Identity and the internet: From pixels to persona

Posted in: Internet Use/New Technologies at 23/11/2011 16:05

A push to ban pseudonyms in social networking is raising concerns that profits are being put above privacy

Zhao Jing recently suffered an unexpected parting of the ways with his alter ego. The Chinese political journalist and blogger is better known as Michael Anti, the name under which he writes. The pseudonymous character was deemed "real" enough for Harvard university to award Mr Zhao a fellowship in that name.

But Facebook decided earlier this year that Michael Anti did not exist. Under rules that require the social network's members to use their real names, he had to go. No matter that the fictitious Mr Anti had more than 1,000 Facebook "friends", his account was suspended without notice.

"I have used the name for more than a decade - my reputation is based on that," complains Mr Zhao. "No one in the virtual world knows my real name."

Facebook's increasing insistence on the use of real names, along with a similar policy enforced by the rival Google+ service launched this year, could end up having profound consequences for life online, changing a world that has long been free and easy into a more controlled place.

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