Facebook apology: How do other websites handle fake names?

Facebook apologized Wednesday for deleting accounts that use fake names. The policy upset members of the LGBT community. In the continuing battle of anonymity on the Web, how do other social media sites handle fake names?

Eric Risberg/AP/File
Drag queens from left, Lil Ms. Hot Mess, Sister Roma and Heklina, take turns speaking about their battle with Facebook during a news conference at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif on Sept. 17. Facebook on Wednesday apologized to drag queens and the transgender community for deleting accounts that used nicknames or fake names.

Since the Internet was created, user anonymity has been a big topic. There are those who push for complete anonymity, and those who say anonymity creates an environment of vitriol. 

Since its creation, Facebook has believed in using real names for accounts. The site recently took a stand on the issue and found itself receiving a flood of criticism. Two weeks ago, Facebook cracked down on accounts that used nicknames, stage names, or drag names. Those who used such monikers were told to use the name on their government issued license or be blocked from Facebook. The social media site said the policy was necessary to enhance privacy, protect users from cyberbullying, end trolling, and close fake accounts. 

Members of the LGBT community lashed out because many of them were locked out of their accounts for using non-government issued names on the site. Some protested and some left the site completely – an outcome that Chris Cox, Facebook's chief product officer, never intended. 

"I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we've put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks," Mr. Cox said in a Facebook post

Cox went on to say that real names are what makes Facebook stand out as a social media site. 

"[I]t's part of what made Facebook special in the first place, by differentiating the service from the rest of the internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm," he said. "[Using real names is] the primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm."

Eighteen percent of Americans say they have used fake or untraceable usernames. And 12 percent of Americans say they have been harassed online, according to a Pew Research poll.

Members of the LGBT community had called for a protest against Facebook Thursday, but the protest was called off after the site's apology.

"It was very clear that Facebook was apologetic and wanted to find solutions so that all of us can be our authentic selves online," Mark Snyder, spokesman for the Transgender Law Center, told AFP.

This brings up the question, how do other sites deal with username authentication and the need to protect users?

Twitter allows users to use any username that they wish. Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, doesn't use her real name. But to allow users to know they are following the real Lady Gaga account, Twitter puts a little blue check next to the username. Twitter also has a problem with fake accounts. 

Amazon does something similar to Twitter. When account names are the same as a user's given name, that member receives a "Real Name" badge. Comments from users with this badge, or other such badges, are listed higher than comments from those without.

Google+, the search engine's social network, allows users to use fake name, but that username must be used across all Google services. Google+ users must also have a valid Gmail account. 

Then there is the hottest new social media site: Ello. The new social media site is a wild west for those who demand use of authentic names and an oasis for the anonymous. Ello allows users to have any account name they wish to have, no questions asked. That ability caused a large number of those in the LGBT community to join Ello.

"Ello welcomes the LGBTQ community and we're very excited to see so many people moving over!" Ello founder Paul Budnitz told the Daily Dot

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