Ok, that title is way over the top to get your attention.* BUT.banned from google
I do want to talk about what the “no pseudonyms” policy adopted at G+ means for women, LGBT folk, and civil servants.

There are many, many resources that can explain to Google why adopting this policy is a stupid idea (aside from the obvious business advantage of not alienating early adopters and potential G+ evangelists). One of the best can be found at the Geek Feminism Wiki:

The cost to these people {of denying pseudonym use} can be vast, including:

  • harassment, both online and offline
  • discrimination in employment, provision of services, etc.
  • actual physical danger of bullying, hate crime, etc.
  • arrest, imprisonment, or execution in some jurisdictions
  • economic harm such as job loss, loss of professional reputation, etc.
  • social costs of not being able to interact with friends and colleagues

That page goes on to list, in detail, the various ways that these groups can be harmed.   We know that women experience 25 TIMES the amount of harassment online that men do.  We know that 50% of LGBT teens are bullied online, and many of them consider–or commit–suicide.  We know that women are stalked and killed by ex-lovers. We know that LGBT folk are the victims of hate crimes.

Basically, we know that some people are assholes online, and like to target others and make their lives hell. They will do this using their real names; they do this with fake identities.   It’s about BEHAVIOR, not about names.  If your website is full of assholes, it’s your fault for not holding people–whatever name they go by–accountable for their behavior.  Online behavior doesn’t have to be polite or full of everyone agreeing with each other. Conversations just need to not be bigoted, hateful, or destructive.

If you agree that allowing pseudonyms online is important, please visit this petition and sign. It goes directly to Google.

My personal take:

I was banned from Google+ after happily using it for about a week, because I used my pseudonym as my name.  I’m not the only one–a bunch of other bloggers, all of whom have reasons to want to not reaveal their real names, or who, like Lady Gaga, have an alternative name that they are known by.  I have both professional and personal reasons to want to use my pseudonym Bug Girl online.

I can get my profile re-activated by giving Google my real name, and allowing it to be publicly linked with my profile.  But I’m not going to choose to out myself just because some giant world-ruling corporation demands it.   I have been Bug Girl online since at least 1997; as a blogger since 2005.  I initially adopted a pseudonym because I had been the target of some white supremacist groups in the 90s, as well as experiencing stalking.

Later I discovered that I had become a high-enough level civil servant that I was actually PROHIBITED, by law, from having opinions online.  I controlled enough of the state budget that my activities online, if connected to my real name, could be seen as lobbying.  It looks like my current job in Connecticut is going to be bound by the same rules.

I also only feel free to talk about my disability (I have epilepsy) and my status as a rape survivor under this pseudonym. I don’t want my students, my employer, or my mom to find out these secrets about me from Google.

How concerned am I about keeping my IRL name separate from Bug Girl? I am going to be giving a talk at the Entomological Society of America National meeting under the pseudonym of Bug Girl.  When an academic passes up a chance to pad her vita, you know she’s serious about plausible deniability.

Google is targeting people based on how “real” sounding their names are. Had I chosen a name that sounded more plausible, I would probably still be able to use Google+.  I know at least 5 people who put in fake names that are still happily using the service.  It’s a rule that can’t be applied consistently, and it blocks me from participating in a lot of wonderful online conversations.  Google+ is a really great platform, and I liked it a lot before I was evicted.

Google’s adopted a policy that puts people at risk and silences their voices in this new online forum.  Not because we have misbehaved, but because our privacy is important and we won’t give it up.  Google is a company that profits by serving you advertising on YouTube videos where  my friends are threatened with rape and death.  It is beyond hypocrisy for them to say they are concerned about online civility.

I have so many, many wonderful friends online as Bug Girl. I think I could go to just about any town in the world and find someone fun to have a conversation with that knows me as Bug.  I am constantly humbled by how kind and generous people online can be, and the realness of virtual communities.   Please sign the petition and help me share that with others.

(Oh, and make sure to click the Google+ button below! :)   )

Additional links:

*EDITED 7/24 TO ADD: People are getting hung up on the title of this post. It was a deliberately provocative title, but apparently a little too provocative. I have slightly altered it.  I drew a complete blank that afternoon when floundering for a title that would convey that Google had, once again, implemented a policy that would harm women and LGBT folks.

Posted by Bug


  1. Not only that, but who is Google to decide what a ‘real name’ is. Your real name *could* be Bug Girl. There are very few restriction on what you can name humans.

  2. I wonder if they would have the same problems with a name like Chad Ochocinco. Real, legal names can be odder than any pseudonyms and less “real-sounding.”

  3. There is a very easy way around this restriction as soon as they allow businesses. Form a sole proprietorship that is named “Bug Girl”. Done.

  4. I happily signed, but it’s a little weird that they required a physical address on the petition.

  5. However, in counter argument (not that Google needs anyone to defend them), I would say that they open a host of criticism and liability if they allow pseudonyms. Search the web for “arrested fake Facebook account” and see the hundreds of hits that come up. Not to mention the potential for them to be charged under COPA if they don’t require a real name and proof of age.

  6. Jon–Except incorporation as a business is a huge hurdle to expect (for example) a teenager or someone with low income to jump over just to be able to use what I think will probably be the next big internet thing.

    Also, BTW, you can put in a fake address on the petition. I signed it as bug_girl. The email is all that counts.

  7. I didn’t say incorporate, I said form a sole proprietorship. All that is required is that you declare a business name. You can get an EIN for free from the IRS. That’s it’s now you have a business. You can trademark the name, you can do whatever you like as a business. The only real difference if you don’t incorporate is that if someone sues the business, they are suing you.

  8. Can Paula Yates’s kids get Google+ accounts? They have odd names: Peaches, Trixie-Bell etc? All very silly; hopefully this won’t last long. You go, Bug Girl!

  9. Putting my own name out there isn’t a problem for me personally, my on-line name is most of my real name anyway and I have a common name, but it isn’t difficult to see how dangerous it could be for some. They could insist on real names for registration but allow pseudonyms for other people to see. Insisting on showing real names excludes the very people that social networking would help most.
    Petition happily signed, in my real name!

