Thursday, November 01, 2007

Facebook Declares War on the Blogosphere

Just as in earlier times a man was only as good as his family name, today we are defined by the social networks we belong to. So imagine my horror when I learned that I have become a virtual bastard. Earlier this week I logged into Facebook and discovered that without warning my account had been deleted. According to Facebook, I am a fake, a charlatan, a nonperson and all of my more than 200 Facebook friends are the victims of a cruel hoax. My crime? Violating Facebook's Terms of Service by not using my "real name." What's next? Will Second Life require people's avatars to be a perfect likeness?

Perhaps it was all just a terrible misunderstanding, I thought. I immediately wrote to Facebook to ask them to correct the error and received this chilly response from "Aubrey from Facebook":

Hi,

Fake accounts are a violation of our Terms of Use.
Facebook requires users to provide their real first and last
names. Impersonating anyone or anything is prohibited.
Unfortunately, we will not be able to reactivate this account
for any reason. This decision is final.

Thanks for your understanding,

Aubrey
Customer Support Representative
Facebook

Apparently "Aubrey from Facebook" thinks I should use my first and last name but she doesn't feel compelled to do the same. Does Facebook exist in an irony-free zone? I am also curious to know how "Aubrey from Facebook" (if that is her real name) determined that Jon Swift is not my real name. No one from Facebook ever contacted me to ask me whether that is or is not my real name. I was not asked to supply a birth certificate or a driver's license or a DNA sample or given any chance to prove who I was. In fact, I was never contacted at all.

Now, I will admit that "Jon Swift" is a name I took as a tribute to the brave Swift Boat Veterans (and which I was forced to adopt because of some misunderstandings with creditors), but does that make my name any less real than the name "Aubrey from Facebook"? What exactly does "real name" mean? Would Bob Dylan be banned if he didn't sign up as Robert Zimmerman? Would someone searching for their friend Carlos the Jackal have to know that his "real name" is Ilich Ramírez Sánchez? Would Malcolm X have had to sign up under his slave name if he were still alive? Would Eric Arthur Blair have been banned from joining Facebook under the name George Orwell if he weren't dead, too. Or is Orwell actually alive and well and running Facebook?

And who exactly am I supposed to be impersonating? Has it ever occurred to you, "Aubrey from Facebook," that whoever I am supposed to be impersonating could actually be impersonating me? In fact, a search for the name "Jon Swift" reveals 99 profiles, many of which seem no more "real" than mine. Why out of all those Jon Swifts was I singled out? And, by the way, searching for for film director "Alan Smithee" yields 85 profiles and "Jesus Christ" turns up more than 500. At least I can be assured that all of those have been vetted by Facebook's crack investigators and are certified as being "real."

Certainly, I am not the only user of Facebook to use a pseudonym. Are the people who run Facebook familiar at all with the Internet? How many people actually do use their real names on the Internet and are these people able to get real jobs after the human resources department Googles them? And haven't we all been told about the dangers of putting all of our real information on the Internet? Maybe I should just create a new profile under the name "Identity Thief." I wonder how many people who use their real names on Facebook would friend me. Ironically, killing off profiles that didn't use "real names" is what helped Facebook displace Friendster as the social network of choice in the first place. Nothing like following in your old rival's footsteps.

I am not the only person who has suffered the ignominy of having his account deleted without warning for using a pseudonym. One person was banned for putting the wrong birthdate. Does Facebook actually expect people in this day and age not to lie about their age? I've been lying about my age ever since I turned 21 a couple years ago. How old are you "Aubrey from Facebook"? Really? You seem a lot older. If Facebook is planning to ban everyone who does not use the name or birthdate listed on their birth certificates, "Aubrey from Facebook" is going to have a lot of work ahead of her or Facebook is going to have to hire new people. In that case, let me offer a word of advice: Google the applicants before you hire them or at least look them up on Facebook. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Many bloggers use pseudonyms, an American tradition in political discourse that goes all the way back to our Founding Fathers. Are all bloggers who use pseudonyms "fake" in the eyes of Facebook? Hath not a blogger eyes? Hath not a blogger hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer? If you poke us, do we not bleed?

