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Twitter users commenting on Google+'s policies, while using the hashtag #nymwars.
Nymwars (sometimes written Nym wars) is an ongoing debate about the requirement of real-names and the elimination of anonymity/pseudonymity in social networking sites. While discussion was primarily started by Google Plus real-name policy, other websites have spurred similar discussions, such as National Geographic's scienceblogs.com[1]. The name nymwars is derived from "pseudonym" and was coined by bloggers. The term gained popularity through the hashtag #nymwars on Twitter[2].


Google+ is Google's newest social networking site. It was released as invite-only on June 28, 2011 and to the public on September 20, 2011. The site is very similar in Facebook in many ways. For example, you could share photos, update your statuses, etc. However, there are also some features that are not the same. For example, your friends list on Google + is called your circles. Under a month later, early adopters who originally praised Google+, were criticizing its policies due to an accelerating number of people who were banned for signing up under assumed names[3]. Affected users fell into many different categories. Users' accounts were deleted for pseudonyms, unconventional names, mixed-language names, nicknames, and even some common names. When asked to comment on the situation, a Google spokeswoman wrote in an email: "By providing your common name, you will be assisting all people you know -- friends, family members, classmates, co-workers, and other acquaintances -- in finding and creating a connection with the right person online." Google+'s profiles were meant to "help connect and find real people in the real world" she stated[4].

Google's Stance

Google's stance on the application real name systems has changed through the years. Initially Google appeared to be against the use of real name system as it violates the user's freedom of expression. Later, Google acknowledged that some of its products may be best suited for real name system instead of allowing anonymity or pseudonymity.


In 2007, South Korea became the first country to establish a real-name system, as mandated by the Korea Communications Commission through the Article 44-5 of the Act on the Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilisation and Information Protection, also known as the Network Act. This system would require users to confirm their identity before being allowed to comment or upload on certain websites[5]. KCC officials wrote this act because they believed this would "curb 'cyber bullying' and reduce misinformation on the Internet[6]."

In 2008, they revised the Network Act, lowering the number of visitors required to qualify for the system from 200,000 (internet jounrnals) and 300,000 (portals) visits per day, to 100,000 visits per day[5]. These changes would take place on April 1st, 2009 and would affect users of YouTube Korea, which is owned by Google[6]. However, Google ultimately refused to cooperate with these regulations. Google shutdown some of YouTube Korea's functions in order to avoid Korea's real-name system.
A screenshot of Google's notice on YouTube Korea, that announces that some functions are disabled.
A notice on the website said: “YouTube has decided to restrict its video upload and comment functions in South Korea.” It also stated, “Because there is no upload function, users won’t be required to confirm their identification[7]." Even though this limited the functionality of YouTube Korea, Google allowed itself to maintains its mission to provide universal access to information to all users. Rachel Whetstone, vice president of Global Communications & Public Affairs at Google, offered an explanation of the shutdown of services in another notice on YouTube Korea's website. The statement, titled "Freedom of Expression on the Internet", said, “Google thinks the freedom of expression is most important value to uphold on the internet. We concluded in the end that it is impossible to provide benefits to internet users while observing this country’s law because the law does not fall in line with Google’s principles[7]."


A few years later, Google explicitly stated its stance on the use of anonymity, pseudonymity and real-world identies. In February 2011, Alma Whitten, the Director of Privacy, Product and Engineeringm at Google, made a blog post about the importance of allowing users to be who they want to be, whether that means using your real name (identified), a pseudonym (pseudonymous) or anonymous (unidentified). However, Google makes it clear that not all of its products are suited for all three of these modes; some may only allow one or two modes[8].

Google+ was released a few months later and many users claimed that Google+ went against Google's previously stated stances on the use of real names. In its User Content and Conduct Policy, it stated, "to help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either of those would be acceptable[9]." This policy is due to Google+'s primary function to be an identity service, and so would naturally require users to identify themselves with their real-names[10].


The general criticism of Google+'s real name policy revolve around the loss of pseudonymity. Many users believe that pseudonyms allow them to openly talk about subjects and not be judged by sex, race or gender. Pseudonyms also give users a level of privacy that the current real name system cannot grant. On the other hand, some users are primarily known by their pseudonyms or nicknames on and off the internet, but are still not allowed to use them in place of real names on the internet.

Blake Ross, co-founder of Firefox, banned from Google+ for a name violation.
Users also criticized Google's method of enforcing its policies. When the first wave of pseudonym users on Google+ was banned, they were given no warning. Then, the appeal process to have your account reviewed and unbanned was lengthy and often went nowhere[11]. Google's banning policy is also subjective. For example, Blake Ross, co-founder of the internet browser Firefox, was banned from Google+ for a name violation while 8 other people named Blake Ross remained on Google+[12]. Google has also banned users for unconventional names that appear to be pseudonyms, such as M3 Sweatt[13].

There is also some criticism of the set-up of Google+'s real name system. Since it does not confirm people's identities using their government issued ids, users could still sign up under pseudonyms that only appear to be real names.

Ethical Implications

The ethical questions surrounding the role of privacy, anonymity, and trust in online environments can be seen in play here. Should users online be able to be completely anonymous if they so choose as a way to ensure their privacy? Or should real identity be encouraged in order to foster trust and ensure that users have some sense of accountability for their actions online? As more and more individuals are using social networking sites as a means of presenting oneself both professionally and personally, the idea of anonymity becomes more uncomfortable, as if it doesn't belong in this new realm of open communication and collaboration.

See Also

External Links


  1. Campbell, Hank (2011-08-18). Update: National Geographic Ends Anonymous Accounts At Scienceblogs.com. Science20. Retrieved 2011-09-31.
  2. citation needed
  3. Gross, Doug (2011-07-25). Users with fake names get boot from Google Plus. CNN. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
  4. Perez, Juan Carlos (2011-07-25). Update: Complaints mount over Google+ account deletions. Computerworld. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Oh, Byoungil (2009). Republic of Korea. GISWatch. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Tong-hyung, Kim (2009-03-30). YouTube User Needs Real-Name. Korea Times. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Google refuses South Korean government’s real-name system. The Hankyoreh. 2009-04-10. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
  8. Whitten, Alma (2011-2-24). The freedom to be who you want to be… Google Public Policy Blog. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
  9. User Content and Conduct Policy. Google. 2011-6-28. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
  10. Goodwin, Danny (2011-8-29). The Google+ Identity Service Project Search Engine Watch. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
  11. Bayley, Alex "Skud" (2011-07-22).I’ve been suspended from Google+ Infotropism. Retried 2011-10-05.
  12. Kirkpatrick, Marshall (2011-09-04). Google Plus Bans Creator of Firefox, Facebook Product Director, For Using His Real Name [Update: He's Back] ReadWriteWeb. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
  13. Sweatt, M3 (2011-08-13). Google doesn't believe I'm me: the troubles with "real" identities msdn Blogs. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
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