Identity and Online Advocacy

What’s in a name: Real name policy’s impact on online privacy and safety

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to examine how real-name policies influence and affect online self-presentation. I will argue that digital platforms restrict identity play by administering authentic name policies that jeopardise the safety and privacy of online users. This paper examines Facebook’s history of identity construction and privacy breaches as well as analysing how Google Plus’ ban on pseudonyms ultimately led to its demise. Authentic online identity enforcement produces power imbalances which negatively impedes how users can perform and develop self on social network sites.

Keywords: authentic identity, real-name web, pseudonymity, self-presentation, online privacy

Since the rise of social network sites (SNS), the construction and performance of online identity has drastically evolved from valuing anonymity and pseudonymity into requiring a single, real name. Currently many digital platforms including, but not limited to, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft apply a real-name system that pushes towards the use of legal names. These authentic name policies influence and affect how individuals self-present their online identity, due to a breakdown and lack of personal privacy. By presenting anonymity as a safety issue, SNS can enforce the notion of integrity to consolidate online identities which undermines users’ ability to manage and protect personal information across diverse social circles and contexts. Online platforms such as Facebook and Google limit representations of self and compromise the privacy and safety of individuals through their authentic identity philosophy.

At present, SNS have ubiquitously grown to become dominant social platforms, which “allow individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system” and provide an index of “other users with whom they share a connection with” (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Prevalent social platforms function as a type of networked public (boyd, 2010) due to four significant attributes including: persistency, replicability, scalability and searchability (p.7). Thus, the development of online identities is irrefutably linked with networked publics which continually influence how communities and individuals engage and participate. Therefore, the reality that a profile on a SNS will outlive its owner is very probable because of the persistence of search engine index data (Helmond, 2010, p. 20). Although, in everyday life it is normally accepted that people intentionally present versions of self for differing private and public audiences, where context is determined by a particular time and space. No performance of self represents a complete picture of personal identity since individuals choose to disclose or withhold personal information relevant to a specific and bounded context. However, networked publics erases all boundaries and makes information available from anywhere and at any time, which leaves Internet users with collapsed contexts, invisible audiences, and a blurring of public and private (boyd, 2010, p.10). Performing identity online requires continual effort and modification to ensure control over self-expression and representation in unmanageable settings since SNS distorts the social dynamics of privacy.

Performative online self-presentation is constantly in flux because of the technical affordances of SNS as well as the differing audiences since “each [SNS] serves a different purpose and has different user demographics” (Helmond, 2010 p. 17). However, since the Internet collapses contexts, performances of identity can be easily compounded and presented alongside one another through a common identifier like one’s real name. Hogan (2013, p.300) asserts that individuals who apply their real name in their SNS profile have no control over segmentation of often conflicting social roles (such as personal and professional personas) because of context collapse. Invisible audiences also play significant role in shaping self-presentation since “one’s identity is collaboratively constructed by a person along with their online audience” (Haimson & Hoffmann, 2016). Online spaces are mediated environments that have allowed individuals to express and play with their identity by performing multiple and complex selves because “identity is not a singular thing; identity is a role people play, that shifts as audience and other contextual factors shift” (van der Nagel & Frith, 2015). Static identity cannot exist due to ongoing human development that naturally occurs as individuals age, gain knowledge and experience life events. Rather, authentic identity is prone to change over time due to the performative nature of self-expression and identity construction. Online identities exist in a tandem relationship and is mutually created by individual’s self-presentation as well as through numerous networks and user-generated content. This relationship depicts identity as always under construction and presents partial fragments of self which complicates the notion of a single authentic identity, especially in the era of networked publics.

