One of the things that keeps coming up in discussions on Google+ about their names policy (requiring that people use their real names, despite the fact that for many people for various reasons this can be seriously dangerous) is the suggestion that all you have to do in that case is just use a fake name that looks real – which of course people have been doing on Facebook and also on Google+, but on G+ doing this comes with a risk: someone doesn’t like something you say, they report your profile for being fake (they can do this without knowing it’s fake, they can do it just out of spite), Google suspends your account and demands proof of ID, and that’s it – you can’t prove a fake ID.
Now here on Multiply I have a friend who uses a name which is not his real name, but he has stated this quite clearly and explained on his blog why he needs to do this. So there’s nothing underhanded there, no deceit, no attempt to pretend that the name he is using really is his name. Which feels so much nicer, so much more open and transparent – so much more pleasant than the cloak & dagger stuff people in that position are encouraged to engage in on Google+, pretending to be, say, John Smith, because you can’t openly say you’re using a pseudonym as that’s against the rules.
This reminds me of when I was new in England and I’d done a fake marriage to get a visa. Soon after that, I got a new job. Because I knew that if the Home Office found out about my fake marriage I could get deported, I had to be careful. I couldn’t just trust a whole load of people I’d just met and tell them my secret. So to my new colleagues I was Mrs McGregor, newly married, and living in the part of south east London where this guy lived who I’d officially married, whilst in reality I was in west London – it meant having to keep remembering to lie, to talk as though I’m married, and to somehow dodge the friendly invitations from someone who worked with me who suggested it would be really nice for them (her and her husband) to have “us” round sometime.
I kept that charade up for a year. After a year, I was given a permanent visa and I decided I could risk being open with my colleagues about what my life really was like. Mostly they seemed to take it in their stride, but that one who had really showed friendliness and talked about having us round – she turned suddenly very cold towards me, and could I blame her? We had worked quite closely together, sharing a room in the office, chatting whilst we worked, she had shared things with me about her own life, and then a year later she discovers that actually what I’d been telling her about my own life was a pack of lies.
Of course there are situations in life where you have to hide things from people, but it’s never easy, and in the long run it doesn’t help towards building friendships.
And Google+ is a social networking site, where, in terms of the technology, it could be really easy to get to know people and to gradually build friendships. One of the major selling points of G+ is the circles system, which allows you to choose who you want to share each bit of your profile with and each item you post (a bit like here on Multiply, but even more flexible) so you can add strangers without worrying about your privacy – an ideal set-up for making new friends. But if you have to introduce yourself as John Smith and pretend it’s your real name because you don’t know who you can trust, because if you’re caught you risk being thrown out and also losing access to some other Google services, this means you’re building these friendships on a shaky foundation. Yes, some people will understand – like most of my colleagues did back then – but some might not, some might feel hurt that you had not been truthful with them about this.
It would be so much nicer, so much more pleasant, so much more grown-up, to be able to say openly, as my friend here on Multiply does: I am using a pseudonym here because I’d be in danger if certain people find out that I’m posting these kind of opinions. This is the kind of openness and transparency that the Google names policy is denying us. Which is a real shame.