  10. Jon–I think you are missing my point. If I’m a battered woman that wants to participate in discussions online, the last thing I want is to potentially create a trail leading right to my real world identity with an EIN. I also am unlikely to do all those extra steps, because I’m already a disadvantaged group.
    It just makes it that much harder for those folks to participate.

  11. As the owner of a weird name, Signed! Before college, I always went under pseudonyms, and honestly, probably still should, though it’s a little late now. Hoping for the best!

  12. I understand what you are saying, and I understand the dilemma. As a small business myself (meaning I’m my own business) I can say that my other post above would be my biggest concern. If I ran an online service and didn’t have a way to trace back accounts to real people and I could be held liable as an accessory to a crime (as some AGs have tried to hold Facebook for Child Porn, Child Endangerment, Murder, Manslaughter, etc.) if I couldn’t provide the real criminals ID, I’d shut down my service.

    Maybe DaveD’s suggestion is the best. Have a private link to your real info, but only publicly provide your pseudonym.

  13. Further, if you are trying to keep the government from finding a link between your pseudonym and real name, that will never happen unless you live completely off the grid and only access the internet from a borrowed computer in a public place. Every access to everything is logged, usually with an IP address and sometimes identifying information about a computer.

  14. Unfortunately, keeping your “real” identity private is not an option at G+. I could *probably* live with a private real name, but I just don’t know that I would trust them with my real identity, given some of their blunders in the past.
    Google has a history of making mistakes that force women and LGBT folks to reveal more information about themselves than they wanted–the initial requirement that everyone specifically have a public gender selection is a good example, as the over-sharing of GoogleBuzz.
    They just don’t seem to get it, which is really disappointing.

  15. I’m sorry your account got disabled. I know of one other person using a pseudonym who is still on there, but other online friends who used pseudonyms also lost access to their accounts during the purge.

    I signed the change.org petition. It’s important that Google allow pseudonyms for the reasons you mentioned. In order to maintain some degree of civility and accountability, it’s more important that people have consistent identities (within a network and across networks) than it is that people use their real names. Consistent identities can be managed just as easily with user ID numbers and IP addresses as with the name visible on the account. I hope that Google will change its policies to to allow for pseudonyms.

    I don’t fall into the vulnerable categories that you list, but I feel like I’m at somewhat of a disadvantage on G+ since more people know me under my blogging handle than under my real name. I’m not sure if my identity is obvious to people when I follow them since I use my real name hardly anywhere else on the internet.

  16. In my case, I’m shooting for plausible deniability. I know that it is possible for someone to find out who I am–it’s actually not hard. However, I can at least make it difficult to be found, which helps me sleep at night. I don’t have to worry about someone showing up on my doorstep because I wrote a post about how Twilight (movie or book) sucked eggs.

    I really NEED to be online, it’s where all my friends are, and where I get emotional support daily from friends that live thousands of miles away. It’s where I can talk about ideas with other scientists that are on different continents.

    Disconnecting would have a big personal cost for me, which is why I am sad to be locked out of G+.

  17. Good work, thanks.
    You might find some of this useful too: http://sysadmin1138.net/mt/blog/2011/07/identity-social-legal-and-work.shtml

  18. Signed. I have been using my real name on comments, but I feel that should be my choice. Circumstances could be different. Like some above, I wonder what criteria Google is using to determine “real” names. Some countries have standards as to what parents can name their children. Will it be Google that is in charge of this in the future?

    I also have to deal with a bit of Google created confusion with my own unique name. (The name was chosen by my Grandmother, who thought of it as a variant of Agatha). Google search conflates my name with “Gay Thai” as if my name is a spelling error. This connects the search to all sorts of rather explicit sites. If they really think we were one and the same, it is amazing they haven’t banished me yet.

  19. BTW, if you want to add your name to a list of people who have been booted off google, go here

  20. If you give the talk as BG, won’t the people in the audience know
    What you look lIke physically, and also, know enough
    about what your field is that they could connect you
    With your “real” identity? I suppose that’s not such a big
    risk because your harassers, mom, etc are not likely
    to be present at the meeting, nor are they likely
    to care about digging more deeply into your
    past—probably those that need to know who you are
    do, and there’s some trust there already. Personally, I
    would be looking for a green bug-like person with antennae.

  21. PS I should have said, blue person with green hair.
    Sorry about the mistake!

  22. So far, I have been able to rely on the kindness of strangers not to out me. People understand that I have reasons for not using my name, and respect that. I have experienced more kindness than hate online, on average, which gives me some hope for humans :D

    Also, I’m considering registering for Google+ as “Clittoria VonBeaverhausen” just to see if that name will be acceptable :)

  23. Excellent and very well done post. I had not given the subject a lot of thought because although for a long time I had used psuedonyms online, I have given it up because it is just simpler for me. I don’t have anything to hide. Ask me and I will tell you. It is simply a philosophy I accepted that works for me, but I know I am certainly not the epitome of internet users. I don’t care if other people use psuedonyms. I think that is a personal choice just like a nom de plume or stage name.

    Although I experienced bullying and a harassment as a child, it has never really gone beyond that. I really had not considered the implications that it could have for some people if they were to become the target of those people that feel that infringing upon the rights of others is acceptable.

    I would disagree that Google has adopted a policy that puts people at risk. it is entirely Google’s right to demand that you use your real name to use their service. It is after all their playground, and they can set the rules as they would like. Google’s service is not something you are required to use. If you choose to use it, they have the right to tell you the terms of use and you have the right to refuse or discontinue to use the service if the terms are not acceptable.

    I admire that you are attempting to gather signatures to show Google the harm they are doing to their service’s marketability. I will be signing the petition because I believe that Google should attempt to appeal to a wide audience and allow people to have as much privacy as they desire with Google+ if there is any hope of having a service that has any hope of being more than a passing fad.

    It certainly gives me a lot to think about since my professional specialities are enterprise software architecture and IT security. The idea of online privacy and security is something that everyone should be aware of, and you have certainly done a great job of illustrating why providing the tools for privacy and security can be very important to a great many users of any online service.

  24. Thank you Nick for a great example of how two people can civilly disagree on some parts and come to agreement on others online, all without resorting to 4 letter words or identity checks :D

    In general, I do see the internet as a force for good in the world, even while recognizing that there are some bad actors out there. (now I’m beginning to think I need to change my pseudonym to Pollyanna…..)