Facebook is the world’s largest SNS with 2.8 billion monthly active users (Facebook, 2021b). It’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg notably leads the debate surrounding the real-name web since “[Facebook’s] use of real names was not an afterthought but a core part of the site from its very inception” (Kirkpatrick 2010a, as cited in Hogan, 2013). The site intentionally parallels the model of administrative identity, by verifying an identity as real through sanctioned established institutional structures such as universities and governments (Haimson and Hoffmann, 2016). As stipulated on Facebook’s name policy page, individuals are required to “use the same name on Facebook that they use in everyday life” (Facebook, 2021a). If a profile is thought to be “fake”, users must provide identity documentation that confirms their “real” name; approved documents include providing one government ID such as birth certificates or driver’s licenses or two non-government IDs such as a bank statement, medical record, school ID card or utility bill (Facebook, 2021a). Although, Facebook’s real name policy is inconsistent as the SNS requests that individuals use an authentic and identifiable name but also imposes constraints that unfairly targets marginalised users’ accounts as inauthentic (Haimson and Hoffmann, 2016). Facebook’s paradoxical naming policy further displays how authentic self-presentation is regulated and ultimately socially constructed through dominant ideology. This contradiction further expands into everyday real-world situations like shopping, partying, and dining out where individuals communicate without the obligation of using their real name (van der Nagel & Frith, 2015). Thus, Facebook’s authentic identity philosophy requires a singular and integrated version of self, however, this type of authenticity is only enforced for online spaces and does not transfer into the offline world.

Since the introduction of Facebook’s Timeline profile in 2011, the SNS has pushed the idea of narrative identity by implementing a chronological story of one’s life from present to the past on a single page (Rothman, 2011). Brusseau (2019) reports that Facebook’s Timeline ultimately creates identity unification by “actively connect[ing] memories with the present” which “psychologically guarantees an integrity of selfhood”. During Facebook’s 2011 profile update, the site automatically set all users’ previous posts to public, which caused user profiles to “become more public than before the feature was implemented” (Van Dijck, 2013, p. 206). Facebook has an ongoing and troubling history of breaching privacy, failing to protect user’s personal data, and exposing users to safety risks, for example the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal (Isaak & Hanna, 2018). Consequently, the Timeline feature pushed users into presenting their public persona in a standardised and uniformed approach that has all but eradicated freedom of online presentation. Facebook’s shift to a singular real-name identity is premised by the company as keeping you and the community safe (Facebook, 2021a), however, Van Dijck (2013) explains how SNS have a vested interest for requiring a singular authentic online identity since “advertisers want users’ ‘truthful’ data” (p.200). In the past decade since, Facebook has enacted harmful and exploitative policies centred around the power of personal data as a commodity (Dance, LaForgia & Confessore, 2018) and the “online self as a standardized tradable product” (Van Dijck, 2013, p.201). This notion of economic gain begs the question as to whether authentic identity and real-name policies are intended to truly benefit individuals and communities in regard to online safety.

Following the new norm set by Facebook’s authentic identity policy, Google launched their own SNS in 2011. However, Google’s naming policy extended one step further than Facebook’s by requiring and enforcing individuals who sign up to use their “full first and last name in a single language” (Google, 2011 as citied in Hogan, 2013, p.291). Accounts that did not meet Google’s high naming standards, including the use of nicknames, handles, pseudonyms, and mononyms were flagged, suspended, or even deleted (Blue, 2011). Google’s approach prompted outrage amongst several influential communities who strongly argued against the use of real names and questioned the limits it placed on identity (York, 2011). Social media scholar danah boyd (2012, p.30) explains that Google’s choice to restrict frequently used pseudonyms as well as their failure to build a trustworthy sharing environment ultimately led to the widespread backlash. Google’s chairperson Eric Schmidt notably commented about the SNS real-name policy, expressing that Google+ was built as an identity service (boyd 2012; Hill, 2011). Schmidt’s justification highlights how Google prioritised their business pursuits over users’ appeals for identity play and exposed the company’s “deeper ideological and economic interest at stake in online identity formation” (Van Dijck, 2013, p.210).

Three years after launching, Google ultimately overturned their real-name policy by announcing that “there are no more restrictions on what name you can use” (Google, 2014, as citied in Blue, 2014) and issued an apology to their online community. However, Google+ failed to win back users’ trust and eventually announced the shutdown of the SNS in 2018 citing “low usage and challenges involved in maintaining a successful product that meets consumers’ expectations” (Google, 2019). Google’s attempt at establishing a SNS based on real names proves that pseudonymity is significant for online identity practices, which communities not only expect, but deeply value.