By banning bloggers who use pseudonyms Facebook has declared war on the blogosphere. More and more bloggers have been using Facebook as a social networking tool, but how useful will it be if so many bloggers will be left out. I know a number of prominent pseudonymous bloggers who still have profiles on Facebook but apparently their days as Facebook members are numbered. I'm not going to rat them out to Facebook's jack-booted thugs, however, even if they threaten to torture me.

Some of these prominent bloggers used to be among my more than 200 Facebook friends. I wonder if my Facebook friends have noticed yet that I am gone. I wonder how many of them have sent their zombies to bite me only to have them return unsated. Oh, how I miss being poked and being invited to join silly groups and causes and to install buggy widgets on my profile page that I then have to immediately uninstall. Maybe one of my Facebook friends will start a "Let Jon Swift Back into Facebook" group. I would join it if I could.

Update: Well, that was fast. Piersy has already created a group on Facebook called "Let Jon Swift Back into Facebook." You can join it here if you have a Facebook account. I must say, I am very touched. Thank you very much, Piersy (if that is your "real name"). Sadly, I cannot join the group or even see it.

Update 2: Support is pouring in from the blogosphere from such heavy hitters Robert Scoble, Dennis Howlett, Stan Schroeder, and Rob Hyndman. Steve Rubel has Twittered me (which is legal in most states now). Monkey has created another Facebook group called "Who Is Aubrey from Facebook?" And the pain of being booted from Facebook has been eased a little by the news that this modest blog has been nominated for a 2007 Weblog Award for Funniest Blog.

Update 3: Victory!!!!!!! My Facebook account has been restored.

At 11:25 A.M. EDT I received the following email from "Jerry from Facebook":

Hi Jon,
Upon further review, we have decided to reactivate your account. Our Terms of Use, to which all users agree when they first sign up for the site, stipulate that you must not "impersonate any person or entity, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent yourself, your age or your affiliation with any person or entity." However, since others on the site seem to know you by this name, and since you don't appear to be using the name to impersonate or to hide your identity, we have determined that you are not violating these Terms. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. Please let me know if you have further questions or concerns.
Thanks for your understanding,
Jerry
Customer Support Representative
Facebook

Thanks to everyone who supported me and even to those who disagreed with me but made some worthy contributions to the discussion. And special thanks to Piersy for starting the "Let Jon Swift Back into Facebook" group and to everyone who joined. Pat yourselves on the back for me. And finally kudos the folks at Facebook, who had the courage to reverse themselves. Thanks for your understanding.

For more on what this battle means, see my piece "Pseudonym-Americans Fight Back."



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80 comments:

piersy said...

I'm not normally one to raise a peep, but just for you, let the clamouring commence.

Oh, you probably can't read it can you!

Bring back jon

Bukko_in_Australia said...

My God, I read this and realised I've been living a lie all these years. I used to believe in you, Jon, but now I don't even believe in myself, or the silly screen name of which I was so proud. I am not the man I think I am -- whoever he was supposed to be. Thank you for revealing my sham life to be a farce. I am now going to go fake my death...

One more thing -- do you think they would have been nicer to you if you weren't a conservative?

Andrew Badera said...

DRAMA QUEEN.

Get over it. You violated TOS - quit being a whiny bitch! Welcome to the real world. Deal.

monkeyleader said...

well I demand to know who Aubrey from Facebook really is ..

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5421004309

err sorry Jon you won't be able to join this group but it's the

"Who is Aubrey From Facebook" group :)

Nige

Markus said...

Wow... this is sick! I think I should reconsider my opinion about facebook

Jen Flanigan said...

Honestly, I'm not sure what to say about this. True, Facebook should have contacted you or at the very least asked you to provide proof before killing your account. However, providing your real name is a very clear very upfront part of the Facebook TOS. Bottom line is that you agreed to that TOS when you signed up and you violated it. Whether you like it or not, Facebook has the right to enforce that. You don't have a leg to stand on, whether the policy makes you happy or not.

To me, this is another reason for transparency on the web. Also please remember, pseudonym or no you should never ever post, say, or do anything on the internet that you aren't comfortable having attached to your real name. Because chances are the two will be connected someday with or without your permission.

John said...

