There's a lot of weeping about the banning of fake accounts on Google -- or people's much-deserved and much-needed pseudonyms and anonymous handles, depending on how you see it. Our gang was very early on this -- and I spoke up in favour of pseudonyms too -- on principle. The predictable Michael Anti use case was fetched up by the predictable lobbyists. A Linden (Yoz) on July 1 in that thread tried to spin Google policy, "Pseudonyms are fine as long as you're not impersonating someone else, or trying to represent a group." Not true. Thousands are being banned who fit in that category. His Master's Voice says Google+ is going to come up with a feature for this! (He learned that kind of double talk from Linden Lab *chuckles*). But people keep getting banned and realizing they may not benefit from the new "feature". So there's more weeping. There's this open letter from a grrl (sigh). There's a blog by Skud, the ex-Google employee with an ever-growing list of people deserving and needful of anonymity.
At least, we think so. We can't be sure they're all sock puppets and alts.
So...I think we need to put an end to the weepy edge-case approach on this as it's not persuasive, won't work, and isn't fair -- it's minority politics.
It sounds harsh but yes, that's the case -- conjuring up long lists of real or imagined victims who benefit from pseudonymous or ever-changing anonymous accounts is not going to convince Google. If it does convince them, we'd also have to worry for evermore about the problem of minority interest groups being able to overthrow the mainstream and what that spells for the future of Google+. Either it's going to be a major social utility like search was, or it will be a stupid geek thing. You decide.
The problem is not that the list of people who include victims of domestic violence, dissidents risking torture under dictatorships, LGBT who face a hostile and even violent public in some areas aren't all people facing real risks. Yes, it's as serious as a heart attack. I get that better than you may know. But that doesn't mean that their needs have to be met on Google+, and that all of Google+ has to be nerfed to accommodate them -- and then suffer all the down side of not having real identity.
Each and every one of those lists of people needing protection in anonymity can get it on Blogspot, Tumblr, Twitter, Plurk, Live Journal --- and hey, Second Life, which now even has its own social media system on top of the virtual world.
As I've explained repeatedly, what people who demand anonymity or pseudonymity really want often is scope and reach -- influence over the masses, the ability to make giant groups with 500,000 people "liking" them on Facebook (like the unaccountable WikiLeaks); the ability to make lists with 5,000 friends without accountability. And they have less attention and less of a huge audience (700 million)
Let's go over what we have to suffer when we allow pseudonymity and anonymity:
1. Secret police operatives can pose as supporters and spy on you or follow you and harass you.
2. Regime sympathizers can gather dirt on you to report to the secret police, and bully and intimidate you without you knowing who they are.
3. Your ex-husband can stalk you easily.
4. People who hate gays or hate any kind of minority or lifestyle can harass and stalk and vilify without any damage to their reputation or any repercussions whatsoever.
5. Your boss can see what you're really saying about him.
6. People can run several sock puppets pretending to disagree or agree with something and cause havoc.
And so on. That is, practically every affordance and boon you can find in anonymity for your pet cause is something that can be turned on its ear or reversed and become its opposite.
More to the point, people in movements in Belarus and Iran have in fact deployed the real identity feature of Facebook to their great advantage -- they know that people following them are their actual friends and colleagues they want to share with, and not police plants.
Courts of law now instruct men who have been violent to female partners that they cannot contact them person or on the phone -- and they now add "or on Facebook, Twitter, or any other means". You cannot posit a situation where a victim of violence has to have her identity and her freedom taken away from her for the rest of her life -- you have to work to prosecute offenders and enforce the law and not merely cringe.
And again, for those that do have to still duck and hide, there are other places.
I'm for calling out the real agendas of people like Jillian York who demanded anonymous accounts from Facebook for her MENA revolutionary friends, and then began to tack on the crowd-pleasing use cases of Michael Anti, the Chinese dissident, and now victims of domestic or societal violence to round out the argument. It's my contention that she has been after influence all along, not protection and has been completely impervious to the real arguments in favour of identity for precisely those revolutionary movements she supports -- if they are authentic.
The least persuasive argument and most stupid meme that keeps cropping up in these debates is that "People sign up with Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse anyway and it's rampant". So what? It's still not the company policy. And if you abuse report them, they get gone. If they don't (like that account that isn't mine on Facebook but is from a griefer, "Prokofy Neva") you can persist in ARing it and discrediting it and eventually it will be removed or you successful discredit it. Santa Claus, even if there are 1000 of them on Facebook, isn't the problem. It's D3dl$ HaXxor that is the problem and John123 who is the problem.