  25. What about circles? It seems that people are ACTUALLY opposing the G+ “real name policy” because they don’t trust the security of circles. Is that abject cynicism or reasonable prudence? I’m not sure

  26. Nah, scratch that. Even if we assume the best about Google’s implementation, vis-a-vis security:

    You could hide the details of your vitals, sure.
    You could prevent all of your posts from being seen by anyone outside your trusted circles, sure.
    But if you—the world famous Bug Girl—wanted to be READ (a la Twitter), you’re pretty much screwed.

    I think I understand. As I wrote on the G+ post that lead me to this blog entry, it won’t surprise me if we see some backtracking on the part of Google over this pseudonym issue. Difficult to say.

  27. I like your take on the essential nature of a pseudonym, even though you’ve poached my initials, BG.

  28. James Hrynyshyn July 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    The tone and intelligence of the discussion on this blog tells me all I need to know about the value of online pseudonyms. Bug Girl and the commenters, both the pseudonymous and real-name varieties, exhibit a degree of maturity and wisdom that is far too rare on many an online forum, and it would behoove the Googlemasters to consider just what it is they are trying to accomplish by driving such minds away.

  29. Thank you for the lovely compliment James! I think I am exceptionally lucky in my online friends.

    (Also, of course, bug and nature people in general tend to be fairly cool folks :) )

  30. I loved using g+. Google did a whole bunch right in the design, implementation, uix. & this has been reflected in how quickly folks started engaging with it, including almost everyone I closely interact with online as hectocotyli. I seemed a natural continuation of the social & collaborative internet I am already immersed within, and promised some v cool improvements over other venues.

    But then, even more quickly, they haphazardly & clumsily scorched the stable earth (not to mention trust) from under us (& by us I mean pseuds). Pretty shocking to see BG & others I enjoy ceremoniously booted. So rather than risk having google possibly lock me out of my entire hectocotyli goog account (gmail, reader, etc), which would have been a horrific destruction my online life, I preemptively got out of g+ dodge.

    The obvious answer, as BG & others have mentioned, would be simply for google to allow keeping details of one’s real name private. Or require attaching a pseudonymous account to a non-pseud account. I certainly exist in the goog universe separately under my real name, & probably most others do also.

    This would show a lot of good faith on google’s part, and while not completely rock solid, if backed by clear & explicit privacy policies, would allow pseuds to participate freely *and* allow google to establish a level of oversight to reduce spam, sockpuppetry, & all the other sometime-straw-men reasons that folks trot out against pseudonymity.

    Meantime, I’m back to my non g+ online life. More dull then a week ago when I was flush with the elysian fields of g+, but much more stable and assured.

    See you on the twits & blogs.


  31. QuestionAuthority July 24, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I’m 100% on your side here, BG. I’ll bet that Google wants to create a huge db to sell or something. Having a private real name would work fine for that.

  32. Signed. I was sorry to see you were shut out of g+, and I totally understand the need for pseudonyms (I prefer to use one myself). I hope google will come to their senses and restore you account (and the other anonymous ones) very soon.

  33. Anon For This if G+ is watching July 24, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    It is NOT required to go through a formal court process to change your name legally. You can legally change your name through commonlaw practice – simply by starting to use your new name consistently.

    Going through the court process just makes certain aspects more convenient.

    So Google is not even legally correct with this. That doesn’t even mention that when I signed up it did NOT say it required your “legal name,” it asked for the name that “people know you by.”

  34. I did not know that! Thanks for the legal tip :)

    BTW, in order to appeal your G+ banning? They want a photocopy of your driver’s license or passport.

  35. Very interesting statement from Will Burns, Object Interoperability Lead for IEEE Virtual World Standards Workgroup


    “I ask that Google rethink their stance on Avatar Identity as a preferred main identity, and not to force users of your services to divulge birth names when they are legally not required to do so. In the end, acknowledging Multiplicity of Identity in the digital age is vastly in the favor of companies like Google, while continually denying such will build only contention and eventually public backlash – and maybe even a flurry of lawsuits in the future if the situation continues to persist.

    I’d like to believe that Google still adheres to their “Do no evil” policy, and continually forcing users to divulge their birth names when they are legally not obligated to constitutes an evil. Especially when they have perfectly legitimate reasons not to do so, such as life threatening stalkers, by which a Google+ Profile under your TOS would become life threatening.”

  36. Has Google explicitly stated anywhere what their motivation is for the anti-pseudonym policy on G+? I’ve done some cursory digging, but haven’t been able to find it.

  37. […] post every year. Or at least discuss writing it every year. Usually other people say what I think much better on these issues than I do. And yet, every time, I hear from people, via Twitter, Email, etc, saying […]

  38. Just curious, was your account suspended, or banned? Personally, I have a problem with either, but whenever I complain about G+ policy, the defenders immediately say “wait a minute, was it BANNED or just SUSPENDED?” I know that both are wrong but I’m having trouble articulating why, and if even one person actually had their account irrevocably deleted, I can at least defend my concern until I find the way to clearly explain why even a suspension policy is wrong.

  39. I was suspended and briefly cut off completely from ALL google services other than gmail. I appealed the suspension yesterday, and just got the response an hour ago that they have determined that my name is not in compliance:

    “Thank you for contacting us with regard to our review of the name you are trying to use in your Google Profile. After review of your appeal, we have determined that the name you want to use violates our Community Standards. The display name must represent a common name. We do not allow pseudonyms as display names.
    You can review our name guidelines at http://www.google.com/support/+/bin/answer.py?answer=1228271

    Frankly, when I read the guidelines, I am in compliance. Here’s what I wrote back:

    “Bug Girl” is my professional identity, and I have used it for over 10 years.
    It is my understanding that under common law, once you consistently begin using a name, it becomes a legal name.
    Under common law, I have used this name “consistently, openly and non-fraudulently, without interfering with other people’s rights.”

    I can give you links to professional conferences where I am speaking under the name Bug Girl:
    I can provide photos of me wearing badges with the name Bug Girl, and speaking on a podium with a name-tag of Bug Girl. It is the name that ALL my friends know me by. Because it’s my name.