You signed up for a service that requires you to use your real name, and you didn't.

If you don't want to use your real name, don't use services that require it. Facebook is a private company, not a public utility, and can make whatever rules they want.

RedLeeroy said...

Damn facebook and all its stands for. May it suffer plague death and starvation. Sorry got a bit carried away there. But it has also beaten me -

http://redleeroy.wordpress.com/2007/09/26/the-facebook-incident/

Deek Deekster said...

Facebook, Fascistbook... I keep my real blog out of Facebook because its TOS states they own everything, even if it's published elsewhere.

What this needs is a TEST CASE. Many of their ludicrious conditions (especially the ownership-claims) would never stand up in court in the UK. How about taking them on in a court of law in the mighty USA? Someone? Someone rich?

g4rg4ntu4 said...

I say Mr. Swift!

I'm appalled at how unprofessional these farcebook people are. I myself had a similar problem when I tried to create an account under my pseudonym (g4rg4ntu4). After much harassment and threatened litigation I had no choice but to go with my real name (which of course is Francois Rabelais). You can, however, understand their concerns (of course they have no desire to be accused of harboring terrorists or subversives). November the 9th, support the troops, capture and kill the terrorists, etc.

And as for those wonderful applications (of which I constantly get invitations to install) I can tell you I never tire of them. The more the merrier I say! Nothing like a slow, buggy, poorly-implemented user interface to frustrate both the user and viewer (of course farcebook could never be accused of providing slow, buggy software).

Truly, farcebook, unlike bebo, is a social networking site designed by grown-ups for grown-ups.

J.K.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you have an account with your real name too, right? So you can still see what's on those groups that support you.
Or do you only have virtual friends?
That said. I think you make a good point. Like MiniMicrosoft did.

Best of luck with your cause.

Hans VB

bertrand said...

I'm sure you will enjoy this study:
Social-Network Users Enter False Personal Info to Protect Identity

http://www.marketingcharts.com/interactive/most-social-network-users-enter-false-personal-info-to-protect-identity-1691/

Anonymous said...

By banning bloggers who use pseudonyms Facebook has declared war on the blogosphere.

I've to to wonder if this isn't motivated by something more than you using a pseudonym.

As an aside, one of the commenters to this entry said Facebook is a private company, not a public utility, and can make whatever rules they want. It makes me wonder when an internet service goes from being a private company to a public utility?

Norman P said...

Dear Sir,

When I read your post this morning, I asked myself as I always do, "What would Jesus do?"

But you've noted that there are 500 people named Jesus Christ on Facebook, which means that I may very well get 500 different answers.

This is yet another outrage perpetrated by the Internet. In the old days, if I wanted to talk to Jesus, I only had to pray and the one Jesus would listen. Now I have to send someone a message on Facebook and I have no idea which Jesus is the real Jesus. You'd think that Aubrey of Facebook would be trying to narrow the field down by 499 "faces" (or even 498, since the Anti-Christ is probably also on Facebook and it would be VERY helpful if we only had to figure out who was whom from a field of two rather than a field of 500.)

It could be, of course, that Aubrey from Facebook is him or herself the Anti-Christ. I may have to float this possibility in a massive chain email to 500,000 Evangelicals I know.

Bock the Robber said...

Damn their cheek!

I'll join your support group immediately and get you reinstated, or my name's not Bock the Robber.

Anthony (Los Angeles) said...

Bottom line is that you agreed to that TOS when you signed up and you violated it.

In that case, Jen, why haven't they summarily banned "God" and "Jesus Christ?" Oh, and "Che Guevara," apparently now an undergraduate at UNC? (Guess there was life after Bolivia, after all.)

pops said...

I'm sorry, but this all kind of new to me.

Is this the part where we stand up one by one and shout "I am Spartacus?"

hildigunnur said...

joined...

Have serious doubts about Facebook anyway, after their claims on holding copyright on everything in there.

kathleenmaher said...

Maybe it's one of Facebook's silly Halloween tricks. You know some poked someone who superpoked back, pumpkins were thrown around and Facebook decided for the holiday, it might be fun to turn some people into ghosts. Aubrey give you a cute little cartoon identity?
Last time I tried to take an airplane from LaGuardia, the gatekeeper refused my perfectly good passport. She wanted my birth certificate and I wondered, What is it about me that makes people think I wasn't born? And, if I wasn't born why are they even talking to me? Anyone need to see my belly button?

