Facebook's Forgotten Rule: No Fake Names Allowed

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With Facebook leading the way, other websites adopted similar rules.

• When Google rolled out a rival social network, Google+, last summer some early adopters watched their new profile pages disappear as the company culled seemingly pseudonymous accounts. The network requires users go by their "common name," which it defines as "the name your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you."

• The New York Times encourages readers to use real names by giving some commenters "trusted" status, enabling them to post without an editor's review.

• More than 400,000 websites use Facebook's free login service, which ties people's actions to their Facebook profiles.

• In 2010, Activision Blizzard, the video game publisher behind the immensely popular World of Warcraft and Call of Duty series, announced that several of its online forums would force commenters to display first and last names.

"The Web is still largely anonymous," says David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and author of "Too Big to Know." While he says many websites are pushing back against the assumption of online anonymity, Mr. Weinberger notes that few of these efforts turned out as planned. Why? In many cases, users hate it.

After facing criticism, Google quickly announced that it's investigating ways to weave in pseudonyms. "Since launch we've listened closely to community feedback on our names policy," wrote Google+ chief Bradley Horowitz in a recent online post. "Over the next week, we'll be adding support for alternate names – be they nicknames, birth names, or names in another script – alongside your common name."

Activision Blizzard abandoned its plan after just three days of user outrage.

"The value of anonymity is generally not recognized by the people that want to be in control of the Internet," says Weinberger. "But maybe that's not the narrative. Maybe we've reached the edge and Google, one of the most major players, has retreated from its real-name policy."

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