In response to the spread of the real-name web (Hogan, 2013), there has been a collective push towards the acceptance of pseudonymity on online platforms. Many Internet scholars and advocates oppose the ubiquitous use of real-name policies which often challenge an individual’s right to security and privacy. Dimond, et al. (2011, as citied in Haimson and Hoffmann, 2016) argues that pseudonymity and anonymity is essential “for mitigating the risks of monitoring, harassment, impersonation, and stalking afforded by SNSs”. Similarly, van der Nagel and Frith (2015) claim that pseudonyms “enable people to protect their safety and security by exerting agency over their social situation”. Pearson (2009) further suggests that digital platforms who embrace multiple performances of online identity protects individuals and networks right to privacy. Having an option to choose anonymity allows individuals to control how and who they self-disclose information to. This freedom in turns provides safety by disconnecting identifiable information which truly allows individuals to express their identity without harm and authentically. boyd (2011) claims that restricting the use of pseudonyms generally weakens people’s safety and does not guarantee the safety of those who are most vulnerable. Anonymity and pseudonyms enable individuals to control and choose how they disclose personal informational without adverse risk which enables them to authentically express identity online.

Christopher Poole, the creator of the Internet forum 4chan and who has publicly denounced Facebook’s real-name policy, states that “anonymity is authenticity [as] it allows you to share in a completely unvarnished, raw way” (Poole, 2011, as cited in Hogan, 2013, p.292). Thus, regardless of if an individual uses an alias or their real name, all performances of self are authentic in a specific context since “authenticity [is] socially constructed” (Peterson, 2005) and “informed by discourse, social norms, and cultural standards and practices” (Haimson & Hoffmann, 2016). Online identity is a fluid performance in flux because of the nature of the Internet which is “always under construction, never finished, networked, user-generated, distributed and persistent” (Helmond, 2010, p. 3). Facebook’s notion of authentic self directs real-world pressure against users with complex, changing, or non-normative identities by enforcing an inflexible and authoritative real-name policy. Haimson and Hoffmann (2016) contend that “authenticity depends greatly on context and that any static or absolute conception of authenticity should be resisted”. Real-name policies symbolise a power struggle between SNS and their users to manage and influence personal information which is masked under arguments of keeping communities safe and kerbing anti-social behaviour.

This paper has outlined how the notion of authentic identity questions the intent behind SNS implementation of real name policies which overtly exposes the safety and privacy of online users. Online platforms operate under the guise that authentic self-presentations protect individuals and communities alike, however, this assertion often compromises users’ safety by denying non-normative identities and exposing personal data. Real-name policies produce power imbalances between users’ and SNS who have contradictory goals in relation to shaping and managing online identity in networked publics. By defining and analysing Facebook’s history of identity construction and ongoing breaches of privacy, this paper draws the conclusion that authentic presentations of identity cannot be limited to and extends beyond real-name policies. The recent growth in popularity of faceless and virtual online personas, demonstrates the importance of alternate depictions of identity and is a notable area for further research. SNS have set the precedent for online communication and representations of identity, and without further flexibility of real-name policies and acceptance of pseudonyms, individuals will continue to be limited by a unified identity that imposes an authoritative notion of authenticity.


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14 thoughts on “What’s in a name: Real name policy’s impact on online privacy and safety

  1. What an interesting topic. I totally agree that websites shouldn’t force users to use their “real name” and that the idea of your legal name being the only authentic expression of self is super problematic. I’m approaching this from the context of being someone who changed their legal name, and for a while I was going by Silas whilst still being legally called my old name. Was my participation on social media at that time inauthentic because I was using a different name than the one on my birth certificate? It seems like a bit of a ridiculous notion when you put it into practise, and I really dislike Facebook’s “real name” requirements.

    I really enjoyed reading your work, thanks for sharing Karla.