Anonymous said...

Actually, Facebook has this relatively new thing where if you get a friend request and you think it's a fake account, you can report it as such...you might have been victim of this.

Jamie Riddell said...

Getting banned for a TOS violation is fair enough, but the fact they won't enter into a dialogue is concerning. Are they too going to be like Google and decide what is right and what is not? If Google or FB become the major hubs of information on the web, what happens when they get it wrong?

baratunde said...

Jon i probably disagree with many of your politics, but I fully support your right to have a presence. I've been burned by Faceblock before and in your honor have joined your two Faceblock support groups.

Longer term, your tale proves the dangers of a "platform" like Faceblock which is non-transparent, arbitrary and closed in so many ways.

LONG LIVE JON SMITH

willis said...

Give Aubrey a second chance. It maybe that she knows she made an error but needs something from you to save face. Squeeze off some DNA for her and get in the mail, stat!

Anonymous said...

Kind of ironic that everyone complains so much about it and still wants to get back on the system. If it's so outrageous, then why do you want to be in the club?

I'm with Groucho Marx.

Jen Flanigan said...

In that case, Jen, why haven't they summarily banned "God" and "Jesus Christ?" Oh, and "Che Guevara," apparently now an undergraduate at UNC? (Guess there was life after Bolivia, after all.)

So by your logic, if several robberies go unpunished by the judicial system, then robbery is actually okay even though it's illegal? Right, that logic simply doesn't work.

A violation is no less punishable simple because all violators are not caught and similarly punished. Just because little Johnny got away with something, Little Susie does not have the right to haul off and do it too.

baratunde said...

@jen flanigan

there's this little idea we have in america called "equal justice under the law." and while "equal justice under the terms of service" doesn't quite have the same potency, the spirit should be the same.

when laws are only selectively enforced, that creates its own injustice and calls into question the entire system. robbery is still a crime, but if entire classes of people are not prosecuted, it in fact undermines the case for it being a "law."

Sam Thornton said...

Forget "Aubrey From Facebook."

Who is this sinister "Jerry Customer Support Representative Facebook" character and how did s/he get your email address?

I smell a conspiracy, perhaps even a vast left-wing conspiracy.

Lizzie said...

LONG LIVE JON SMITH

And Jon Swift too!

So by your logic, if several robberies go unpunished by the judicial system, then robbery is actually okay even though it's illegal? Right, that logic simply doesn't work.

Jen, obviously using a pseudonym on the Internet is exactly the same as actually breaking the law. Right? Right? There's absolutely no difference between signing up for an Internet program with a not-real name and robbing banks. Right? There's no one else on this whole worldwide thingy that would ever consider using a nom-de-plume. Right?

BTW, Mr.Swift (criminal of the Internets that you are!!), congrats on your win.

Norman P said...

Dear Sir,

I'm sorry, but I am confused. I understand that you were allowed to return to Facebook, but did you return as Jon Swift, Jesus Christ, or someone entirely different?

Gwyneth Llewelyn said...

One wonders if the lawyers writing up these ToS ever read the international legislation on the right of writing under a literary pseudonym and the protection of intellectual property granted to pseudonyms.

It's not as if they're "new" laws. The Berne Convention on Intellectual Property was held in 1866. Granted, the US just became a signatary in the last quarter of the 20th century, but it's not if it's a revolution. Pseudonyms have established legal rights. Refusing to accept a pseudonym is actually more illegal than breaking a ToS that is, by itself, in contravention of international copyright laws.

So, like everything else in legal matters, it's never a simple case of "you broke their ToS, why are you complaining?". A nice lawyer will point out that Jon never violated any laws — Facebook did, by ignoring the legislation that protects the right to copyright your work under a pseudonym — and so this would be an interesting legal question to raise at a court.

