On Monday, Google Vice President of Product Bradley Horowitz took to his Google+ page to announce that Google is revising the controversial "real name only" policy on its social networking site, Google+.
Over the next week, some nicknames, maiden names, established pseudonyms and names in non-Latin scripts will begin to be incorporated into the network.
Google is making this change even though according to Horowitz's post, only .1 percent of users have submitted name appeals. Of these, Horowitz writes:
- The majority (60%) of these users want to simply add nicknames.
- About 20% of appeals are actually businesses (who are inadvertently trying to set up their business as a Profile, rather than using Google+ Pages which were intended for this purpose.)
- And the remaining 20% would either prefer to use a pseudonym or another unconventional name.
While, the number of users wanting to use other names may have been a small minority, it was not a quiet one. Since shortly after the launch of Google+, users have been complaining about having their accounts suspended for trying to use nicknames, mononyms (Madonna) or the name of their established internet persona. Some even said the policy was a danger to people like abuse survivors who used pseudonyms as a matter of safety.
On her website, social media commentator Danah Boyd quoted an anonymous user who had had their account suspended. This person said they could not put their real name on Google+ for the following reason: "This identity was used to protect my real identity as I am gay and my family live in a small village where if it were openly known that their son was gay they would have problems."
Others accuse Google of using the policy to create a Stepford social network, where everything shared is safe and search friendly. In an op-ed piece on Mashable, Jamie Beckland wrote, "By requiring real names, Google+ is sending clear signals that it wants to be a specific type of community: the kind where people share cat videos and links about current events that ultimately inform Google’s own search rankings."
It's important to note that even though Google has loosened its grip on usernames, not all new names are considered equal.
According to the Horowitz post, alternate names including maiden names (Chloe Supman instead of Chloe Chesnut), names in other scripts (सौरभ शर्मा rather than Saurabh Sharma) and nicknames (Callie "Lewis" Norris) will be accepted across the board starting this week. However, they will not be used instead of your "real name" but will be displayed "alongside your common name."
Names in the "established pseudonyms" category, such as your Twitter handle, will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
If you are trying to use a pseudonym and your profile gets flagged (suspended) you can contact Google and begin a process of verifying this name. Verification requires documentation that this is a name you actually go by in real life or on the web. This documentation could include news articles linking you to the name or "proof of an established identity online with a meaningful following."
The Google post states that during the evaluation process, which takes several days, your original name will continue to be displayed, or if it's a new account, it will be held in a non-public mode until your name is approved, or not. It is not clear from the post whether your given or "real name" will continue to be linked to the account.
Google+'s principal competitor, social networking giant Facebook, requires the use of real names, but Twitter does not.