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Author Topic: Nymwars  (Read 3988 times)

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Thad

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Nymwars
« on: October 05, 2011, 12:52:35 PM »

John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory is actually a sociological phenomenon and could make for scintillating discussion (perhaps integrating the current debate over "forcing" people to use "real" names on social networking sites -- my use of quotation marks should make it pretty clear which side of the debate I fall on)

Hey, that's a good idea!

This is getting traction in the mainstream press -- Fortune has a piece up called Why Google+ needs pseudonyms.

I use my real name online -- but I'm a straight, middle-class white boy between the ages of 18 and 35.  Worst thing that's going to happen to me is somebody asks me about my political opinions in a job interview, or posts satellite pictures of addresses you can find if you run a whois on my website.

danah boyd (no relation) points out that, oh hey, there are people who have more to lose than I do by using their real names.

Quote
Another site has popped up called “My Name Is Me” where people vocalize their support for pseudonyms. What’s most striking is the list of people who are affected by “real names” policies, including abuse survivors, activists, LGBT people, women, and young people.

Over and over again, people keep pointing to Facebook as an example where “real names” policies work. This makes me laugh hysterically. One of the things that became patently clear to me in my fieldwork is that countless teens who signed up to Facebook late into the game chose to use pseudonyms or nicknames. What’s even more noticeable in my data is that an extremely high percentage of people of color used pseudonyms as compared to the white teens that I interviewed. Of course, this would make sense…

The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. “Real names” policies aren’t empowering; they’re an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people.

(HT: Doctorow)

Charlie Stross has a wonderful analysis of everything that's wrong with realname enforcement under the title Why I'm not on Google Plus; notably, it quotes Patrick McKenzie's Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names.  I'm going to follow Charlie's lead and quote Patrick's list of falsehoods in its entirety:

Quote
  • People have exactly one canonical full name.
  • People have exactly one full name which they go by.
  • People have, at this point in time, exactly one canonical full name.
  • People have, at this point in time, one full name which they go by.
  • People have exactly N names, for any value of N.
  • People’s names fit within a certain defined amount of space.
  • People’s names do not change.
  • People’s names change, but only at a certain enumerated set of events.
  • People’s names are written in ASCII.
  • People’s names are written in any single character set.
  • People’s names are all mapped in Unicode code points.
  • People’s names are case sensitive.
  • People’s names are case insensitive.
  • People’s names sometimes have prefixes or suffixes, but you can safely ignore those.
  • People’s names do not contain numbers.
  • People’s names are not written in ALL CAPS.
  • People’s names are not written in all lower case letters.
  • People’s names have an order to them.  Picking any ordering scheme will automatically result in consistent ordering among all systems, as long as both use the same ordering scheme for the same name.
  • People’s first names and last names are, by necessity, different.
  • People have last names, family names, or anything else which is shared by folks recognized as their relatives.
  • People’s names are globally unique.
  • People’s names are almost globally unique.
  • Alright alright but surely people’s names are diverse enough such that no million people share the same name.
  • My system will never have to deal with names from China.
  • Or Japan.
  • Or Korea.
  • Or Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Russia, Sweden, Botswana, South Africa, Trinidad, Haiti, France, or the Klingon Empire, all of which have “weird” naming schemes in common use.
  • That Klingon Empire thing was a joke, right?
  • Confound your cultural relativism!  People in my society, at least, agree on one commonly accepted standard for names.
  • There exists an algorithm which transforms names and can be reversed losslessly.  (Yes, yes, you can do it if your algorithm returns the input.  You get a gold star.)
  • I can safely assume that this dictionary of bad words contains no people’s names in it.
  • People’s names are assigned at birth.
  • OK, maybe not at birth, but at least pretty close to birth.
  • Alright, alright, within a year or so of birth.
  • Five years?
  • You’re kidding me, right?
  • Two different systems containing data about the same person will use the same name for that person.
  • Two different data entry operators, given a person’s name, will by necessity enter bitwise equivalent strings on any single system, if the system is well-designed.
  • People whose names break my system are weird outliers.  They should have had solid, acceptable names, like 田中太郎.
  • People have names.