Obviously nobody will sue Facebook for ignoring copyright laws (pseudonyms being covered under them), since the world simply doesn't work that way. Unless you can establish a massive loss of money due to your Facebook account having been cancelled, it's very likely not worth the cost of legal action. Facebook knows this and will certainly continue to ignore IP regulations regarding the use of pseudonyms until one day he cancels, say, Stephen King (also a pseudonym) and he files a suit :)

Having a registered pseudonym, a trademark, and operating a consulting business under "Gwyneth Llewelyn" (with proof for all three), I eagerly await the day Facebook does the same to me :) I dislike social Web 2.0 sites anyway...

Jen Flanigan said...

@Lizzie - Obviously you misunderstand the point of the comparison. It's not that robberies and Jon Swift's assumed name are equal crimes. It was that not every crime is caught and punished. Take a deep breath and embrace the metaphor here. No one is accusing Jon of anything punishable by a court of law. No need to get overly excited and twist my words into something they clearly were not.

@baratunde - My point was not that Jon was singled out (although yours clearly is) it was that he was caught. Maybe, just maybe, Facebook employees do not have the time to hunt down 500 fake Jesuses. But maybe if *you* take the time to report them, they too will lose their accounts. I'm guessing some joker hit an abuse button on Jon. He was not singled out... I doubt Facebook finds him that important. In fact, I would venture whoever disabled his account in the first place had never even heard of Jon Swift. Which would mean this is not selective enforcement. Merely the poor sap who got caught. (Being that sap for the majority of my lifetime, I'm sympathetic to the plight, honest.)

You all are so busy arming your crusade here that you're missing my point. I am not calling anyone a criminal nor was anyone singled out here. I'm just saying a guy got caught doing something against the TOS and had his account disabled. As it should be. And honestly? Both my opinion and yours are a moot point at this point since Facebook has decided where they stand on the issue and reinstated Jon's account.

Anonymous said...

>I'm just saying a guy got caught
>doing something against the TOS and
>had his account disabled. As it
>should be.

Not really, not if said TOS violate the law. Or if said TOS are restrictive business practices. TOS are unchallengable laws of nature.

And yes, you can take your business elsewhere. Which is kind of ironic here that everyone's so mad, but not mad enough to want to take their business elsewhere.

joshnunn said...

Apparently "we will not be able to reactivate this account
for any reason. This decision is final" only means "as long as we think you won't give us any negative press". Way to fight it. But really, do you want to go back now?

The Miniature Mage said...

I took my time joining Facebook because of the real name thing. I do not blog under my real name, and I do not use social networks under my real name. I decided to cave to FB's lack of understanding and wait for things to get better. Maybe they will. I very nearly submitted a request to change my name to MiniMage on FB after reading this, but I'm going to see what develops over the next few days...maybe.

Count James d'Estaing said...

It's 1.30 in the morning here, Jon but I'll get onto this one tomorrow morning.

Code Red said...

Here's all you need to know about how big of a joke Facebook is on this issue. The following include Facebook profiles for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Pablo Escobar, Night Rider, Green Martian and others:

Santa Claus:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=santa+claus&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

...and his Reindeer, of course:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=reindeer&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

Jesus Christ:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=jesus+christ&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

Pablo Escobar:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=pablo+escobar&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

John Wayne:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=John+Wayne&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

The Tooth Fairy:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=Tooth+Fairy&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

The Easter Bunny:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=easter+bunny&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

George Bush:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=george+bush&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

Billy The Kid:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=Billy+the+Kid&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

Monopoly:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=monopoly&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

Night Rider:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=night+rider&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

Green Martian:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=Green+Martian&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

Black Beard:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=Black+Beard&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

Sam I Am, which is feasable to some degree:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=Sam+I+Am&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

And last, but not least, the Gingerbread Man:
http://www.facebook.com/s.php?q=Gingerbread+Man&n=-1&k=400000000010&init=r

Just about anything you can come up with, it's there on Facebook. Lame double-standard they have going on...

Enjoy,
Code Red

Kevin Hayden said...

Alas, I slept through the entire war. Of course, I never thought Facebook was real. I thought it was a dream sequence on Newhart.

Miss Cellania said...

I had wondered why so many people used their real names on Facebook. Apparently, they think Miss Cellania is real, since its the only name I ever use there. I joined the group to defend you.

skippy said...

i'm with you 100% jon because mostly you always link to me.

but personally i don't have a facebook or a myspace. it's all i can do to deal with blogspot.

but i'm glad you got back onto facebook. so now you have more blogs to keep up.