    I have laid out my personal reasons for refusing to provide my legal name at the link below; it involves being legally prohibited, as a civil servant, from speaking using that name because it could appear to be lobbying, or misuse of state funds

    I am a highly connected early-adopter. I really liked Google+, and there is a lively science community there that I was part of until you disconnected me. Now I am more isolated from my friends and peers, because they recognize this is a superior platform and are adopting it as well.
    Instead of building a community, you have disrupted one.

    Bug Girl

  40. Nichole St Pierre July 24, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    My profile has also been currently suspended due to a name issue. My name on there was Nichole (Kitten) St Pierre, I was asked to provide proof of my real name which I did as well as around 5 online profiles which reflect how long I’ve used the nickname Kitten. So far almost 48 hours and no word.

  41. @Walter Burton: “Has Google explicitly stated anywhere what their motivation is for the anti-pseudonym policy on G+?”

    Not that I’ve seen. But google’s overwhelming source of revenue is from targeted advertising. Pseudonymity both fractures & pollutes the one-person->one-consumer data mined targeting that google can present to their ad buyers.

    Not that this can’t be challenged by better data mining on google’s part, or by insisting that pseuds privately link a real-name account with the psedonymous.

    But it’d take work to convince advertisers that data from pseud accounts should command as high a price as that from non-pseud.

    Anyway, that’s my best guess for the policy.

  42. I sent feedback to Google about this issue yesterday, when I discovered your profile had been deleted. Here’s what I sent:


    This is Bug Girl’s former profile. You nuked her account because she was writing under a pseudonym.

    This is extremely disappointing. This scientist is well-known and well-respected in ecology, entomology and other circles (not G+ circles anymore, though, sadly.)

    She prefers not to use her real name because of the potential consequences for her career. She has a well-established presence on the internet under the Bug Girl name.

    I strongly feel you need to alter this decision and allow use of “legitimate” pseudonyms. I understand your intent, and generally approve of not having G+ pages for peoples’ pets and so forth, but to make a blanket policy that covers people who have been writing under their pseudos for years? That’s not cool.

    The vetting process for allowing certain pseudos may be a pain in the ass, I understand, and deciding which are legit and which are not might be, as well.

    Surely, there must be some methodology you could employ to automatically vet in some fashion or another – a registered domain name with the pseudo in it, a twitter account with posts in it that has the pseudo, et cetera.

    If companies want a G+ presence, how will you handle that?

    As a long-time Google services advocate, this is most disappointing. This, along with the news of Thomas Monopoly’s account deletion, has me for the first time questioning the sanity of having so much of my life organized via Google services.

    I have always trusted you guys implicitly, which is perhaps hopelessly naive, but it seemed your hearts are in the right place collectively, and that you really want to deliver quality services. Your staff seems like a fantastic group of people on the whole, too.

    I’m not leaving Google – I just feel like this is the first “fight” in our 6+ year relationship. I hope you can make things right for Bug Girl and for Thomas, especially, and then find a way to accommodate well-known, pseudonymous authors.

    Thanks for your time, sorry for the long-windedness.

  43. Christopher "Ut/Nimiety/Kichae Chandramani" Cooke July 24, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    I go by several pseudonyms across the internet, and by my real name on Facebook/Google+. If the option were available to me, I’d have several Google+ accounts with pseudonyms attached to the majority of them, so that I could better segregate my interests/community involvements, as well as better target my audiences (My video gaming audience doesn’t associate me with my given name because they’ve never known me by it. The science/skeptic/atheist communities I frequent don’t know me by my gaming name because they’ve never known me by it.) I’m not big on cross-pollination.

    It just struck me, however, that I go by my middle name, and while there’s really no way Google would target my G+ account based on my name there, if it were by some fluke to happen, would they insist that I go by my first name? Am I in violation of Google’s supposed terms of service because the first name on my license or birth certificate is not the name I go by?

    I go by my middle name because I *choose* to. I don’t see how that’s any different from someone else going by the name Bug Girl because they *choose* to. NOBODY would know me if I went by my legal first name.

    That doesn’t seem very social, and it certainly doesn’t seem *right* to me. Google may “have the right” to call the shots on their hardware, but that doesn’t make it *right* for them to call this shot this way.

    If celebrities and authors start turning up on Google+ with their stage and pen names intact, then we’ll see a whole new can of worms open, too. I’m actually kind of looking forward to that…

  44. Thanks for putting together the change.org petition. I called my geeks to action here: http://plusinclusive.blogspot.com/2011/07/more-important-than-sl-or-sca.html to do this: http://plusinclusive.blogspot.com/p/come-dance-729-and-every-friday.html

    I’ve been spamming obnoxiously all over G+ to get folks to participate, hoping that people in various cities, internationally, would step out on Friday and show Google we want the service, but that they are on the wrong side of cultural consensus on this one, and we want our friends back.

    It makes me insane that G+ could be so much better than FB on a policy basis, but… My faith in Google’s capacity to be not-evil is being a bit bruised by their sheer idiocy on this one. How far is it from stoopid to the banality of evil? I hope it isn’t going there…

  45. BTW, they now have removed the G+ account for GrrrlScientist as well.
    a much more mainstream scientist than me.

    And thank you for the lovely letter Erin!

  46. I think you have a case to make based on Google’s own policy:

    “To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name that your friends, family or colleagues usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr., but you normally use Charlie Jones or Junior Jones, either of those would be acceptable.”

    You have a lot of friends and colleagues online who know you exclusively as Bug Girl. It’s the name we ‘usually call you’.

    That said, the no pseudonyms policy is dumb.

  47. I hear you. I am not connecting my google plus account to my blogging account or my blog for similar reasons. One thing strikes me: google plus is pretty new. I think their policies will change with time. If not, I wonder if they will ‘out’ people where they can eventually, with or without our permissions.

  48. I think the philosophy behind this is to push people to act more responsible for their behavior on the internet. I’ve been using the social media for more then a decade now (way back to IRC for old geek timer who know about) and pseudo is an old approach that had it’s strengths and weaknesses. As an ex owner of many chat sites, including The Palace at the time, I can say that when people start to share or tag their real identity, they also start to think before publishing if I can say.

