Names, real names and Google+

I have a Google+ account. I’ve not been using it much for a lot of reasons. One of those is because my account is registered under a name that does not comply with the Google real names policy. Yup, Laura Atkins isn’t my legal name. It is, however, legal for me to use it.

How can that work?

It’s a combination of things, including the fact that it is “expected” that women take their husband’s last name. To facilitate this laws are set that make it truly simple for a woman to change her name to that of her husband. In some states, it’s as simple as starting to use the name.

There are a few occasions I use my legal name, but typically just traveling and banking. And, even with banking… family members write checks to Laura Atkins, and I sign them and the bank cashes them without blinking.

So clearly I don’t comply with the Google+ account identity rules. I expect they’ll never notice. I’m not important enough and my name isn’t unusual enough to come to their attention. And it’s not like anyone is going to think to report me, there are very few folks online who know my “real” last name.

I also think it’s very important that people be able to be pseudonymous online. I’m not, but it is not without some trepidation that I participate online under a name that traces back to my location. I have been stalked by a total nutcase online, something that got so bad said unstable individual was even harassing my boss and her husband. I was getting calls at work and at home, as were both of them. Local police were involved, but it was the mid-90’s and there wasn’t a lot of legal protection available. Eventually she got bored and left us alone, but it was a period of great stress.

It is always in the back of my mind that the things I say online could open me up to harassment, again. And it’s not that difficult to find a way to contact me. It is a risk I take knowingly, but not without some concern and trepidation.

I don’t believe people should be forced to use “real” information online.

It’s also important to identify pseudonymous from anonymous. There is a lot of bogus, harassing anonymous speech online. But it’s usually from people who are not using a stable account or nym. It’s from people who change names and identities to bypass filters. If harassers picked a stable pseudonym, they could be filtered, so they don’t.

That is eons different from someone using a nickname or pseudonym regularly. Online you are known by your words, and it is your writing that creates your identity. You are known by what you write.

Google is misguided in their policy. Not only is it contrary to much of online culture, but it doesn’t even fit offline culture. I don’t hold out much hope they’re going to change it. Google is full of their own arrogance, and they’re fighting hard enough for this policy that I don’t see them backtracking at all.

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