Google+ and Facebook are pushing users to use their real names everywhere on the web for their convenience and the convenience of the owners of the sites they’re browsing. The trend has clearly been a boon for sites like the Huffington Post, which can get 11,000 comments rife with inanity and raciscm on a single politics story. But we’re starting to get real pushback from–more than just 4chan’s Chris Poole–as more sites force users to comment using their real identities. After Google+ pissed a bunch of people off by deleting profiles that didn’t use real names, Google’s vp of product, Bradley Horowitz, announced today that users can now list “other names” on their Google+ profile and be found by search that way.
Why do we need anonymity on the web? Last week, proto-blogger Anil Dash wrote a timely blog post called “If Your Website’s Full of Assholes, It’s Your Fault,” calling out site owners who shy away from taking responsibility for hateful or ignorant comments, and today founder Caterina Fake followed up with some of her thoughts on the different kinds of anonymity on the web–nicknames, pseudonyms, and trolls–and echoed Mr. Dash’s call for strong moderation in order to preserve the good effects of allowing handles, which are fun, and pseudonyms, which can be protective, while keeping the jerks in check.
“Nothing can destroy a happy social space faster than allowing the trolls to go unchecked,” she writes. “The use of real names online has gained momentum in recent years, I think as a consequence of the rise of social networking; in an earlier era this wasn’t the case. But most peoples’ pseudonymous online behavior falls into the first two categories — only the third needs policing. Pseudonyms, which provide so many benefits to the first two categories, should not be banned because of the third.”
Tom Anderson of MySpace, where pseudonyms were de rigeur, chimed in on Mr. Dash’s blog, which uses Facebook’s plugin for comments, today: “Interesting distinction. Different communities for different spots on the Internet. I moderate the comments of my own ‘posts’ on G+ to create the community I want for my little corner of the Internet.”
Fun fact from all this: Mr. Horowitz goes by “Elatable” around the web. It sounds like he has some sympathy for the pseudonyms and their defenders, hinting that Google is looking for a solution to the dilemma of censoring trolls while allowing real commenters to protect themselves with pseudonyms or identify themselves with handles. After all, Google+’s current incarnation is not the end-product.
We’re dying to hear where Mark Zuckerberg falls on this issue (and what “finkd” means). Facebook has been thinking about identity on the web for a while, and this announcement from 2009 suggests Zuck may have some space in his heart for handles:
From the beginning of Facebook, people have used their real names to share and connect with the people they know. This authenticity helps to create a trusted environment because you know the identity of the people and things on Facebook. The one place, though, where your identity wasn’t reflected was in the Web address for your profile or the Facebook Pages you administer. The URL was just a randomly assigned number like “id=592952074.” That soon will change.
We’re planning to offer Facebook usernames to make it easier for people to find and connect with you. When your friends, family members or co-workers visit your profile or Pages on Facebook, they will be able to enter your username as part of the URL in their browser. This way people will have an easy-to-remember way to find you. We expect to offer even more ways to use your Facebook username in the future.
It’s far from over, folks.