Now, it's true that Internet Fuckwads use pseudonyms to behave in a way that they probably wouldn't if they were forced to use their real names.

However, any potential benefit of such realname enforcement is negated by the fact that -- and those of you familiar with my opinions on swear filters and DRM may notice a trend here -- REALNAME ENFORCEMENT DOESN'T FUCKING WORK.

Stross also links a Gary Walker piece, A Firsthand Examination of the Google+ Profile Reporting Process, which pretty much takes a wrecking ball to any notion that Google+'s realname enforcement is, well, even slightly competent.

To wit:

He set up a second Gary Walker account, and used the same avatar -- which isn't personally identifying, just a Lolcat.

Then he reported the second account as an impersonator.  To file such a report, he had to prove his original account was the "real" Gary Walker.  To do this, he Photoshopped a crooked scan of his picture onto the McLovin ID from Superbad, and replaced "McLovin" with his own name, in a different font from the rest of the ID.

Google accepted this as a valid ID, and temporarily blocked the second Gary Walker account.

To prove his identity, Gary responded from the second account, taking the SAME fake ID and Shopping a picture of Jared fucking Loughner on it.

The account was reinstated.

In short, in a revelation that should surprise absolutely fucking nobody, realname enforcement doesn't stop anybody from using pseudonyms -- it just forces them to use pseudonyms that sound, plausibly, like real names.

Meanwhile, both honest people who want to use pseudonyms and people with unusual real names (Washington Post: Offbeat Name? Then Facebook's No Friend) are penalized.

So yeah, I think the comparison to DRM and swear filters is apt: legitimate users get fucked, abusive ones don't even have to break stride.

(Related: this morning I saw a comment on ComicsAlliance's article with the promo pic for the new Batman cartoon that referred to "alfred double ******* a couple of john woo style guns alongside Batman".  After a moment I realized the asterisked-out word was most likely "fisting".  Which I suppose is still better than CBS censoring all mentions of Senator Coons.)
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Kayin

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2011, 03:44:14 PM »

I wrote something about this when I deleted my google+ account.

It's not some amazing piece or anything, but I wrote it so what the hell. What gets me most about real name policies is people with common names are more anonymous than people with unique names. I also really like Pseudonyms. My name is pretty generic. Michael O'Reilly is pretty common and it is only by being a D (or even like, F) list inter-tron celerity that I've managed to get on the first page of Google when you search for me. At the bottom. And it's my twitter. Search for Kayin and I'm the first thing that comes up. My Pseudonym identifies me way better than my actual name does.

I'm also always offended when facebook or google is like "MAKE SURE YOU USE YOUR REAL NAME SO YOUR FRIENDS CAN FIND YOU" -- no, fuck you, I want to use my pseudonym SO THEY CAN FIND ME. I also want to see their pseudonym so when they add me I know it's a friend of mine and not some random dickwad who just likes my game. If I could, I'd set Facebook to list all my internet friends by their pseudonyms, so I don't have to check their profile all the time to try and remember who they are.
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Thad

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2011, 03:54:47 PM »

If I'm understanding Stross's post correctly, "O'Reilly" is unacceptable in and of itself because it contains a non-alphabet character.
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Kayin

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2011, 04:01:10 PM »

Yeah, most of the cards in my wallet have me as "OREILLY" -- including my drivers license! You'd think the state would be a little bit more... uh, 'up' on these things, considering they're supposed to be giving me an official ID.
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Brentai

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2011, 04:10:16 PM »

The public sector tends to be the least "up" on these things of anybody.
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Büge

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2011, 05:42:02 PM »



I'm also always offended when facebook or google is like "MAKE SURE YOU USE YOUR REAL NAME SO YOUR FRIENDS CAN FIND YOU" -- no, fuck you, I want to use my pseudonym SO THEY CAN FIND ME. I also want to see their pseudonym so when they add me I know it's a friend of mine and not some random dickwad who just likes my game. If I could, I'd set Facebook to list all my internet friends by their pseudonyms, so I don't have to check their profile all the time to try and remember who they are.

