So, Facebook did something sort of silly around the beginning of September. No, not the usual “Giving a bit too much of your info to people who would use it to try and sell you stuff” gaffe (they’ll continue to do that anyways, they are a public company now and every decision they make has to justify growth and profit to a bunch of shareholders who can be easily stereotyped as that rich great uncle nobody likes who tries to manipulate the family by rewriting the will every other week.)
No, they started going after people making fake profiles. Worse, they started using really good algorithms to determine which profiles were fake and ended up nailing a good chunk of them rapidly over the span of a couple of weeks.
Now, as a programmer and a fan of social networks… I completely understand why Facebook did this. They get two very important wins: Real Profiles don’t grief other people (and if they are dumb enough to do so, they can be censored/censured much easier) and Real Profiles generate much more accurate marketing data (which is very important to that *ist rich uncle stockowner hoping to see Facebook stock value increase).
Unfortunately, they are alienating a subset of people who live mostly by their alias, the ones spoken-of the most are those who legitimately need to maintain a high degree of anonymity (seeking refuge from icky guardians, awful bosses, crazy exes and what-not) and persons undergoing transitions of gender or other aspects of their identity. The ones I HEAR from the most are a gaggle of drag queens whose names got caught in the really good fake-name finding algorithms. Facebook pretty much whacked the hornets nest.
I am disappointed in Facebook and it’s programmers/planners for being so lazy. Their answer to the fact that several folks legitimately want to have fake names or be sort-of-anonymous was to freak out and threaten drag queens with a banhammer while trying to force them to publicize themselves through pages (which are what you hand to a publicist so they can badger everyone who ever bothered to like you, and not at all intuitive).
Trying to force people into a model never works. The prudent programmer allows flexibility in their data models to reflect and fit what people want to do while minimizing the ways people can accidentally or intentionally hurt each other. I feel that when the dust settles from all this fracas Facebook is going to do what it should have done and allow not-a-real-name profiles where you check a little box saying “this is a pseudonym” and pops up a wizard that helps you set your permissions accordingly (“Are you trying to remain anonymous? Are there folks you want to pre-block? Would you like some tips in subtle aggrandization of your shows or dress-making business for $5.99?”).
Meanwhile, I am also sort of annoyed at all the drag queens. I sympathize with the drag queens who spent years working on their profiles and loading them up with pictures and events and generally filling up the ‘book with all sorts of disruptive innovation. But if using Facebook outside it’s terms of service was a cornerstone of your publicity empire than maybe that empire needed a disruptive innovation of its own.
I also sympathize with the anonymous folks the drag queens claim to speak for… But all the calls for boycotts and the repeated posting of their username on Ello… ugh Seriously? Ello? It’s the underwhelming love child of Twitter and LiveJournal. It’s buggy and invite-only; you can’t run events or message people; it has no mobile presence; and you can’t block people or deny friendships. And you’re recommending this over facebook for all those near-oppressed souls who are trying to get away from evil parents, nosy bosses, and scary exes!? Wouldn’t it be easier to just say “name yourself John/Jane Smith”?