    Of course, It’s easy to use John Smith to satisfy the rule, but again, if we wish to remain consequent with the democratization of the social media network, then we shall not be cold to the idea of speaking in our real name. Besides, I’ve been around for quiet some time, using the same nickname. So over time this has became some kind of a signature that can easily lead to my real life. But again, this is a matter of safety, never – ever put online any crucial information that can lead to identity forgery. This has been the rule since the early age of Internet and this is still ongoing.

    So, using our real name instead of a nickname, yes. But it is a personal responsibility to manage what we share online.

  49. I know this is going to be an unpopular view, but I have trouble seeing any overall value in allowing pseudonyms. Sure, it has value for certain people–some of them people with a legitimate online identity like yourself and others bullies and stalkers who don’t have the courage of their convictions–but any kind of general public good? I just don’t see it. Newspapers have long declined to print anonymous letters to the editor, and while that creates the same kind of obstacle to that outlet that this policy creates to this one, it serves the purpose of making people stand by what they have to say. Your suggestion that women, people with disabilities, people with alternative sexual preferences, etc. need to be able to hide behind a fake identity in order to post freely is chilling to me. Do we really want to move in a direction where the default for anyone whose true identity is imperfect in the eyes of the public sees as the solution to create a secret identity under which he/she can be real and put up a facade to the world? Isn’t that really just sending a resounding message that it’s actually not okay to be who you are, and that forums like G+ need to protect you from people finding out all those “awful” things about you? Yes, everyone has secrets. But the way to handle that is simple: don’t talk about them in public forums if you don’t want people to know about them. Fragmenting a person into multiple personas so that an online community knows one and mom and dad know another and perhaps a different online community knows yet another isn’t helpful or protective–it’s a recipe for a whole new wave of psychological issues.

  50. Tiffany, who are you or Google to be telling someone who has a stalker that they must risk their lives in order to participate in what is obviously going to be a major online form of society? Ideally it wouldn’t be necessary, but you know what ideally it wouldn’t be dangerous for women to walk the streets at 2am, but we don’t force them to. Nor would we countenance Google telling people that either they have to walk the street at 2am, or they can’t walk Google’s streets.

    The comparison to newspapers is also entirely spurious, because newspapers are curated and average citizens don’t get a voice in what they print. If we are going to use newspapers as a standard for how closed the system should be, we might as well just cancel the interne.

  51. Tiffany:

    You have trouble seeing any overall value in allowing pseudonyms? Even after reading a post that shows how women, minorities, professionals, and people in non-democratic societies are put in harms way? Allow me offer another explanation then:


    In addition to putting people in a disadvantageous, and possibly dangerous, situation, it completely ignores the naming conventions of every other country in the world other than the US, because it is not just “pseudonyms”, but “real-sounding” names. Google is also applying their policy and their punishments inconsistently, by stating, explicitly, that we are to use the name that we go by in our daily lives but requiring government identification as proof. I haven’t gone by the name on my ID since I was a child, and my sister wasn’t even called her legal name when she *was* a child. If I were to create a profile based on my “legal name”, my friends, family, and colleagues wouldn’t know who I was.

    And that’s because I am NOT that person. I am the person whose name I choose, and that’s how the world sees me.

    Bug Girl is not advocating a position that it is not OK to be who you are, she is claiming that we are currently living in that world, and only some people have the luxury and the freedom to openly fight against it. Your position is one of extreme naivete and ignorance if you think the only people who use names that their parents didn’t assign to them are people who are trying to hide dirty secrets. Some of them are trying to talk, not about “awful things” that you don’t want people to know about, but about important things that people SHOULD know about, only the penalty for saying such things is harassment, violence, legal action, or death.

    I’m not sure what world you live in, but “fragmenting a person into multiple personas” is a common practice that people have been doing for generations before the internet. We have the “person” who we are at home, the “person” who we are at work, the “person” we are with our kids, the “person” we are with our friends, and each and every one of these people is “the real us”, but not each and every person we interact with needs to meet each of those people who makes us “us”. This isn’t a case of multiple personality disorder, this is something that most people naturally do, which is to interact in slightly different ways with different types of people, all of which is besides the main point, which is that many others are in much more danger than just their mom hearing about their sexy date on a blog post.

  52. G+ is a social gathering spot. If it does gain the popularity that Facebook has, or even exceeds it, then, Tiffany, what you are saying is that people who feel threatened are excluded, their voices not to be heard. You have shut down every corner bar, every church and synagogue, every park and corner to people who fear, or who are excluded by their employers from exercising the rights protected by the US Constitution.

    Social networking sites are not at all the same as newpapers. We are the content providers, the foundation, and the windows. We are not page 6.

    It’s bad enough the policy is as poorly written as it is — it’s worse that they enforce it in such black-and-white clerkish ways. Even genuinely legal names, with documentation proving the legality, have had their accounts suspended, simply because some clerk could not believe the name could possibly be real.

    That’s what you wish to defend, simply because a reality of life chills you?

    We don’t want to _move_ in the direction of secrecy. We have been there a long time. Did the people hiding Jews in Nazi Europe announce the names of their guests? Did early Christians hiding from Romans hang signs outside the catacombs whenever they held services?

    I have been several personas for many long years. This is not a difficulty. I do not live by being a name; I live as an individual who knows how to live the different aspects of her life, be it a member of a church, a parent, a co-worker, or a friend, in the best possible way to suit my needs and the needs of those who interact with me. A corporation does not have the right to tell me the best way that may be.

    If G+ bans people based on the “realness” of their names, they may as well be banning them based on the color of their skin.

  53. I really hope Google comes to its senses on this. Yours were amongst the first articles I shared when I got on G+. I’ve admired you deeply since getting into skeptic circles, even if you did recently post something about my deepest phobia that rendered me unable to look at Skepchick for days while the photo lingered (*shudder*gack*). Because I’d rather have you in my circles and run the risk of you posting that which terrifies me than have you silenced.

    Will spread the petition. Let’s all shove Google to the sensible side of things…

  54. Does it bother no one else that the petition site linked to has *FOUR* google-related scripts involved?

    When I went to see why the site wasn’t working for me, NoScript tells me that google.com, gstatic.com, googleapis.com, and google-analytics.com are among the scripts being blocked.

