Amid the whole data mining controversy that’s ensnared social media giant Facebook and its enigmatic founder Mark Zuckerberg, I think it’s time to remind all of one of the platform’s most hallowed rules.
I’ve been breaking it for years. According to Facebook’s Terms of Service, yeah, yeah, you’ve got to use your “real name”, or else. God, really?
I have not, ever, used my real name on Facebook. Twitter, LinkedIn, fine. You’ve got me, it’s sort of different. But Facebook, no way.
As soon as I’d heard of that rule when I signed up more than a decade ago, I approached Facebook with extreme caution. Being an old school veteran of the MySpace era, this slick new light blue and bright white kid on the block made me suspicious. But all my friends were running to it in droves (and abandoning MySpace like a used litter tray), so what else was I to do?
Well I signed up, but instinctively came up with an alias (I’ve sported several over the last 20 years) and loaded it with false information about myself. Political views? Uh, “corporatism”. Religious views? Hmm, “Gozer Worshipper”. Short of filling these entries with Jedi references like the census, I just could not take this ridiculous thing seriously.
And since then, everything seems to have been fine with my ongoing practice of maintaining semi-anonymity on the world’s most popular social media platform. They haven’t banned me yet, despite reports of people complaining they were penalised because their name was “John Smith”. For some reason, the T-Shirts at Facebook seem to be repelled by ultra-common names.
Why do I do this? If you have even a smidgen of imagination, you can see where something like Facebook can lead. Employers can check up on you, prospective employers can scope you out for even the most microscopic signs of poor judgement (remember when you had no control of photos you were tagged in? It was a nightmare!), exes can stalk you. The list goes on.
Regarding that last point, I’ve had friends start up a whole new profile with a completely different identity just to avoid being tracked by a crazy ex, despite being trigger happy with that almighty ‘block’ button.
And that’s all the drama I’ve managed to avoid over the years. I’m sure others have achieved the same results by simply using their real name and practicing some common sense, but my paranoia about security trumps all.
Where did this mentality come from?
Well when Facebook rose to greater prominence in about 2007, the world wide web wasn’t quite as “mainstream” as it eventually evolved in the following decade.
Prior to Facebook’s unprecedented social media revolution, most people who engaged with online platforms were mainly using chatrooms and internet message forums, where users were free to take on fake screennames, or aliases if you will. Simply because they were allowed to. Anyone else remember when every second screenname was “blink182” or some variant?
People forget this little tidbit about the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it was widely regarded as a faux pas to use your real name on the internet. It was a strange and unfamiliar world where movies like The Net were still fresh in the public consciousness, and people were keen to avoid reliving Sandra Bullock’s identity theft drama in that classic.
Being a veteran of that era, where the internet was a more hush-hush environment, and privacy was still a “thing”, that mentality followed me well into the social media age. I’m not willing to give up my “screennames” and multiple personalities on forums. I’ve grown to like it. To me, the internet is a stage where you have the freedom to play a character. It’s not a bad place for unemployed actors.
And as for our public servant friends at GovNews, we know you’ve come under scrutiny from the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) through new guidelines that find you liable for controversial content you’ve simply “liked”.
Ugh, seriously? Developments like that are why I stress the importance of the headline of this article. Heed my warning.
Author’s Addendum: I saw the new Steven Spielberg film Ready Player One straight after publishing this article, and was amused that in the year 2045, it’s considered taboo to reveal your real name in the so-called ‘Oasis’ – a virtual reality wonderland of pop culture nirvana.