Jeroen said...

Perhaps I'm being silly but if facebook doesn't want you why would you want facebook? Stay here or move onto hyves or something.

dslak said...

"And finally kudos the folks at Facebook, who had the courage to reverse themselves."

Statements like this may explain why you don't get the memos sent out to other conservatives. True conservatives know that the better part of courage is never having to admit to being wrong, because you never are. Of course, you claim to be a "reasonable" conservative, which is merely to say that you are a conservative lacking in courage.

Matt said...

I just wanted to give you a heads up that we have featured this post as a Headline today on The Issue, a blog newspaper whose editorial staff pulls the best blog posts each day. In addition to capturing breaking news, our Headlines section captures the posts that have most struck a chord across the blogosphere, and this is definitely one of those. You can check it out at www.TheIssue.com.

Matt
The Issue

Anonymous said...

"and which I was forced to adopt because of some misunderstandings with creditors"


Real conservatives meet their commitments, they don't dodge creditors by changing their name!

Gwyneth Llewelyn said...

@Jen Flanigan, and the point here is, how can you fight a ToS that, by itself, does violate (at least) international intellectual property laws and regulamentation by refusing to concede the right to an author to publish their work anonymously or pseudonymously? :)

Note that the same can be said for many media that refuse to publish anonymous letters or letters written under a pseudonym, and, last time I checked, nobody was legally fighting them as well, so I guess that Facebook can legitimately follow that precedent...

As for the many "Nicknames" under Facebook, it's important to distinguish two things. One is the name you're signing under; the other is the nickname that is shown under your profile, and this is what comes up when doing the many Facebook searches. The question is: how can you trust Facebook to respect your right to privacy? What if some day they simply disregard the whole issue and start posting people's real names, just because they wish to do so? This would make some people completely losing faith in their policies.

Why doesn't the "real media" face the same issue? Well, because journalists and newspapers or other media are part of organisations that collectively impose a code of ethics, and any of those organisations that violate a simple thing like revealing private data in public for the sake of a news scoop, will have to face their organisation's penalties by violating their code of ethics — besides a possible lawsuit. On the Internet, however, service providers can very well get away with this, since they're bound to no organisation but themselves...

HopeSpringsATurtle said...

Sorry Jon, but you should thank God for caring enough to look out for your best interests by canceling that wretched account.

Facebook is a cover for the Fascists.

If I were you I would cancel it--again. I'll keep you in my prayers.

In God's Service,

HopeSpringsATurtle

Libby Spencer said...

I don't know much about Facebook myself but I have an idea on how they targeted you.

It seems the employees routinely violate their own policies and track user's online activity at random.

Jennings said...

So, basically you have to be a bigwig blogger to get facebook to bend their rules. It is a victory for Jon Swift, but nothing is changed for the rest of us poor slobs. BTW, who is Jerry from Customer Support??

Is this the first sign that facebook has jumped the shark?

Anonymous said...

@Hope...

Facebook is a cover for the Fascists? Capital 'F' on 'Fascists'? WTF? Paranoia seems to have no limit.

Anonymous said...

you're still a fake and a charlatan.

Just Mo said...

thats insane and uncalled for!

Gwyneth Llewelyn said...

I forgot to add a few references on why refusing the right to a pseudonym may be a violation of the law.

Let's start with Article 15 of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, of which the US are a signatary since 1988:

"(1) In order that the author of a literary or artistic work protected by this Convention shall, in the absence of proof to the contrary, be regarded as such, and consequently be entitled to institute infringement proceedings in the countries of the Union, it shall be sufficient for his name to appear on the work in the usual manner. This paragraph shall be applicable even if this name is a pseudonym, where the pseudonym adopted by the author leaves no doubt as to his identity."

Note that Article 15 is cleverly worded, so that authors cannot be protected if they use a pseudonym used by someone else; e.g. signing as "Santa Claus" doesn't entitle you to rights over your content. It also leaves it up to each member state to create a system through which an author can establish their claims on a pseudonym. In the US, for literary works, it's usual to register pseudonyms with the Writers Guild of America; other countries have similar non-profit organisations providing the same service.