    So I guess Google will know *exactly* who’s signing, even if you uncheck “display my name”!

    (They won’t know me, though, because short of allowing all ELEVEN scripts to run, the site doesn’t work for me. Apparently, I can’t want a pseudonym unless it comes with Facebook ads…)

  55. “Ok, that title is way over the top to get your attention. BUT…”

    Ok, I’m out.

    I think you have a valid topic to discuss, but this kind of blatant attention grabbing via an inflammatory title is just skanky. It should make any skeptic feel dirty since this is what the “other side” does all the time.

    If you have a valid point to make, make it. Don’t resort to cheap attention grabbing.

  56. Forgot to say:

    Thank you to gekko — you said what I wanted to say, and much more concisely.

    Essentially, Tiffany, I think what many pseudonymous users see is this: It isn’t a choice between secrecy and openness. It’s a choice between secrecy and exclusion. Putting your real identity out there isn’t going to stop other people from harassing you; it only makes the chance of harassment becoming dangerous higher.

    It would be *nice* if everyone could have free and open conversations about every topic under the sun, without controversy or acrimony. It’s not, however, currently possible. The thing that’s stopping it is not the “open” part; we already *can* reveal personal information online. The problem is that there’s not a way to prevent anyone — from an angry ex-boyfriend to an anti-abortion zealot who’s never met you before — from acting on that personal information in meatspace.

    If it were not for pseudonyms, I would never have:

    learned that I was childfree, and that that was OKAY (even though my family disagrees, strongly);
    learned that I was asexual, and wasn’t alone;
    learned that girls can read and watch pr0n, and there’s nothing wrong with them;
    learned how to spot and escape a skeevy online predator;
    developed a nascent interest in social justice and particularly women’s issues;
    met several people whom I now know in meatspace as well;
    met somebody who shared one of my hobbies;
    written stories for internet friends;
    been part of a fannish community without fearing for my employment status;
    found resources for dealing with my own body-image and gender issues;
    been able to help others with issues ranging from pregnancy to identity to depression, through honest and personal advice.

  57. I prefer women myself. Men annoy me. Meanwhile, if I change my name to ? like the guy who sang for the Mysterians or to an unpronounceable symbol like Prince did for a few years, what then?

  58. *signed*

    many of the reasons quoted pro “real names” have merit. The collateral damage inflicted by this policy is huge, though, and not worth the perceived advantages. Its mostly just “convenience”. Winning convenience through hurting those who are in some cases already hurt or in danger – or restricting their creative freedom – is a bad deal. Always!

  59. Very interesting discussion. I think that there are definitely two legitimate interests butting heads here; the desire to remain anonymous to protect yourself, and the need to protect a community that may come under attack from people that hide behind pseudonyms. It’s possible that the Google policy is a legal necessity, does anyone with a legal background know if that’s the case?

    Another thing to keep in mind is that G+ is still a beta, and policies like this one are probably still in the formative stage. Let’s hope that in the end they get it right.

  60. You know, I don’t think Google is asking you to out yourself publicly and I don’t think they are telling you that you shouldn’t participate on line using a Persona. I think they are just saying, “not yet.” The trial, and g+ is still in beta, is clearly for individuals, not businesses and not personas. Not yet. They haven’t opened up g+ accounts for businesses yet because they, presumably, will be different from individual accounts and hallelujah for that. I think people who use pseudo-names should have a different kind of account like businesses should have different kind of account than individual accounts. Why is it so horrible for Google to ask you not to sign up for an account at this time if you are a business or are using a pseudo-name? Is it so horrible that they are asking for only individual accounts for this trial period?

  61. BTW, just now, prior to commenting, your very own blog asked me for my email address and name and said they were required.

  62. I like the (recent) title of the post – reminds me of Ophelia Benson’s book.

    Another problem is that google (at least the persons in charge for this mess) seems not to be aware about a few technical problems with names (they even harasseded a german for having a ß (eszet) as not being ASCII – he was allowed back in after he misspelled his name with ss).

    So everybody at least slightly technically inclined please go read this:

  63. My employer is a large public university system, which maintains a publicly searchable staff directory. This means that if I don’t use a nym online, anyone who gets annoyed with me for any reason can find out where I work, the location of my office, and the name of my supervisor.

  64. On the same subject:
    “How the internet created an age of rage
    The worldwide web has made critics of us all. But with commenters able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity, the blog and chatroom have become forums for hatred and bile”

  65. Ana Félix Pires July 25, 2011 at 5:50 am

    They’ll come around hopefully. They required your gender (male/female) at first too, and have since changed it. Signing the petition and sending some feedback now. :)

  66. Rhonda–this blog requires a working email, and if you want to put your name as “Anastasia VonBeaverhausen” that is fine by me.
    In fact, if you want me to go back and change your name to something more anonymous, I will happily do that.

    I collect that info because I do, occasionally get threats that are helpful to trace to an email and an IP.

  67. norwegica–I read that article, and I found it really unconvincing.
    As I said in this post, that sort of environment persists because forum owners don’t hold people accountable for what is said, or take any responsibility for having a civil environment. YouTube is a classic example–never read the comments.
    People have always said and done nasty stuff–we just now have a record of it that makes it public. I see people make threats using their real names and employers emails all the time.

    I don’t think it’s about names, it’s about lack of consequences for bad actions.

  68. I’ve read this post and subsequent comments with real interest. I can completely understand Bug Girl’s perspective and I absolutely agree with the need for privacy. I think perhaps one problem might be that for every legitimate and talented blogger or important voice that needs to stand behind a pseudonym, there are a dozen or more marketers, spammers and trolls.

    There are, of course, cyber-bullies and those who target others, and I can understand how so many of the victims will be women. Women are by far more likely to be intimidated in the real world, so I am unsurprised that it sadly occurs on the internet as well. I would argue however that bullies and trolls are (probably) less likely to commit such abuses if they are unable to hide behind a pseudonym themselves. Not that this removes the problem but I think many of the statements made here have been made within the context of other virtual environments, and not within Google+ itself.