Yeah, I'm always looking at my friends list in Facebook and trying to match up people to who I think they are. Thank goodness for the mug shot thread.
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Zaratustra

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2011, 03:33:50 PM »

Other things not only programmers, but everyone in a bureaucracy believes about names:

* Names are abbreviated in a consistent manner.
* Two people writing down the exact same name will come down with the exact same sequence of characters.
* A document that has the same name written twice will spell it the same way in both instances.

JDigital

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2011, 01:02:41 AM »

Children are always warned not to give their real name or address out online.

A lot of people go by aliases, too. Actors, musicians, porn stars, and even regular people.
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Thad

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #8 on: October 20, 2011, 06:57:16 AM »

Children are always warned not to give their real name or address out online.

Under-13's aren't supposed to participate in social networking, but obviously they do, and yes it's best not to go around sharing too much.  And hell, it's not bad advice for 13-17's either.  (Or adults TBH, but that's a separate conversation.)

Back in the Prodigy days you had to use your real name.  Some people even posted their addresses on public forums.  I came from a family tech-savvy enough to give me The Talk, so I had the good sense not to do it.  But I posted under my real name, and continue to do so.

But I still don't give out my real address.  Even the guy actually actively looking for it to fuck with me has been repeatedly thwarted.

Also bears noting, of course, that in an era where 9600 baud was the norm, scanners were a luxury item, and digital cameras were crazy sci-fi gadgets you saw in tech magazines, people weren't really posting photos, either.  The public forums didn't even allow file attachments, and if you wanted to send one by E-Mail you had to pay a surcharge.

...I talk about this shit and it makes me feel old.  Even when I'm the youngest guy in the room.

A lot of people go by aliases, too. Actors, musicians, porn stars, and even regular people.

Come to think of it, even "Thad" doesn't strictly satisfy the Google+ realname requirement.  Because it's only the first four letters of my name.
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Thad

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2011, 01:05:53 PM »

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sei

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2011, 10:43:36 PM »

I'm not convinced.

Google's statement is obvious bullshit, and here's why. The way you "support" pseudonyms is as follows:
  • Stop deleting peoples' accounts when you suspect that the name they are using is not their legal name.
  • There is no step 2.
Whatever Google is planning cannot be that, because they think it will take them months to implement. This means they are planning something far more complicated than telling their "abuse" team, "Here is our new policy", and so you can be certain that they're going to fuck it up in some new and exciting way.
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Thad

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #11 on: October 21, 2011, 08:50:33 AM »

Well, sure.  But the first step is admitting you have a problem.
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Kayin

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #12 on: October 21, 2011, 10:11:49 AM »

I'm actually fine with Google treating anonymous people different from from "identifiable" people, personally. As long as they're saying they're going to do something, I'm somewhat interested.
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sei

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2011, 07:17:00 PM »

They might not be getting treated differently. The delay could be due to Google trying to get real-name credentials for internal use, but giving users the option of using a public pseudonym.
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Thad

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #14 on: October 21, 2011, 08:53:11 PM »

Which would be stupid for reasons covered in post #1.  Viz, that Google is completely fucking incompetent at verifying real names.

And it is an intractable problem.  You think it's impossible to verify the copyright of every video on Youtube?  Well, it's a lot quicker to make up a name than to upload a video.
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sei

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #15 on: October 21, 2011, 09:09:01 PM »

It's quicker to make up a name than to upload a video, but being able to port your online identity (post history, circle configuration, etc.) to a new account will be a pain in the ass, if it's even possible. Further, doing something so strongly overlapping a previous account's activity would be a huge signal of (what is from Google's current policy's perspective) abuse.