    1. Hi Silas,
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my paper. I absolutely don’t believe that any participation is ‘inauthentic’ due to the fact that that name does not match a person’s birth certificate. Comparable to your own experience, my dad has used an alternate first name for the past 40 years in almost every aspect of his life, both offline and online. While he’s never legally changed it, many people are surprised that the name he introduces himself by is not in fact his birth name. What frustrates me the most is that because his pseudonymous name follows Western practices, he’s never had any issues with Facebook’s real-name policy, but this is not the case for many other users with marginalized or non-normative identities. Facebook preaches an authentic identity philosophy that is not reflected when they ask users to confirm their ID if their account has been flagged or does not meet the platforms name requirements. I think authenticity originates from a deeper place holistically than the name that is attached to online profiles and content. I believe that names can be dynamic and genuine at the same time and that the shift to forced real names coincides with a loss of authentic expression. Based off your experience, do you think you felt less or more authentic while in the process of changing your legal name?

  2. Hey Karla,

    Nicely written and interesting paper!

    Regarding privacy concerns, I’m a big believer in that the collection of personal data by SNSs or big online tech corporations has some major inherent problems, namely that it is useful for social engineering towards possible undesirable directions, but also that when done by governments, or when this data ends up in government hands, it has dangerous authoritarian possibilities. As your paper highlights, and you have mentioned on my own papers stream, this isn’t good. For a warning look at where the power of this data can go, China’s social credit system (Wong & Dobson, 2019), a possibility anywhere that vast amounts of personal information is given away freely on SNSs. Innocuously this is used for marketing purposes, but that marketing can go many steps further towards subtly influencing spheres of thinking and control.

    I feel pseudonymity is a great concept that should continue to be allowed, but I’ve recently been struggling with the idea of total anonymity, after watching the HBO documentary series Q: Into the Storm, about 8chan and the weird phenomena of Qanon (Good series I recommend if you haven’t seen it). A product of anonymity is that while people are less inhibited and freer in managing their performance of identity, this also can lead to hate groups perpetuating and reinforcing themselves in the seclusion of their online space. This is by and large rare, and a question I ask myself is, does it mean that the concept of anonymity doesn’t work? I’m not sure, but it does seem to me that the issues inherent with it are reflective of issues in physical world society. Most of the discussions around our activity online, and the issues therein, don’t exist in a separate vacuum and are directly related to physical world phenomena.

    Obviously in this unit we are a group of people that are perhaps naturally critical of—or at least through our studies have delved deeper into the ideas and implications of—SNS use. For the majority of their users, who perhaps do not consider these implications, do you think that online activity is viewed as sort of inconsequential? As in, that it exists separately from the real world and almost game like in its inputs and rewards.
    As, total anonymity doesn’t really work for a social system where the main usage is for friends to find each other and form online connection— to begin to iron out privacy issues, should a SNS be totally passive in its collection of personal data? And then perhaps all information that a user contributes placed firmly and wholly within their own control to mediate and remove, edit and evolve at their will?




    Wong, K. L. X., & Dobson, A. S. (2019). We’re just data: Exploring China’s social credit system in relation to digital platform ratings cultures in Westernised democracies. Global Media and China, 4(2), 220-232. doi:10.1177/2059436419856090

    1. Hi Sam,
      Thank you for reading and engaging with my paper. I am in complete agreeance with you regarding the collection of personal data even for marketing purposes as I think the practice sets a dangerous precedence. China’s social credit system demonstrates the full extent and reach of big data and as you stated, has the authority to influence spheres of thinking and control. For democratic countries like Australia, I think privacy concerns are just the tip of the iceberg because ultimately the loss of privacy equates to less freedom. Personally, over the past decade I’ve felt a loss of self-expression online due the continual pressure to publicly present my identity via the use of my real name. The growth of Facebook has not helped that feeling as their dominate presence has dictated the social networking landscape which had led to the normalisation of real-name policies. Why are first and last names such a significant requirement when signing up to a digital service?
      I have not heard about the HBO series Q: Into the Storm, although it sounds right up my alley and I’ve added it to my watch list – thanks for the suggestion. I think that total anonymity is mostly unachievable because everyone creates a digital footprint (Weaver & Gahegan, 2007). Your best bet is to stay off the Internet if you truly want to be anonymous. However, to answer your question I think anonymity does work. Having the choice to detach your real name online allows us to try new things or express ideas without being judged and the best way of looking at it is as intentional anonymity vs. inferential anonymity (Ohm, 2009). Just like in the physical world, there are many intentional reasons as to why someone may opt to be anonymous online. While I agree that there are inherent issues such as anonymous hate groups, I don’t think it’s fair to rule out anonymity just because it is abused by a minority of users.
      I do very much feel that online activity is viewed as inconsequential. I think this quote by scholar John Suler (as cited in Lufkin, 2017) perfectly summaries my viewpoint.

