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Google Rescinds Real Name Requirement

I Am @Spartacus

Google has announced that Google+ users will no longer be obliged to attach their real names to their accounts, and concurrently YouTube commenters will once again have the option of posting their thoughts and opinions anonymously on the video sharing site.

The company took over YouTube in 2006, and introduced the policy regarding real names with the launch of Google+ in 2011. There was an almost immediate backlash, and many saw it as a contributing factor to the generally perceived failure of Google+ as a social network.

The policy was intended to counteract the generally low quality of comments on YouTube and the preponderance of trolling on the site. Google CEO Eric Schmidt insisted that Google+ was intended as an ‘identity service,’ differentiated from a social network by the focus on the individual as a real person. Such a view, however, fails to take into account the very appeal of places like YouTube where anonymity was seen as a central selling point – people felt comfortable participating precisely because their identity was hidden.

The failure of Google+ to become a major player in the world of social media is well documented, and it still trails behind Facebook and Twitter in terms of active users despite tying over half a million people into the network through other Google features such as Gmail, Hangouts, and YouTube. However, while many of those services operated on an individual one-to-one user interaction basis wherein the use of either one’s real name or a pseudonym was of little concern, the public nature of YouTube meant that the backlash over the issue centred there.

The timing of this announcement, considering the exit of Vic Gundotra as the head of Google+ at the beginning of the year, suggests that the company may be trying alternate tactics to secure a place in the highly competitive world of social media. Since Facebook’s user base is aging as teens abandon it for more stream-lined alternatives, Google’s capitulation to the demand for anonymity may be an attempt to woo the audience which is currently migrating to alternatives like Snapchat or Twitter where there is no pressure to reveal any personal information.

Google management defended the change by saying that their technology for countering the kind of abuse for which YouTube was notorious at the time of the launch of Google+ had improved enough over the last three years that insistence upon real names was no longer necessary to maintain quality. Google+ chief architect Yonatan Zunger stated that they now have ‘a much better understanding of what turned [YouTube’s comments] into the wretched hive of scum and villainy we all know.’

Nonetheless, it is difficult to see how renewed anonymity could not lead to at least a partial return to the aggressive and confrontational style of exchange which characterised YouTube for so much of its history. The question becomes, then, whether anonymity is so valuable a commodity as to be worth sacrificing human decency for. Google thinks not; the eleven million viewers of ‘Buddy’s Baby Crawling School’ disagree. If they want to build the kind of dedicated social media base they evidently desire, however, Google may have to sacrifice a degree of principle to achieve those aims.

Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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Google Rescinds Real Name Requirement Reviewed by Anonymous on Thursday, July 24, 2014 Rating: 5
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