So with 20 million accounts in 24 days, uptake of Google+ has been rapid to say the least. You can see why the project has been created – it’s a bit Facebook style social network – including the +1 button which is a bit like “like“, a bit Flickr photo album, a bit Skype internet video call and a lot more bespoke (different people can see different things).
As Google is a cool brand, and generally a trusted brand, loads of people have apparently been less Luddite than me and jumped into the pool – but it seems I’m not the only one standing by the shallow end saying “yes, but is it safe?”
On Facebook, I have to use my real name as a matter of user policy. It was one of the reasons it took me a long time to join – but I decided it was ok.
The connections I have on Facebook are people I know or have known personally, I don’t just randomly befriend people, or accept people I don’t really know.
I also maximise my use of privacy options. I don’t need to be rose22joh on Facebook – if people want to find me there it’s because they’ve become friends IRL (in real life, not in Ireland!) so they know my name.
If it’s someone from my past, if they really want to they’ll find me by looking at mutual friends’ “friend” lists and guess. I don’t HAVE to accept their request. Not everyone’s accepted mine either (good for the soul to keep the ego in check).
Even my social media-phobic husband uses LinkedIn. “Everyone” does – at least everyone whose business depends on building and maintaining personal relationships. It hosts bits of my CV – on the other hand simply Googling my name brings up bits of that, along with stuff that isn’t about me but about people that share my name. That must be a complete pain for all those Sue Taylors, John Smiths and Muhammed Hussains. At least by using LinkedIn I can be clear what is actually me!
The BBC article on this issue of identity talked about use of real names:
- preventing SpamBots (I use WordPress’s excellent companion tools on the nasty little critters which seem determined to try to sell me naked women and pharmaceuticals – those firstname.lastname@example.org addresses are a real giveaway);
- preventing Trolls (why do people waste their time that way, choosing to spread that patina of nastiness across the surface of the internet);
- benefiting advertisers (well, yes, obviously. This is “no free lunch” territory – see below);
- making life difficult for those under oppressive political regimes (and this will surely be the tipping point – the internet represents a form of freedom in Iran, China etc. – but while the Tienanmen Square example doesn’t bode well…)
Essentially, using real names is a sort of nudge theory – being transparent and therefore known, you should behave better online.
But it is more than just that. If you look at eurobloggers that blog in their real names (yes, I’m thinking about you Jon Worth and Joe Litobarski) - identity online can be part of building your personal brand and in the twenty first century. Generation Y gets that – and is, it seems, much more open with personal information than their elders.
But equally you can build a reputation on a pseudonym – now defunct blogger “Julien Frisch” preserved his anonymity until the end.
But blogger “Guido Fawkes” is now often in the mainstream media as Paul Staines. That is probably in part because his role has become increasingly that of journalist rather than merely a blogger or “citizen journalist”.
One of the joys of the internet is the freedom to develop a whole new you: in fact that seems to be the major appeal of Second Life. It enables people to be taller, thinner, prettier, an dwarf, a knight, a princess, a musician showcasing their soul, a DJ, a writer, someone with a voice. For some people that becomes the real them – and so be it . This is a world my great grandparents could not even have imagined. There needs to be room for anonymity on the internet, but the internet is a big place.
Most users realise that they’re not getting something for nothing – the targeted advertising via Facebook and Google shows that clearly. Most of us regard it as a price worth paying for the convenience of being where all our friends are online.
But there’s a responsibility in having access to so much personal information, and every development – making mobile numbers accessible on Facebook, handing over Twitter users identities to super-injunction owners – makes people reappraise just what information they put out there.
There needs to be room for anonymity on the internet, but the internet is a big place…