      “People tend to think of cyberspace as some kind of imaginary space without true boundaries, a space not to be taken too seriously – not subject to the same rules and standards as the ‘real’ world”.

      While I do understand that SNS operate as a ‘free’ service, I don’t think that SNS should be allowed to collect personal data and that there has to be a better trade-off that is mutually beneficial. Exchanging personal details allows individuals to connect to with other like minds, however, the trade shouldn’t be a cost or detriment to users who feel they have to weigh up their need for social relationships/belonging against online safety – noting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I believe an answer lies somewhere in the middle of SNS being totally passive and handing over full control over to users. SNS are private companies and I accept that they can mandate their rules (I stand by the Donald Drumpf ban) but I encourage SNS to take a step back and listen to their users so they can sustain more flexible and transparent self-presentations.

      Lufkin, B. (2017). In today’s hyper-connected world, it is becoming harder and harder for anyone to maintain their privacy. Is it time we just gave up on the idea altogether?
      Ohm, P. (2009). Broken promises of privacy: Responding to the surprising failure of anonymization. UCLA l. Rev., 57, 1701.
      Weaver, S. D., & Gahegan, M. (2007). Constructing, visualizing, and analyzing a digital footprint. Geographical Review, 97(3), 324-350.

  3. Hi Karla,

    This was an informative paper on an important topic. I have many issues with Facebook, and found it interesting to read more in depth on the enforcement of real names over FB and Google+. Real name use online is something I grapple with as a necessity in my arts career. I’m aware I have a digital shadow, and that doesn’t always sit comfortably with my own private nature.

    Recently I’ve been doing a lot of research on Tumblr, and how the site’s prevalence of pseudonymity has fostered a supportive space for minority and LGBTQIA+ users. I think it’s important to consider that having a pseudonymous profile allows users to perform and explore aspects of self online they wouldn’t feel comfortable or safe doing if attached to a ‘real name’.


    Further reading on Tumblr, pseudonymity and LGBTQIA+ community if interested:
    McCracken, A. (2017). Tumblr Youth Subcultures and Media Engagement. Cinema Journal, 57(1), 151-162.
    Cavalcante, A. (2019). Tumbling Into Queer Utopias and Vortexes: Experiences of LGBTQ Social Media Users on Tumblr. Journal of Homosexuality, 66(12), 1715-1735.

    1. Hi Kristen,
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my paper. I identify with your struggles and I personally hate that users like yourself must contend with the Facebook’s enforcement of real name to participate in so many crucial social and economic activities. It really concerns me that so many users don’t feel comfortable to provide and express their complete identity even though the platform heavily advocates for an ‘authentic’ online community and it makes me question if the platform’s hypocritical standards will ever change.
      I’m so glad that you’ve bought up Tumblr because I wholeheartly agree and think that the site is one of the most supportive digital spaces for identity play. I was an avid user of Tumblr back in the day and found the site to be fundamental in the exploration my own identity. I found that I could communicate all facets of identity without limitations and could completely control the presentation and style and I definitely felt more comfortable expressing intimate personal details on Tumblr than any other SNS because I could detach my real name. Have you personally used Tumblr, if so how has your experience been?
      Thank you for the further reading links on Tumblr, pseudonymity and LGBTQIA+ community, I’m looking forward to learning more.

  4. Hi Karla,

    This was one of the better written, researched and structured papers I’ve read all conference and was very interesting to read, so well done on that. Your topic is very relevant and was great to read your thoughts on identity and anonymity in online spaces.

