Using a fake name to cloak identity online is becoming less tolerated. But will these company policies from Facebook and Google hold up as users voice their dissatisfaction?
One of the oldest jokes about the Web – the 1993 New Yorker cartoon that said "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" – may not be true for much longer.
Several major websites spent the past year slowly chiseling away at online anonymity. Two of the biggest forces, Facebook and Google, even got into open spats, demanding that members use their real names online – and booting many who refused.
Few fought the name police as publicly as author Salman Rushdie. In November, Facebook froze his account, demanding proof that he was in fact Mr. Rushdie. After he sent in a picture of his passport, the company returned control of the profile page, but under one condition: He could no longer go by Salman, his middle name.
"They have reactivated my [Facebook] page as 'Ahmed Rushdie,' in spite of the world knowing me as Salman," he wrote in a barrage of protest messages on Twitter. "Forcing me to change my FB name from Salman to Ahmed Rushdie is like forcing J. Edgar to become John Hoover." After rallying online supporters behind him, Rushdie returned to Twitter just two hours later with, "Victory! Facebook has buckled! I'm Salman Rushdie again. I feel SO much better. An identity crisis at my age is no fun."
Facebook apologized for the change, yet reiterated that it's serious about this naming policy. Fictional names and characters may set up business pages on Facebook. But standard accounts are reserved for real people using their real names.
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