    Before reading this blog I fully supported the stand Google took in allowing only named individuals but I can see how this blanket rule can have such negative effects. Google have been idealistic in assuming that everyone would be happy to commit to being ‘themselves’ on their network. Surely though equality would mean men and women could post as themselves without fear of intimidation or bullying? (or at least it would according to many of the arguments so far made here) Regardless of this, Google need to allow legitimate voices to be heard and it’s wrong that this policy discriminates against those voices.

  69. Absolutely and definitely think pseudonyms should be allowed.

    Trouble is . . . I tried to sign the petition but postal address is a required field. I’m happy to give my email address but not my postal one . . . part of the same issue! Does this also mean that only people not using pseudonyms can campaign for pseudonyms to be allowed?

    There seem to be an awful lot of really horrid people who use their real names . . . and masses of really nice people who prefer pseudonyms. Which one uses has no automatic bearing on content. All daft. All very frustrating!

  70. […] means for “women, LGBT folk, and civil servants.” You can read Bug Girl’s post here. It got me thinking about when anonymity serves women’s interests well–the recent […]

  71. Bug Girl, I’m OK with my name being publicly displayed but thank you for offering. I do understand what it’s like to feel the need to hide. I’ve been stalked, threatened, beaten and bloodied more than just a time or two this lifetime.. I used to hide and I probably still would if my name weren’t so generic. I honestly think I married this last guy just for the anonymous last name and I plan on keeping this last name even if I ever re-marry.
    I don’t think the Googlers thought through their policies very well before implementing them but I don’t think they are haters. I trust that they are listening to the legitimate reasons for using pseudo-names and I trust that they will adjust their policies accordingly. But please, let us all be understanding too. G+ is still in beta and they are not allowing businesses yet. They did not allow Pete Cashmore to keep the name Mashable. They required him to use his first and last name on his account instead of using Mashable. https://plus.google.com/101849747879612982297/posts
    In this trial period they have asked for individual human beings representing themselves to test the platform before it goes public. Can we be understanding about this? Can we understand that in this part of the trial phase, Google is working out the kinks and there may be bumps in the road, like this pseudo-name thing, but that doesn’t mean that they are haters or that they are insisting that you out yourself?

  72. Um, I don’t think they are “haters.” I said in the first sentence that I was deliberately exaggerating.
    However, Google has adopted a policy that we know historically disadvantages women and other groups. Google has several major social media fails in the past where exactly those same groups were harmed. To not see this issue coming, and treat it seriously, is a major problem.

    Their price of my participating IS that I outmyself. To not participate means that I am excluded from a community that is rapidly growing. I want to participate, but not enough to potential lose my job or be stalked.

  73. Rhonda, do you know whether they’ve turned the pseudonym pogrom bot off?
    Stopping the squashing would demonstrate some level of understanding, IMHO.

  74. Tony heskett, I have no idea. I don’t have any inside information. I don’t work for Google, I don’t have any personal friends who work for Google. I don’t mean to be a Google apologist either. I just understand that G+ is still in beta and that it was clear to me when I signed up that their intentions, so far, for this round of testing, are for individual people to sign up as themselves. I was tempted myself to set up a couple of accounts using domain names that I have, like fan pages on Facebook, but it became clear to me right away that, that was NOT what Google wanted from this phase of the beta test so I didn’t set those up. If I had, I would probably have been suspended or deleted too.
    Bug Girl, I understand your point of view. I do. I also understand the real name policy for now. Not forever. I fully have faith that they will come up with a solution. Just like I have faith that they will, at some point, allow me to create pseudo-names to represent my blogs. Just not yet. I would love to be able to participate as Redneck Yogini on this fast growing social network. That is one of my domain names, RedneckYogini.com. But I have to wait to do that, just like everyone else who wants to use a pseudo-name or a business name.

  75. Or, we can advocate for a change, and be successful–as, you pointed out (I think it was you?) people were successful in getting the gender snafu fixed.

    If you don’t ask, the answer is always no :)

  76. It wasn’t me who pointed out that people were successful getting the gender snafu fixed. However, I am in agreement. I agree we should advocate for allowing the use of pseudo-names. I want to be able to use them too, like I said. I guess my point is, if you want to be understood, try being understanding. And you catch more flies with honey, and all that.

    I am looking forward to the time when you are welcomed back to G+. I will be adding you to one of my circles of interesting people to follow. From the beginning I fully expected the use of pseudo-names to be allowed at a later date. If, for some reason, Google does not allow the use of pseudo-names, ever, I will be shocked and disappointed. And then, I will be outraged and bang on pots and pans and call for heads to roll and all of that.

    In the mean time, there are personal friends and family of mine that I have not invited to g+ yet specifically because they are old fashioned and fearful and not willing to put their names out there. Like I said, I fully expect Google to come up with a solution. I have from the beginning. Maybe my faith is misplaced. I guess that remains to be seen.

    For now, I’m following your blog. Nice to meet you, Bug Girl.

  77. Online your identity is a potential weapon that can be used against you. Equally anonymity can be used to damage others.
    As with all weapons, there needs to be some kind of control. The identity of the user needs to be known somewhere. But who watches the watchmen?

  78. If I am not mistaken (an and I probably am) Facebook had a similar policy which was so frequently circumvented by people tricking them that it has become defacto nullified. Anybody know the story with facebook?

  79. I know you can’t see this because, well,they threw you off and stuff, but here’s an interesting comment on my posting of your blog post on google+, from Doug Alder:

    “Greg – somewhere today (sorry can’t remember where) I saw a report on an interview with someone senior in Google who said they were working on this. They are trying to make + more “reliable” as it were than Facebook. They will be allowing aliases eventually it seems”

  80. Chris complained the title of this post is inflammatory. Fair enough. That is a valid criticism.
    I drew a complete blank that afternoon when floundering for a title that would convey that google had, once again, implemented a policy that would harm women and LGBT folks.

  81. Actually, Greg, once I activated my second appeal, Google+ lets me see everything again–I just can’t participate. Also, oddly enough, at least 3 or 4 people a day are adding me to a circle ;p

  82. Tom of the Sweetwater Sea July 26, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Google: what are you going to do in place like Iran, Kenya, or China where expressing an opinion may result in torture or imprisonment? There are even instances in western democracies where expressing a reasoned, rational opinion can result in retribution.

