So, I’ve been going back and forth with two of the larger social networks, Facebook and Google+, over the last couple of weeks. It’s an interesting study in contrasts.
In the G+ case, I’ve had my screen name for well over a year and accumulated several hundreds of people in my circles. I’ve been quite active on the site and found my time there interesting and rewarding. Three weeks ago, when I logged in, I found that my account had been “suspended” and was under review due to a violation of the G+ names policy. There was no indication of exactly how I’d violated the policy. Reading the actual policy itself was no help in figuring out the reason for the suspension; the policy does not lay out any specifics about offensive names and merely states that using your real name is suggested, but not required.
Over the last three week, I’ve received exactly zero communication from Google about the status of my account and if or when it would ever be returned to me. I can still see my account, but I can’t interact in any way, even to tell the people I’ve grown close-ish to that my account has been suspended. I’ve fired off several emails to Google in an attempt to find out what’s going on or if they need clarification from me about anything or anything of that sort. They’ve not uttered a word. I find this frustrating.
The Facebook situation is far funnier. I decided on a whim to try to create a Facebook account under this name. The Facebook parser took one look at it and decided that my name wasn’t “real” and that it violated Facebook policy. So, I petitioned to have it allowed on the grounds that it’s the name I’ve been using for quite some time and the name under which I’m best known online. They responded back that I could create a Facebook “page.” I replied that, yes, I could, but I would have to create a Facebook account under a fake name to do it and that seems to defeat their policy rather more soundly than what I was asking for. They’ve responded to this three times by sending the same boilerplate about their real names policy. At least they’re communicating, but it’s not really helpful. (This just in: They’ve blocked the account I created as Notwtf Pancakes…go figure)
Which is kind of funny. On the surface, obviously, they haven’t made any real effort to enforce their real names policy. There are literally millions of accounts that people have created under fake names that sneak through their parser. It goes deep than that, though. If their policy is that everyone on Facebook is using their real name and they’ve gone to even cursory lengths to enforce it, then they’re potentially responsible for damages when a real person’s name is used maliciously. Facebook has tacitly accepted the identity of the person who is spoofing someone else’s name. They are presenting every name as someone’s real name. Since that is patently not true, it would be far less-deceptive if they didn’t effectively encourage people to use fake names that look like real names.
I’m not saying anything that anyone doesn’t already know, but it’s a really profoundly stupid policy. Both Facebook and Google+ want to be a reliable source of identification because there’s a ton of money in it for them if they are able to pull it off. Neither, though, seem to be willing to actually spend the money and do the work that this would require, so they’re in a hazy place in between where most fake names are permitted but they block a small percentage of them for…well, honestly, I have no idea why. It doesn’t buy them anything. They’re no closer to being a reliable source of identity. There’s no upside, and there’s potential downside.
Thanks for letting me vent. I have no small amount of time and money invested here. I knew the risks when I did it, but that doesn’t make their arbitrary policy enforcement any less frustrating.