    I am of the view that most current SNS have gone past the point of having any right to enforce people to present their real identity, name and other personal details. Their lack of commitment to privacy has encouraged people to cover themselves in these spaces. However, I do think there is a market for a SNS which brands itself as ‘the authentic social media site’ or something of that nature. I think this would make people more selective with their network and create more personability which is lacking in this space. I believe this could play a part in solving a lot of issues social media has created.

    Do you think if a new SNS without any links to Google or FB came on to the scene, people might be more receptive to presenting their authentic self and using their actual personal details if their unique selling point was privacy?

    Thanks for the read.


    1. Hi Declan,
      Thank you very much for your kind comments. I think privacy issues are growing amongst the mass media and the general public because people are tired of being taken advantage of. I think the best way to answer your question is to look at previous examples and the most recent one that comes to mind is WhatsApp. With their recent privacy updates, the messaging app seemed to lose millions of users to rival apps Telegram and Signal ( The mass migration was largely due to privacy concerns regarding Facebook’s ownership. Personally, I was one user who promptly researched alternatives ( and strongly urged family and friends to discontinue using WhatsApp. Now all my immediate family members use Signal due to the platform’s unique privacy stance. Another example is Google’s search engine, even though the company currently holds 92% market share (, I think there’s an acknowledgement for greater search engine privacy with competitors like Startpage, Qwant and DuckDuckGo gaining user awareness.
      For SNS, I’m not aware of any alternatives that prioritise privacy, however I agree with you and think there is a market for such a site. I believe that a successful SNS will be dictated by the youth, similarly to what happened back in the day with Myspace and Facebook and more recently with the popularisation of TikTok. I’m not sure if a privacy focused site would enable users to present actual personal details, rather I think a better outcome would be for a site to concentrate on more diverse options for allowing authentic self-presentations. I’m interested to know if you’ve ever changed an online service (instant messaging etc.) based on privacy concerns?

      1. Hi Karla,

        Thanks for your insightful reply. It’s interesting to see peoples approaches to privacy online changing. I didn’t realise so many people were changing their tune but its good to see people fighting back against the tech giants.

        I must say I agree with your thoughts on SNS as its very much youth driven and I would like to see more authentic self-presentations on SNS as you’ve suggested. You’re probably right about it being less about personal details and more about being able to present yourself as who you are in a space which makes users comfortable.

        I’ve never changed my online habits due to privacy concerns. I guess I’m cynical to the idea that making any changes to my online behaviour is going to stop services getting my information. Even sometimes using a VPN, I wonder what the point is. I am almost certainly wrong in this thinking, however it feels sometimes like we’re fighting an uphill battle for privacy when any tech-genius in their bedroom could break through our digital defences.

        Maybe I should change my tune though.


  5. Hi Karla,

    This is a great paper on such an important topic. I looked into the same topic for an assignment last year (it’s here if you’re interested – and although I had always been vaguely unsettled by the real name requirements, finding out what behind it, and just how baseless Facebook’s ideal of one static identity is, was truly eye-opening.

    At one point a few years ago my YouTube account got rolled into my wider Google account (I had willfully ignored many, many pop-ups asking me to do this but must have eventually accepted by accident) which meant that a decade of watch history and playlists and the like were all suddenly under my real, almost entirely unique name. Now when I go to comment on a video I usually end up deciding against it because I don’t want to leave traces under my name and risk being doxxed – this is probably what they were going for, considering the amount of abuse and spam in YouTube comment sections, but I don’t think it’s a fair trade-off.

    I keep thinking of switching over to viewing under one of my other channels, but that would mean losing my watch history and not being able to use the same account on my TV as on my other devices, so I just stay quiet instead. I imagine this kind of deterrent is a lot more powerful for women and marginalised groups, leading to a much more homogenous comments section and maintaining existing power structures.

    1. Oh! And I forgot to mention, the other problematic side effect of the combination of YouTube accounts with Gmail accounts is that there’s a whole bunch of kids commenting under their real full names – they are savvy enough to know to change their date of birth to get around the restrictions and be able to comment in the first place, but not enough to realise the implications of doing so under their name.

      I remember when my family got the Internet for the first time in 1995, that both my parents lectured me about never, ever revealing my full name online, but this message seems to have been drowned out by the interests of businesses and “the power of personal data as a commodity” as you so beautifully put it.