I think there are two arguments to emphasize rather than piling up the weepy use cases. And let me say again that I don't need extra banging on the weepiness of it all. I myself have been in some of the situations that people require anonymous accounts for, or my close friends and family have and I "get it". I'm not impugning their need for anonymity; I'm not somehow denigrating them as vulnerable and needy people; what I *am* doing, however, is questioning their need to do it on Facebook, and I am questioning their need to do it at the expense of all of us of trust and accountability. THAT is the issue.
My friends under dictatorships get to be stalked by secret policeman? So...I get to be harassed by griefers and tracked by anonymous agents of hostile governments that hate my reporting? My relatives get to be stalked by creepy exes? Because why? Because you you are escaping an abusive husband and demand anonymous accounts? Because you live under a dictatorship but have a different view than my friends about how to fight them? No thanks. That's the problem. You're demanding special dispensation that disrupts the peace of other people for whom real identity is a necessity, not to mention a choice -- and that's ok.
If you ratchet up the weepy factor, you're overlooking the fact that probably 50,000 or 500,000 Second Life avatars would like this feature -- and it's ok if they do, and they don't have to explain their business to you. If they need this for cybersex; if they need this to report on atrocities -- it's not really your business. See, that's the problem with the "deserving poor" and "needs assessment" approach to this issue -- it's just not democratic and free. It's based on the eternal whiney identity politics of the left. Either you have pseudonymity because there are lots of use cases for it of a wide variety and that's ok, or you don't, because the few who need it would disrupt the whole by forcing them to endure anonymous fucktards on the Internet way more than they do with real-life identity. That's all.
So there are two arguments to make to Google+ social engineers:
1. There's an easy solution here that involves having "display names" (as in Second Life, only more covert) that manifest to some circles one way and to other circles another way. You sign up with a real life name and indicate a nick name or series of nick name; you toggle which circles get the real name and which get the nick name or names. Very simple. Very doable!
2. The Google line about signing up with "the name people know you by" has to be taken geekily and literally as they like to do things. If I know thousands of people "by my name Prokofy Neva" then I get to sign up with that name, end of story! After all, it isn't Anonymoose or D3dl$ HaXxor, it's a persistent name by which in fact people know me that doesn't keep changing and that has a perspective and an accountability attached to it.
If I signed up with gmail with any old name, pseudonym or nonce handle, then I should get that same feature in Google+ -- I shouldn't be punished for using a long-time gmail account with an pseudonym on G+. Most of all, if I am punished on Google+, I shouldn't be banned from those other services. This is like "banned from the forums, have your land taken from you in SL" -- we were always for decoupling the verbal ban from the seizure of property inworld.
Honestly, I have to say it once again: we who have been fighting it out in Second Life for the last seven years already have gone through every single issue in the Metaverse, and then some. The solutions we have found make sense and can be replicated. In SL, it happened that now they have put display names to enable people who want to put a real name on top of an old fake SL name can do so now -- or for that matter, any name!
Now, what could be wrong with this proposal! Of course someone like Jillian is sure to say that her MENA friends can't sign up for an account with a real name with the secret police looking over their shoulder and monitoring their computer use and connections, and have to have a nick all the way through.
Well, that seems rather narrowly-construed if not naive. The reason the Egyptian police could nab Wael Ghonim even though he had a pseudonym is because, well, they're the secret police. The reason they call them secret is because they're secret! They have their ways, and get the stuff. If you sit at a computer in your apartment, they will find it. If you use a laptop and roam around, they will find it. If you go to an Internet cafe, they'll see you.
The censorship is ironically not always as thorough in the MENA countries or other situations around the world as it is in the post-Soviet countries where they really knew how to do throughough control. In a place like Uzbekistan, they run all the cell providers. They tell them all they have to alert the state to suspicious activity. They back it up with monitoring. They go through entire apartment buildings registering all the computers and laptops. They make you show your passport to use an Internet cafe. I'll never forget that Al Jazeera guy marvelling that they do that in Turkmenistan. Gosh, smart, eh? That makes quick work of those dissidents when you do that! They didn't do that in some of the MENA countries merely because they have a bit more private enterprise there and not quite as blanket control always and a history of people making powerful social movements like parties and unions.
The display name solution isn't going to solve every use case. We get it that if you use the Internet with your real name you are at risk in some situations. But if you're in that bad a place in your life or in your country, you're in danger anyway -- for other reasons.
Society is about a balance of rights, not taking away the rights of the many to serve the few, or the few to serve the many. And that means the need to protect a few use cases can't be allowed to open the door to abuse by the majority from anonymous accounts.