Last night, Google+ announced that it will relax its stringent naming policy and allow nicknames and pseudonyms.
However the new policy will only go so far, allowing nicknames, maiden names, or names in another script. Google+ will also allow ‘established’ pseudonyms but only on the condition that the user can prove they are known by that name elsewhere (for example by proving they have an established identity offline in print media or online with a ‘meaningful following).
The move – which will likely be warmly welcomed – isn’t a significant move away from the current policy as it requires substantial proof that a user is commonly known by that name. It remains relatively consistent with Facebook’s username policy which states that username should be as close as possible to a user’s true name.
This move towards online authenticity is applauded by some and derided by others. Christopher Poole, creator or notorious bulletin board 4Chan, is an advocate of online anonymity, saying last year ‘the cost of failure is really high when you’re contributing [online] as yourself… Anonymity is authenticity. It allows you to share in a completely unvarnished, raw way.’
Many disagree, particularly those that have been subjected to abuse and harassment online by anonymous hordes. Last year Facebook’s former Marketing Director Randi Zuckberg said ‘“I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away… People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.’
But the argument may become irrelevant. Whilst certain forums such as 4Chan or Reddit will hold onto anonymity for dear life, Facebook Connect will make the option less and less common on new forums and social networks. Even Pool’s new project Canv.as utilised Facebook Connect as a sign-up mechanism when it launched. So will our Facebook identity determine our entire online identity? If Facebook’s influence continues to grow, it very well may.