“Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power

Social media researcher Danah Boyd attacks Google+ and Facebook’s insistence on the use of real names, a requirement which has also sparked protest among Chinese users.

Over and over again, people keep pointing to as an example where “real names” policies work. This makes me laugh hysterically. One of the things that became patently clear to me in my fieldwork is that countless teens who signed up to late into the game chose to use pseudonyms or nicknames. What’s even more noticeable in my data is that an extremely high percentage of people of color used pseudonyms as compared to the white teens that I interviewed. Of course, this would make sense…

The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. “Real names” policies aren’t empowering; they’re an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people. These ideas and issues aren’t new (and I’ve even talked about this before), but what is new is that marginalized people are banding together and speaking out loudly. And thank goodness ….

What’s at stake is people’s right to protect themselves, their right to actually maintain a form of control that gives them safety. If companies like Facebook and are actually committed to the safety of its users, they need to take these complaints seriously.

August 4, 2011 11:13 PM
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