I have a Google+ account. For the moment. I’m actually pretty apprehensive about having it for very long, as Google has been digging its heels in more and more over the question of “real” names. My name is BC Holmes. And, true, those initials aren’t exactly what appear on my birth certificate, but I consider it to be my “real name” because it’s the name that people call me. Frankly most people don’t know me by any other name (with some exceptions) and probably wouldn’t recognize my legal name showing up on a Google+ notification.
Now, when Google+ started, I automatically liked it a bit better than Facebook, which insists that I’m trying to put too many capital letters into my name. On Facebook, I’m B.c. Holmes, and that lowercase ‘c’ annoys the heck out of me. But Facebook wouldn’t accept any other spelling. Dude, trust me. I’ve been spelling my name longer than you have.
Now that Google is in the social network space, I’ve been trying out my own Google+ account, but early on I heard rumours and stories about people whose accounts were deleted because they provided initials instead of the “real” name. And that doesn’t really make me feel welcome.
There’s been a lot of backlash among my crowd to the “real names” policy. Many of my friends are people I’ve kept in touch with via blogging sites like Dreamwidth, and those sites have allowed people to choose their own user names. And many of those friends I meet every year at places like WisCon, and I go “oh, crap, I have no idea what this person’s real name is because I just know her as Sparkymonster or Bibliophile or Wrdnrd.” But it often doesn’t really matter. To be clear, I don’t think that these are “unreal” names. The names have history, reputation and consistency of voice. And some of my friends are known both online and offline as a different name than appears on their birth certificates. My friend Piglet, for example, is called Piglet in all walks of her life (she says that the name fits because she’s round, squeaky and has a fondness for striped shirts).
Now, clearly, there’s some bad behaviour on Google+, and I support them trying to quash that. I’ve already had share notifications from accounts on Google with names like “car loans”. Sometimes I get a notification from someone with a real-sounding name, but it’s clear, just looking at their public postings, that they’re really just shills for some corporation. Me, I’m not looking for new ways to get advertising in my life; I’d rather talk to people.
The problem comes in when Google+ seems to equate “people” with “legal names”. Clearly whether or not a name is “real”-sounding is not directly linked to whether or not they’re annoying spammers.
Naturally, there’s been some pushback among my crowd to Google+’s policy. Many people point out that pseudonymity and anonymity are not the same thing, and that there are often very good reasons why some people choose pseudonymity. Women, for example, often use pseudonyms online because they are targeted for harassment so much more often than men are. But there are many others who are harmed by a real names policy.
Some additional analyses of the debate can be found on the Geek Feminism Blog.
This week, new things have turned up the volume. According to ZDNet, Google has been mass-deleting profiles. One of the notable deletions involves Skud, a fairly well-known open-source developer (and, ironically, a former Google employee). As you can read about at that link, she’s pretty well-known in geek, feminist, and online communities as Skud. Someone I know here in Toronto, Leigh Honeywell, even made up buttons that say “I know Skud” because so many people know her (and know her by that name). She’s also a participant at WisCon, where she appears in the programs as “Skud”. So, obviously, it sticks in some of our craws that Google is telling her that it’s not her “real” name. It’s a very real name to us.
Interestingly, one of Skud’s response to this whole thing has been to try to gather some real data about how frequently this is occurring.
I don’t know how long I’ll have a Google+ account — I’m not crazy about the way that they’re enforcing this policy, so that’s keeping me from really loving the platform. Also, they may up and delete my account at any moment. Time will tell, I guess.