It’s time for Google+ to brush up on Shakespeare

by Allie on July 25, 2011

The internet has been abuzz in the past week or so with the controversy surrounding Google+’s real name policy.  If you use a pseudonym on Google+, not only do you run the risk of having your Google+ profile deleted, but you also run the risk of your entire account being suspended, meaning goodbye Gmail, goodbye Google Docs, and any other Google services that you may need in your day-to-day life.  Members of our little science online community, such as Bug Girl, have already had their accounts pulled, not to mention all of the other great pseudonymous bloggers such as Sci and Dr. Isis who can’t sign up because of this policy.

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My mind jumps back to reading The Berenstain Bears books as a child, and the cover of one which featured a painted sign with large red letters spelling: “No Girls Allowed”, only this time, the sign on the door of the Google+ clubhouse reads: “No Pseudonyms Allowed”.  By posting this sign on the door, Google+ is keeping out valuable voices in many communities.

Not being an employee of Google, I can only speculate as to the rationale behind this real name policy.  In some ways, I understand the desire to have people use their real names, if that desire stems from trying to stop people from impersonating someone else, or harassing someone via a false identity.  Maybe I wouldn’t be considering these reasons if I had not just watched the ABC Family movie “Cyberbully” (Yes, I watch ABC Family movies.  Don’t judge.).  There are those people who would use a veil of anonymity or pseudonymity to do harm to others.  But not everyone using a false name is a rabble-rouser, and there are plenty of valid reasons one would use a pseudonym, and would do so responsibly.  In fact, back in 2009, Janet Stemwedel came up with a whole list of reasons why people might want to blog under a pseudonym.

When I was a newbie on the blogging block 3 years ago, I debated the pseudonym issue myself.  I was in my first year of grad school, and I knew absolutely NOTHING about blogging, but was required to keep a blog for a week as my first grad school assignment for my Journalism on the Web course.  I liked blogging, and as you can tell, I decided to stick with it.  In making the jump from a nameless, makeshift iWeb blog to the Blogger-hosted blog of the present-name, a blog that I planned to have read by people other than my classmates, I had to ask myself long and hard if I wanted to use my real name.  I worried about whack jobs finding me, but more so, I worried about blogging harming any future career I might want.  Ultimately, since what I wanted to do was write, I decided I wanted credit for what I wrote on my blog, and chose to use my real name.

But what is a “real” name anyway?  Didn’t Juliet, through the genius of Shakespeare’s writing, ponder that same question?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Perhaps a better question is, how is Google determining what is a real name?  (I’m pretty sure Howdy Your-Friend, isn’t a real name, and yet said user has added me on Google+.)

“Personally, I think this state of affairs is ludicrous,” Jay Freeman, developer of the Cydia app store, wrote on Google+. “Google’s attempts to enforce what a name is don’t even stand up to the test of multiple cultures, much less the test of an online pseudonymous world.”

Freeman is right.  Google’s name-test is failing miserably, and the definition of what is “real” is different online than it is in the real, physical world.  Just because certain people online use a pseudonym doesn’t make them any less real.  Real name or pseudonym, Sci would still be Sci.  Isis would still be Isis.  I could’ve used a pseudonym, and I’d still be me.  Name has nothing to do with credibility, or trust.  I trust Sci, and Dr. Isis, PsiWaveFunction, and GrrlScientist, and all of the other great pseudonymous bloggers in the science community– they’re an integral part of this world that we have online, and whether they use their pseudonym, their real name, or “Captain Fancypants”, they’d still be themselves.  And the point that Google seems to be missing, is that they all have every right to protect themselves and their identity, for whatever reasons that they have, and shouldn’t be kept out of the clubhouse for doing so.

For more on the issue, check out the following posts:


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