Nymwars is the name given to the conflicts over policies mandating that users of internet service identify using real names. They began in the summer of 2011 when nascent social networking site Google+ began enforcing such a policy by suspending the accounts of users it deemed in breach. Pseudonyms, nicknames, and non-standard real names (for example, mononyms or names that include scripts from multiple languages) have all been blocked.

The term was coined from ‘pseudonym’ and appears to have gained prominence as the hashtag ‘#nymwars’ on Twitter. The resulting discussions has raised many issues regarding naming, cultural sensitivity, public and private identity, and the role of social media in modern discourse. At the time of launch, the site’s user content and conduct policy stated, ‘To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you.’

Many users signed up using nicknames, handles, stage names, or other names by which they were commonly known, but which did not necessarily match the name on their government-issued ID. Google+ began a large-scale suspension of accounts which did not meet its naming standards. Account suspensions over the following weeks included those who were using nicknames, handles, and pseudonyms; those whose legal names were unusual, including mononymous users; and some users with straightforward names such as Facebook employee and Mozilla founder Blake Ross, and actor William Shatner.

Google eventually implemented a ‘grace period’ before suspension, and a ‘verified account’ program for celebrities and high-profile users. Google’s stance is that, ‘Google Profiles is a product that works best in the identified state. This way you can be certain you’re connecting with the right person, and others will have confidence knowing that there is someone real behind the profile they’re checking out. For this reason, Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life.’

Google CEO Eric Schmidt was quoted as stating that Google+ was intended as an identity management service more than as a social network, and that the use of real names would be necessary for other planned Google products based on this service. He also asserted that ‘the Internet will work better if people know that you’re a real person rather than a fake person.’

Criticisms include: that the policy as stated is insufficient for preventing spam; that it is inconsistently enforced; that it affects a wide range of Google services; that it fails to understand long-standing Internet culture; and that it disadvantages certain groups of people. The German ‘Telemediengesetz’ federal law makes anonymous access to online services a legal requirement.


2 Comments to “Nymwars”

  1. erm. Nymwars didn’t begin with Google+. Facebook has virtually (no pun intended) the same policy and has been enforcing it sporadically and arbitrarily for over a year against users whose names it thinks are fake.

  2. (@ wizard) …. how strange … I didn’t log into my Facebook account it must be 2 or 3 years now. And I don’t feel I missed anything

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.