In a weird twist of fate, Germany told Facebook that it must allow anonymous users even though Facebook's policy currently requires members to use their real names or else face expulsion.
When I first saw this story, I thought Germany was right in this edict, but after some contemplation, it is apparent that Facebook should indeed fight this.
Here is a snippet from the BBC report:
The policy violates German laws that give people the right to use pseudonyms online, said the data protection agency in Schleswig-Holstein. The agency has issued a decree demanding that Facebook let people use fake names immediately.
Facebook said it would fight the decree "vigorously" and that its naming policy met European data protection rules.
What is funny to me is that in the United States, legislators are trying to ban any sort of anonymity online. What do the Germans know that the Americans don’t?
Most of Europe, at one time or another, was plagued by state secret police who stifled free expression to an extreme. Whistleblowers who do not want to be caught and insiders who have a story to tell all know the value of anonymity. These sorts of people need the cloak of confidentiality.
What Americans do not like about anonymity is that someone in a forum can make a fuss and call you an a-hole. They know who you are but you can never figure out who they are. It could be a relative or even your own child!
Politicians, in particular, see all this as a dirty trick that should be illegal. Who is saying this awful or slanted comment? We must know!
I've been blogging for nearly a decade and all bloggers know what the problems are with anonymity. We take care of it the old-fashioned way: Censorship! Or, as some call it, forum moderation. It's common and often necessary to moderate who is using the comments section as many abuse others. So, you just erase the offensive comments and then, if necessary, ban the user based on the IP address. Someone who has an always-changing IP is more problematic but he or she just has to be dogged more.
Now, I do not want to seem like some ogre for saying this, but it is an empirical fact that unless the anonymous jerk is hilarious, he or she is actually disrupting things and needs to go. This would probably happen with Facebook. There is evidence that this is happening on Twitter with all the "not" characters who have appeared to make snide commentary. I follow a slew of these parody accounts myself.
Twitter has not collapsed because of these guys but Facebook just might. I'll take Facebook's side of this debate. While I understand the German argument, Facebook can too easily be used for fraudulent purposes. It cannot afford to have a pro-anonymity policy because it would open the gates of deceitful identity. Every Nigerian scammer, with a list of fake widows and dead leaders with £12 million stashed in some bank, would be scamming online. You can count on it. And I'm sure they are already trying.
Anonymity on the Internet is a good thing. And if anyone was a low-profile person with a Facebook account, I am sure they could easily be anonymous. There is a fake John C. Dvorak pretending to be me last time I looked. How hard can it be?
But Facebook should prohibit this. There are places other than Facebook where people can go to condemn some wrongdoer.