Facebook builds new app that allows fake names: report

Amid protests, Facebook began enforcing its real-name policy. But now it's reported that Facebook is working on its own anonymous social media app.

Dado Ruvic/Reuters/File
A man is silhouetted against a video screen with an Facebook logo in Bosnian on Aug. 14, 2013.

Since its founding Facebook has demanded authentic names from users, but in a contradiction of that policy, Facebook may be attempting to create a new social media site based on anonymity. 

Facebook is believed to be working on a stand-alone mobile application that allows users to have any name they want, according to The New York Times. The app, which is supposed to be unveiled in coming weeks, is an experimental take on Facebook's longstanding demand for user authenticity.

“[Authenticity] is part of what made Facebook special in the first place,” Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, said according to the Times. “By differentiating the service from the rest of the internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm.”

The app is being developed by a group of developers who helped create the social media site Branch, which Facebook bought in January. This new app would be in the spirit of Secret or Whisper, which allow users to share anonymous photos and posts. The two sites have become popular with younger users. 

Facebook spokespeople would not confirm the development of an anonymous app to the Times.

But recent events show that Facebook still isn't fully backing the anonymous user. In September, Facebook began enforcing its policy that users use their real name. This caused an uproar among members of the LGBTQ community, who often use different names online for a number of reasons. Users protested the policy, and Facebook eventually apologized

It isn't clear how the new anonymous app will protect users from trolls or spammers. But previously, Facebook insisted that its real-name policy was used to protect users. 

“The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names, and it’s both terrifying and sad,” Mr. Cox told the Times.

Facebook has been buying up small social media apps in an attempt to become a suite of products. Facebook bought the photo-sharing app Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion, it just closed a $22 billion deal with messaging app WhatsApp, and in June it bought Slingshot, a photo-app that lets users share photos that disappear after a few seconds. Instagram already allows for users to have any username they chose.  

As Facebook continues to grow its product line, it seems clear that Facebook (the company) doesn't have a clear policy on anonymity even if Facebook (the website) does. 

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