Everyone's A Bad Guy: German Regulator Orders Facebook To Drop Its Stupid 'Real Name' Policy
from the sigh dept
While it seems that too many people and organizations think that the problem with the internet is too much anonymity, there are those who see the opposite as being the case. Google, for instance, at one point instituted a “real name” policy for its platforms, arguing that areas like the comments section on YouTube, which required a real name login, would be worlds better if only everyone had to put their real names on their comments. It was a dumb idea for several reasons, including the complete unworkability of the policy and the fact that, haha, nothing can clean up YouTube’s comments section, you silly fools. For these reasons, Google eventually dropped the policy and restored anonymity on its platforms, and yet somehow the world kept turning.
Facebook too has adopted a real name policy and it’s been every bit as effective at tamping down unruly behavior. Which is to say that it hasn’t. At all. And, in the meantime, valid reasons for wanting to be anonymous online are thrown by the wayside. As it turns out, one German privacy watchdog group considered this an important enough issue to go on the muscle and declare that Facebook must allow anonymous accounts on its platform. Per Bloomberg:
Facebook Inc. was ordered by a German privacy watchdog to allow users to have accounts under pseudonyms on the social network. Facebook may not unilaterally change such accounts to the real names of users and may not block them, Johannes Caspar, Hamburg’s data regulator, said in an e-mailed statement. The company, whose European headquarters are in Ireland, can’t argue it’s only subject to that country’s law, he said.
“Anyone who stands on our pitch also has to play our game,” said Caspar. “The arbitrary change of the user name blatantly violates” privacy rights.
Let’s be clear: anonymous speech is an ideal I think everyone should embrace. That said, this move by the regulator is simply another step in an ongoing trend in which European companies appear to want to wield a heavy regulatory hammer on foreign, and especially American, companies. And that trend isn’t a good one for a whole host of reasons. Nationalism when it comes to an internet that by definition ignores borders is going to create havoc in an online world that feeds off of open speech and communication. While privacy rights are a laudible goal, creating a patchwork of regulatory rules for companies whose business is the internet is certainly not. And European targeting of American companies in this respect is only going to create a regulatory proxy war that nobody will benefit from.
The most disappointing part of all of this is that this particular story never would have happened if Facebook, with its American roots, had simply stood up for basic American ideals, of which anonymous speech is counted. You simply can’t even graze the history of America without encountering the immense importance of anonymous speech, from the publication of Common Sense to the Supreme Court’s recognition of it being a basic American ideal. For Facebook to open the door to regulatory abuse by a foreign nation by not honoring this heritage is extremely disappointing. Facebook’s reaction to this news is as maddening as it is nonsensical.
“The use of authentic names on Facebook protects people’s privacy and safety by ensuring people know who they’re sharing and connecting with,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.
Ensuring people’s privacy by taking away part of that privacy is an interesting theory in that it’s self-contradictory on its face. Like I said, there are no good guys in this story, mostly because Facebook has ensured it won’t play that role.