known blogger service. She used a pseudonym to set up the blog but it was obvious from the data she provided that she was a female.
Within a few hours after she set up this blog but before she wrote a single post, a friend of ours (never mind the details, these are rather technical and possibly private) discovered that Mary’s pseudonym and blog were the subject of some chatter on an Internet discussion group of some kind. The discussion group was a semi-private but not very well hidden forum for a group of racist white supremacists operating within driving distance of Mary’s home. This chatter involved plans to find her, track her down, and rape her. They had discovered her by trolling around on the Internet, via her set up but not yet used blog.
There as an intervention, and the bad guys were scared off. Mary continued to blog, a bit frightened but more angry, and although she constantly receives obnoxious and threatening, misogynist and inappropriate blog comments and emails, she is resolved to ignore these things, but only because she has the comfort of anonymity.
I don’t know much about Jane’s early blogging. At first I knew her as a pseudonym only, and then one day we had the opportunity to meet in a sort of dark alley where we were both stranded waiting for something else, and we hit it off quite nicely and have been friends and colleague’s ever since. She has received, and continues to receive, the usual threatening and obnoxious comments and emails that many women who blog receive. The reason that I mention Jane in particular is this: Some of those comments arrived in ways other than electronically; She has had comments attached to her car, her door, her snail mail box, etc. Somehow, there are those who have broken through her anonymity and who have gotten far too close. She has had to do things that no one should ever be required to do just because there are, well, men who have not learned (or been forced as is sometimes necessary) to behave.
Interestingly, one of these women is on Google+ and the other is not. The former is on Google+ because her pseudonym was not recognized as a pseudonym by the Google+ Authorities. The other was found by the Google+ Authorities and summarily tossed off the service.
Benno Hansen wants all of us to live in a world where if you are a woman or otherwise subject to this kind of hate, you can do one of the following:
1) Be lucky and no one notices you;
2) Get harassed in ways that are troubling and dangerous;
3) Shut up; or
4) Wait for the free market to somehow figure out a way to solve your problems.
Perhaps I was harsh above in calling Benno a moron twice over. In fact, now that I think about it, it is pretty mean for me to use my Bloggy Mojo to single out a commenter and attack him in an ad hominem manner from my Lofty Bloggish Platform. Generally, it is true, I don’t like doing such things. (I promise you: For every time I’ve done such a thing there have been a hundred times when I didn’t but could have!) So anyway, I take back my declaration that Benno is a moron twice over. Sorry Benno.
But he is a misogynist. A hapless misogynist if he’s also a moron and has no clue what is going on in this world in which he hold the right to comment on people’s blogs, not so hapless if he does understand that as a man he is essentially immune to this problem which he insists women should just live with.
There are a lot of reasons pseudonymity is important, and valid, and I’ve only detailed one here. In some cases people cannot openly and freely blog because of their jobs, but they can blog using a pseudonym. This is probably far more common than most people think. It is true of almost everyone above a certain pay grade in government institutions who are not academics, for instance.
Others have discussed the broader issues recently and at length.1 I think the point is clear; If Google+ wants to operate properly it will allow pseudonyms.
Google+ policy is based on the assumption that using a pseudonym is linked to bad behavior. It can be. I’ve been outspoken in that regard. When one pseudonymous blogger decided for reasons that I still do not understand to go after me and try to make my bloggy life miserable, one of the things he did was to attack the way I presented my C.V. on my blog …. actually, he attacked the fact that I presented my educational background, rather than the way I presented it. So we had the opportunity to duel it out… what ways were our backgrounds relevant or meaningful or whatever whatever. But since he was a pseudo, he had no background. He claimed to be have a higher degree form a valid institution and to have an important job as a highly respected institution, and on the basis of these claims, attacked my background and my institutional affiliation. That was not fair and it was not appropriate and I and many others who observed that maneno lost respect for that particular pseudonymous blogger, and many because distrustful of pseudonyms. In fact, I was treated so egregiously that many looking on assumed that I had developed a bitter attitude towards pseudonymity, even though I did not, and I had to go through more than a little bit of trouble convincing people that this was not the case.
That was an example of a person using a pseudonym for valid reasons (because of his job and its conflict with his blogging) but who abused it sufficiently that he could very legitimately been tossed off a social networking system like Google+. But not because he was a pseudo… rather because he was a troublesome ass.
So, no, Google, pseudonymity is not associated with bad behavior. It is very often associated with a means of people having a voice who otherwise could not or who otherwise could have a voice only with an undue risk. Banning the use of pseudonyms is a means of shutting those people up, and that is why the policy is evil.
It is also important that pseudonymity and … I guess we’ll call it nymity … are not as distinctly different as Google+ and many other seem to think. Lots and lots and lots … maybe most … of the Google+ users have declared their name to be something other than what is written in full on the face of their credit cards or associated officially with their bank accounts. Most Jims are James, most Mandy’s are Amandas, and most Kiki’s are …. whatever Kiki usually is. Many people have a middle (or other third) name that is officially part of their name, but don’t use it normally so it is not part of their Google+ name. So what you say? Well, if part of the reason Benno and Google want everyone to use their real name is so that they can be held responsible for what they say, then using a name like Mandy Smith is totally inappropriate and should be banned. If you are a member of Google+, go to the search box and try it. Go ahead. Type in Mandy Smith and see what you get. Mandy Smith might as well be Person X.
And no, I do not allow the Beta Excuse. Several people in defending Google+ have noted that Google+ is in Beta.
So, does this mean that a driver in beta … a student driver … can ignore driving etiquette? Does this mean that Google+ can implement what is ultimately an inappropriate (read “evil”) policy for several years as long as the word “beta” appears somewhere on the product? You do remember, do you not, that Goolge Docs was “Beta” from its inception until just a few months ago. Sorry, Beta does not buy ethics.
Google. Get it together please and do the right thing. Don’t be a -1.
Google Plus: What’s in a (Pseudo)nym?
Pseudonyms A Pseudo Controversy With Google+
Google’s gormless ‘no pseudonym’ policy
Does Google+ hate women?
Why does Google+ insist on having your real name?