      1. Hi Amanda,
        Thank you for your comments and for reading my paper. I think continuing to challenge the real-name ideology is essential, especially for the younger generations who have grown up with the policy as a norm. I enjoyed watching your video primer from last year and there’s one quote that you used that I think really summarises platform’s manipulative position, as Facebook sees fake profiles as a “greater liability than abusive users” (MacAulay & Moldes, 2016). *inserts head exploding and mic drop gifs* Thank you for sharing your video with me.
        I agree that the amalgamation of Google accounts has not been a fair trade-off and I think the move hurts the larger YouTube community. The fact that you feel sentimental about your original account shows commitment to the platform and in return, they expose you to the risks of being doxxed. I find that SNS act hypocritically in regard to their policies and guidelines because they continue to show more concern about protecting their business interests over users’ privacy and safety. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more class-action lawsuits happen in the future ( as I think we are all owed retribution – plus I would love to see SNS accept some accountability.
        I share your memories about being lectured on never revealing your full name online. Do you think parents today share this sentiment or encourage their children to follow real-name policies? For example, Facebook launched Messenger Kids in 2017 which uses a child’s first and last name and photo to communicate. Does Facebook’s spin-off messaging app raise red flags for you too?

        MacAulay, M., & Moldes, M. D. (2016). Queen don’t compute: reading and casting shade on Facebook’s real names policy. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 33(1), 6-22.

  6. Hi Karla,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper! You presented a balanced discussion, considering both perspectives surrounding the issue of real name use on social networking sites (SNS).

    Personally, I think that SNS should not enforce the use of real names. I find the criteria too restrictive on Facebook, for example, even with the 2015 changes. If we look at what names are ‘allowed’ ( on Facebook: “Nicknames can be used as a first or middle name if they’re a variation of your authentic name (such as Bob instead of Robert).” People who might prefer a nickname that is not a derivative of their real name are, technically, still not allowed to put that on their Facebook profile. I think that these policies perpetuate the idea that your ‘authentic’ identity is tied to your ‘authentic’ or real name (and, indeed, the idea of a singular identity). Is this a case of identification rather than identity? (See Liesbet van Zoonen’s paper ‘From identity to identification: fixing the fragmented self’, a great read.)

    However, I think my largest concern—which you raised in your paper—is privacy and security. I would not feel comfortable uploading my ID to Facebook to ‘verify’ my identity. Having this policy in place is essentially forcing the user to upload sensitive information to continue using their account (if their name is reported or ‘detected’ as being unauthentic).
    I do wonder, though… Facebook is very much focused on using a name rather than a pseudonym or username. It does make sense that the site would try and enforce the use of real names. If you wanted to use a @username, instead, you could turn to Twitter. Furthermore, I have seen other people point out that using real names might serve as a deterrent to online harassment or bullying—i.e. having accountability and not being able to hide behind anonymity.

    All in all, I think that real name policies are restrictive. Users should be given the choice to volunteering a name they want to use on SNS. I would be interested in seeing what other people think about this issue. 😊

    1. Hi Cathy,
      Thanks for taking the time to read my paper. I absolutely agree with you, I believe that Facebook’s enforcement of real names is a problematic issue – especially considering that Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, and are now incorporating them into their ecosystem. This change will further complicate notions surrounding privacy, as these once separate platforms will seamlessly connect users’ real names and usernames. Facebook continues to demonstrate that they are indeed focused on identification rather than identity and I believe this fact highlights their abuse of power as they choose to penalise users with non-normative identities.
      While having accountability online might deter some harassment and bullying, I think this argument is largely based on a fear and mistrust of anonymity due to negative associations that SNS and the mainstream media have established and maintained. danah boyd ( also suggests that there is no data to support this claim and that SNS leverage accountability as a punishment, rather than creating incentives to stop antisocial behaviour. I definitely don’t think that real name users are more well-behaved than users that choose anonymity – in contrast, I believe there’s still a lack of accountability for users that do post inflammatory and derogative content.
      Thanks again for your response, I’m looking forward to reading your paper.

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