  83. Ok, I’m out.

    I think you have a valid topic to discuss, but this kind of blatant attention grabbing via an inflammatory title is just skanky. It should make any skeptic feel dirty since this is what the “other side” does all the time.

    If you have a valid point to make, make it. Don’t resort to cheap attention grabbing.

    Run away and take your ball with you!!!!

    Title concern trolling …. lovely.

    Chris, the title is not even slightly inflammatory. Do the people at google+ hate women? Don’t know. Does Google Corp hate women? Don’t know. Does the policy of access to private data that they’ve instituted harm the ability of women, LGBT-activists, political activists, others, to get involved in what is probably an important social medium under the not very uncommon condition that the only way to get involved is to have anonymity (via pseudonymous naming)? Yes.

    In modern internet parlance, the question “does Google+ hate women” fits the bill perfectly. I’m concerned, however, over your concern. Your concern is way too OT to be just about tone. Is there something you’re not telling us? Some larger point you want to make? Were you frightened, as an infant in the cradle, by a pseudonymous cat or something?

    Oh, wait, we’ll never know, because when you got upset about the title you yelled at Bug and went home with your marbles. I just hope you didn’t lose any of them on the way.

  84. Thank you for that morning coffee-nose snort, Greg :D

  85. Anon For This if G+ is watching July 26, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Is it just me, or is “skanky” a gendered insult? I’ve never heard that word applied to a man.

  86. I think so long as this isn’t an end to the conversation, but a beginning, it is exactly the right move at the right time: Google+ is in beta, and they are going to try to work out problems. Part of that has to be identifying the problems its users tell it exist, like this one with pseudonyms. Another, the one that is keeping me off Google + for now, is the non-integration with Google Apps accounts. A third, the one that Google itself has pointed to in order to slow business users down, is the lack of support for business accounts like Facebook Pages (this is also related to my own problem and to the pseudonym problem).

    I’ve written about my own problem, let Google know about it, and if they’d like my participation in this program, then they’ll take that information and change the site. If they decide they don’t want my participation (as an Apps user, or as a business profile) then they won’t change the site. If they decide, after reading your point of view, that they don’t want users who fear stalkers or bullies, then they won’t change the site. I can’t believe that they would ignore any of these problems, though. They want the users; they’re just going to have to balance that against whatever differentiation they’re trying to accomplish against Facebook and Twitter.

    I can wait for a while, but not forever, and the louder people are during beta the more likely we are to see changes for the public version.

  87. Yes, Google’s stupid idea.

    But people who don’t need to be on G+ or have good reasons not to be (and FB perhaps) can build their “circles” on an other system.

    I choosed diasp.org which won’t sell your datas or use them for any commercial use, which is a distribited system (you can host your own datas on your own server, I did not started it but…).

    At now quite few people on diasp but it may be our goal to make it comfortable, no ?

    My page on diasp : https://diasp.org/aspects

    Yo can see that it is quite hermitic compared to FB and G+ but it’s young, still under developpement, and it works.

  88. No, Google doesn’t hate women. They just *love* advertisers.

    I don’t anticipate harm from my own participation in G+, even without pseudonyms. But that just shows how privileged I am. Google+ is one privilege I can (and will) live without. Likewise gmail, gthis, and gthat.

    Thank you, Bug Girl, for the quality of your thinking and writing.

  89. It seems Google is also following the ‘one user, one account’ policy :(

  90. […] first article to really call my attention to the pseudonym issue was Bug Girl’s blog post. I credit Bug Girl’s over-the-top title for grabbing my attention. (Normally I am not a fan […]

  91. Signed, as I totally agree – there are very few (if any) legitimate reasons to ban pseudonyms, and thousands of reasons to allow them.

  92. Im using a psedonim, and nothing happened.
    Anyways, it seams they’re thinking about it, remember google+ is still a trial version.

  93. Exactly the point of making a fuss now, when it can still be changed. (and also indicative of how the rules are not applied uniformly!)

  94. I find it fascinating that for the past 20 years, we have been told ‘be careful about giving out personal information on the internet’… ‘don’t give out your real name… you never know who is looking’… ‘protect yourself from horrible things, by using pseudonyms’.

    Now we are being told that we HAVE to, if we want to continue playing in the pool.

    Now we will, without a thought, invite perfect strangers to be ‘friends’ who have access to OUR information and all of our friends and family, all in the name of getting more ‘neighbors’ for facebook games.

  95. I have a friend whose family name is ‘Woodcock’. He’s been banned from AOL before, when they were busy banning breasts from nursing mothers, among other things.

    How exactly are these rules supposed to work?

  96. I agree with you about the pseudonyms on-line; I’ve been stalked, I’ve been attacked, I definitely don’t want to link my real name with any social network. As it were, I used the first initial of my first and last name to represent me on-line with G+. I invited over a hundred people the first day I received my invitation and got the ball bouncing. Then, a month after I have my account, I’m hit with a notification stating my account violates the naming policy. If I did not submit to their naming policy of revealing my name, then I would be forced to lose all of my Google services with exception to my e-mail. They linked me to their data services to collect my information off those services if I wasn’t in accordance to their policy and gave me one attempt to reset my name.

    Did I?

    Hell no.

    I gave them the same name I gave Facebook when it started to slip up on the privacy standards and creeps began to pop up again just after I started feeling safe on the internet. I’ve told people numerous times how easy it is to locate someone’s address, phone number, e-mail, work location, and the sort with just their name. In fact, Blizzard had an employee that said pseudonyms weren’t necessary, real names couldn’t give people enough information to stalk you. Within a few minutes, people responded to his post under his real name with his work phone number, personal e-mail, address, names of his family, and so forth.

    The point, in my example of the same strategy applied on random forums to counter the belief pseudonyms aren’t necessary, is that if I can find the average, everyday Joe Smoe’s cell phone number and leave a text saying ‘Found you – here’s how’ with a link to the website that produced their information for free, then what makes anyone think a stalker (who knows how to use the available searches on-line) isn’t?

    I wont give you my e-mail, I wont even give you a moniker I’ve used before, but silently, I’ll tell you, Bug Girl, you have my support and I’ve just followed you on twitter.

  97. […] brand becomes less sociable and less valuable. The policy is already being described as racist and sexist; it’s also clearly dangerous to some disadvantaged […]

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