When I first got on Facebook, I thought it was the most amazing social experiment. It still is, really. It is, and will be, a wonderful socializing influence on the world.
Yet there is a time to pay the bills—and a time when investors and shareholders want to start seeing some real profits, not just cash funds accumulating based on paper estimates of the company’s worth. It's not that the value of their shares didn't go up. But they want to see income growth, which will further drive share prices up.
Even the possibility of income growth tends to drive up share prices and company valuation.
I’m sure there are other factors we don’t know about, and probably don’t have the knowledge to speculate about.
So. Why is Facebook cracking down on pen-names, aliases and pseudonyms?
The stated reasons sound pretty reasonable. They want to get rid of fake accounts. They want to get rid of spam, and they want to improve the service for all users. There must be fifty or a hundred million fake or even just dead accounts on Fb.
(A couple of my Fb friends are in fact dead. The accounts still exist.)
According to them, they’re concerned with the safety of the community. There is, no doubt, some element of truthiness there.
From my perspective, it’s a mistake to believe that this is all about drag queens. They were merely vulnerable, in that they were clearly and obviously in violation of the site’s rules.
Generally speaking, Fb wouldn’t respond without a specific complaint about a specific account. The people complaining may have had some disapproval, or they may troll for other reasons.
They might have simply exploited the most obvious vulnerability.
If you are trying to avoid criminal online harassment, whether from individuals in your home town or anyone online, Facebook’s position is that users can simply block and report. But my online presence is not just Facebook. I sell books on other platforms. I have blogs under my pen-name. I have my presence on Twitter, and LinkedIn, etc. Someone who targets me personally, would love to know those pen-names, and especially those products. They could go off and make all kinds of troll reviews. They will be able to indulge their every evil little whim, and Facebook won’t be able to do anything about it. Facebook can’t block a troll review on Amazon or prevent threats via contact forms on your blog or website.
In a very real sense, the situation on Fb is similar to the troll problem on Amazon, where people basically exploit a weakness, for whatever reason, to do a bit of harm.
Shareholders don’t care about that, do they? This is true of all such companies.
Here’s the truth. Facebook is responding to customer complaints.
Facebook has to play by its own rules.
That sounds fair enough. But private individuals are not customers of Facebook. We are a resource.
Facebook sells our data. That data is seriously flawed if we are using incorrect names.
More than anything, Facebook wants to provide its customers, (not us), with accurate, tight, extremely specific data on individuals. That means you and me.
We are the audience.
We are consumers.
We are a target for marketing efforts and attempts to persuade us on social, economic and political issues.
The price of this data will be based on its value—and fake names take away some of that value.
Marketers want good data. They want fine data. They want very, very specific data. Knowing (or merely having no other information, which is the same thing), that Louis Shalako lives in Sarnia is useful. Knowing my real name would be even more useful. Knowing my income, my habits, what I eat for dinner is more useful still.
Criminals, spammers and trolls will still use fake names and bogus accounts. The real spammers will set up an account, and use a bot or an overseas service to make a lot of friends in a hurry. They will target real people and real Facebook accounts with spam and advertisements. They will post ads for sunglasses on your profile page. There are worse things they can do. They might be shut down a few hours later.
Even so, the damage will have been done. Their job will have been done. Hey, maybe Facebook has done a great thing by preemptively doxing us.
Rather than be outed, we are being asked to out ourselves, I guess.
The real psychopaths won’t post anything. They’ll just read your profile. They’ll come around to your house and slash your tires, break your windows and rape your dog.
Our real identities are worth money to a sophisticated, perhaps perfectly legitimate marketer.
There are a lot of illegitimate marketers in this world.
We will now be more vulnerable to social engineering, which has legitimate applications as well as fraudulent ones.
No doubt Facebook will have terms of service that apply—and appeal—to their customers.
They will make all sorts of claims about how no one’s privacy will be violated, and about how all of their clients and partners will be behaving in an ethical and legal manner.
Once the data has been transmitted, and presumably once the money has been paid to Fb, Facebook will no longer have any control over that data.
At that point, you and I are on our own, ladies and gentlemen.
My email inbox is already busy with unsolicited ads. There are new people in there every day, some trying to lend us money, some of them trying to get us to register for their email newsletters.
Some of them are frauds and con artists.
I started off, right from Day One, using a pen-name.
For one thing, I don’t much want to be famous. It comes at a very high price. That’s not the only reason, though.
The truth, a little paranoid as it might sound, is that I was hoping to evade a stalker right here in my own home town. That person will stalk me for the rest of my life.
They’re a real piece of work. Facebook doesn’t care. Their position is that I can always close my account. Yet I need that social interaction. The fact is that it has done a lot for me.
I was kind of isolated before I went online and signed up for Fb. I have enjoyed it very much over the years.
That’s the great thing about the internet—all kinds of people in all kinds of places will have our names, addresses and phone numbers, our email addresses and all kinds of personal detail.
ISIS will have my real name. The Mafia and the Cartel will have my real name. Ordinary users, for example black people living in America, will become a little bit shy about making political statements or engaging in social activism. Because the bad guys, hell, even the good guys, can now find you so much easier.
Anonymity is our best protection sometimes, and yes, it can be abused. The powers of justice can also be abused, which is my basic point here. Most users really don’t abuse it. Facebook is not concerned about your quality of life, only the quality of your data.
As for myself, I’m a little bit concerned with the effect in totalitarian countries, where a simple tweet can get you in a hell of a lot of trouble.
My advice, ladies and gentlemen, is to do everything in our power to corrupt that data. Not everyone has access to burner phone after burner phone, and total mobility, which might be a requirement in a legimitate social upheaval situation in whatever country we choose to name.
Can’t stand artichokes? Post glowing praise of artichokes. Don’t like Donald Trump, or Coca-Cola, or the latest in funny shoes? Post something nice about them. Like Bernie Sanders, or Hillary Clinton? Say you don’t. Your vote is your own business anyhow.
Normally you wouldn’t be that mean, right? You are a nice person. Being really devious is foreign to your nature. They might know your real name, but you can still confuse the hell out of them. Talk about your thirteen lesbian daughters. Talk about your hemorrhoids even if you don’t have them. Make the most ridiculous statements about yourself. For example, I have three arms and a parakeet. Look up ads for mustache cups, and butter churns and how to buy an iguana embryo.
Facebook’s customers will eventually figure out that all the people they targeted for back-to-school sales aren’t buying anything. They will learn that people they target with ads for white shirts or black shoes haven’t actually bought anything.
That Joe Foreman sandwich cooker and the plastic briefs you reviewed on Amazon are not the real you. When Fb floods your timeline with plastic briefs and sandwich cookers, click on there and tell them you don’t want to see that ad. Tell them you find it offensive. Tell them it’s a religious or moral issue for you.
It’s a question of you feeling comfortable in this community.
Or, somebody real smart could come up with another winning formula—another business model for social media.
So far, Facebook has been the most successful. No one else even comes close.
The truth is that we could kill Facebook if we wanted to—if only we could act together.
That seems a bit hasty.
Maybe we should just think about that one a little bit.
Most of us like Facebook just the way it is now. We don't have a problem with pen-names and are more than happy to see that continue.