I just suspect whatever dumbfuckery has them so bent on the real name thing runs deep; I don't claim to know what it is.
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Mongrel

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #16 on: October 21, 2011, 09:43:20 PM »

That's easy. True tailored ad profiles.

I mean, they might be rationalizing it to themselves in some bullshit way ("It'll force courtesy!"), but if you live by the old adage of "follow the women and the money", then ad revenue it is.
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Kayin

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #17 on: October 22, 2011, 12:19:07 AM »

The whole courtesy argument deal is a lot of BS anyways. Places like facebook tend to be more civil not because you know peoples names but because you -know who they are-. I've seen tons of really nasty shit on face book between people who weren't friends, and even worse shit on pages that can be openly commented on.
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Bongo Bill

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #18 on: October 22, 2011, 03:37:49 AM »

There is the matter of the user discovery process, too. My guess is they will try to infer information about the relationship based on the name by which you know the other user.

Remember that Google's mission is to organize all the world's data (understand "organize" to be used in exactly as sinister or a benign manner as you are comfortable believing). Google+ is clearly organizing information about people; why exclude their pseudonyms? A consistent pseudonym is a very useful piece of information about a person and about those who know that pseudonym.

Not supporting it initially, however, has two effects. First, it means additional development time to support keeping track of the pseudonyms, if that's even a factor (probably, as it gives them time to resolve issues that have arisen in the wild). Second, and probably more importantly, it means that they already have organizational inertia that will make the pseudonym data more useful when it is added. After the restriction of having to use real names exclusively is lifted, the "proper" use pattern of using your real name will have been established as the dominant, "default" use pattern. This quality of the information gathered would have been much lower if any other use pattern had emerged, so I think they didn't want to take any chances.
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Thad

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Re: Nymwars
« Reply #19 on: October 22, 2011, 11:09:18 AM »

It's quicker to make up a name than to upload a video, but being able to port your online identity (post history, circle configuration, etc.) to a new account will be a pain in the ass, if it's even possible. Further, doing something so strongly overlapping a previous account's activity would be a huge signal of (what is from Google's current policy's perspective) abuse.

Do you think ban-dodging trolls spend a lot of time worrying about post history and circle subscription, though?

That's easy. True tailored ad profiles.

I mean, they might be rationalizing it to themselves in some bullshit way ("It'll force courtesy!"), but if you live by the old adage of "follow the women and the money", then ad revenue it is.

Still not mutex with pseudonyms.  Google already advertises to people using assumed names.  And tens, if not hundreds, of millions of users who aren't signed into accounts at all.

The whole courtesy argument deal is a lot of BS anyways. Places like facebook tend to be more civil not because you know peoples names but because you -know who they are-. I've seen tons of really nasty shit on face book between people who weren't friends, and even worse shit on pages that can be openly commented on.

All of which, again, is moot.  Because even if you WERE to accept the premise that real names mean more civility, there is no reliable mechanism for determining whether a name is real.

No such mechanism can exist without creating a high barrier to entry.  Let's say the site required people to submit ID's upfront instead of only requesting them when an account was challenged.  Well, okay, first of all, we've got the case in first post of a guy submitting two bad Shops of the McLovin ID from Superbad and getting approved.

So let's take the tack that Google can put the money into training so that its doorguards can spot a fake ID with a reasonable degree of accuracy -- say, the same degree as a guy checking ID's at the local bar or liquor store.  (Even this is a problematic suggestion, as it's harder to make an authentic-looking laminated ID than an authentic-looking picture on a computer.)  Even then, you'd still see some fraudulent accounts get in, and likely create an arms race (as with DRM, Captcha, and every other authentication tool ever).

But mostly you'd create a barrier to entry.  Some people wouldn't want to scan and submit their ID's due to privacy concerns; lots more wouldn't want to do it just because it's a damn hassle.  You want users to switch from a competitor's service to yours, the trick is to make it as easy and as smooth as possible.
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