Google+ is taking its "real names" policy seriously. So seriously, in fact, that it threatened to suspend sex and tech writer Violet Blue's account. Google’s only problem is that Blue’s real name is Violet Blue.
Blue writes a sex column for the San Francisco Chronicle, and she also contributes to tech blog ZDNet, in a column called "Pulp Tech." In fact, she even wrote an article a few weeks ago on Google's real names policy and how Google+ accounts were being deleted/suspended without warning.
Blue was understandably stressed out about the possible suspension of her account -- after all, she notes, account suspension on Google+ means you also lose access to Google Reader, your Google Profile, and any Picasa photos and albums. Also, a number of people are still reporting a suspension bug that locks them out of their Gmail or causes problems with Gchat.
Blue had no idea how to prevent her account from being suspended, so she turned to Google+. She posted her story on her Google+ page, stating that she was, in fact, using her real name. Her post garnered 179 comments, almost 200 "shares," and almost 250 "+1's". On Monday, Blue opened her account to discover that Google hadn't deleted it --instead, they'd added a "verified name" checkmark to her page.
Blue later received an e-mail from the Google+ team, stating that they had reviewed her profile and concluded that Violet Blue was indeed her common name.
Google may have relented but Blue's experience is troubling. For one thing, Blue only discovered her account was (possibly) about to be deleted/suspended because she happened to login on Saturday. Had she not logged in, she might have never known about her account being under review (and would have been unable to, say, post a plea on Google+).
Google+'s "real names" policy has been under fire recently, and understandably so. Though the effort to keep people honest and accountable on the Internet sounds like a noble effort, it's not. Anonymity and pseudonyms on the Internet are an important part of what makes the Internet what it is. Sure, too much anonymity and lack of accountability can make the Internet a crappy place, but a draconian "real names" policy can make the Internet scary.
For those of you who don't really see why Google+'s "real names" policy is a bad thing, consider this: in the real world, many people know your "real name," and you're mostly held accountable for what you do and say. Except that's not true. Random people don't know your name, and people you know don't even have to know your real name. There's no Google+ overlord threatening to suspend your life if you lie to a guy on the street and tell him your name is "Scurrilous Billingsgate" or "Victoria Allora Clearwater II."
And you know what? Even if the real world was all about real names, there's a huge difference between what's said on the Internet and what's said in real life. Online, things are recorded and archived for forever. In real life, missteps are recorded for as long as someone remembers it.
"Real names" are only a good idea if you never do or say anything stupid, or that you might regret. Yes, it's true, you don't have to use Google+ -- and, at this rate, nobody will.