Countries like the US and Canada have in their legal systems a series of "moral" rights that are established and cannot be overridden by further legislation (or a company's whim). The Wikipedia entry provides some clues and links to that effect. The US Copyright office also provides some hints on US legislation protecting pseudonyms.

Countries like Sweden go much further. They forbid any organisation to limit/deny the right to pseudonyms. Interestingly enough, if a Sweden citizen wished to sue Facebook under their national law, they could even put Facebook's owners in jail for up to a year. In the US the situation is far from settled; consider this text on a decision by the Supreme Court on anonymity.

On the other hand, even countries like Canada don't go that far. While they protect the right to pseudonymity, they also don't force companies to accept pseudonymity (see again the Wikipedia's article on Pseudonymity). The State of New Jersey, however, protects their residents' privacy by recognising their right to privacy from Internet service providers. Alas, Facebook is registered in California, which has different protection laws, although the right to privacy is on California's first article of their constitution.

So what can we conclude from this? While Facebook, being an US-based company, are technically "entitled" to deny the legal right to pseudonymity and get away with it, they're also violating a moral right to it. Moral rights are not as strong under the Law as legal rights, so this would very likely require a decision in a court (or even at the Supreme) to determine if Facebook are or not legally liable for crushing moral rights. It's definitely a shady area — since Facebook is owned by an American company. If they were established in an European country (most of them enforce moral rights at the same level as legal rights), part of their ToS would be invalid (at least the bits requiring users to provide legal names) although they could still offer their services there (they just couldn't enforce those items on their ToS). In the US, however, it would have to be settled in court if a company is indeed allowed to ignore a moral right when establishing a service. Recent cases come to the Supreme tend to indicate that this would be the case (perhaps this was the major reason why they stepped back in their decision), but it would not be 100% sure.

Anonymous said...

hilarious

Anonymous said...

The exact reason why i wont use facebook, totally crap!

Erica said...

As an employee of Linden Lab, makers of Second Life, I want to assure you that you can call your avatar by whatever fake name you like.

Heck, even the weird and tireless employees of Linden Lab use fake names.

yours in gleeful pseudonymity,
Erica Linden

The Miniature Mage said...

War on the blogosphere? I think I've come to a new realization, with the latest Facebook Beacon flaps. They were just thinking ahead. Does a big-dollar company care what the fake Christinas, fake Brads and fake Keiras of the world are buying? Heck, no, since they could all be one person! No, Facebook needs to put real names behind the data they're secretly gathering on everyone, so they can make tons of dough. They probably even saw an advantage in giving Jon Swift's access back, since they can now point to an influential internet presence.

Do I have a problem with Facebook making tons of dough? Not if it's done right. However, the Beacon hullabaloo tends to indicate that all is not right with the FBverse.

Anonymous said...

my account was disabled, and all i did was take part in one of their applications. which is ironic as they provide the application which requires us to add many friends, which i did (i added 20 friends in 1 hour) and they disabled me thinking i was a spammer.
this i blame fully on facebook. why allow an application to be installed by your users only to disable ppl for using it?
weird!
i am frustrated and i dont think its fair as i was using a FB application . If tht application was going to create problems, then dont let us download it!

Erin Blaskie said...

I'm the latest victim in the 'you aren't who you say you are' Facebook smack down. Although, I'm not even using a pseudonym nor am I using a fake name. I was using my real, honest to goodness, married name...

Here's my blog post on the subject:

http://bsetc.ca/blog/2008/03/25/facebook-disabled-my-account-read-if-you-use-facebook/

Thanks for sharing your experience! Maybe, just maybe, they'll let me back on.

Nomsta said...

Dear Jon, I am an equally extreme-frustrated of FB double-standard TOS last week. The person who replied me behaved like a thug indeed. I have replied heavily on FB in the last 1 year, almost 50% of my emails are substituted on Fb and they lock me out, together with the groups I admined, events I hosted, messages I get... I wish I can sue them if I am in USA. Now its back and forth with them to release my account. I have been even thought of tracing their office number and calling them to clarify!

So if they will re-establish your account because "people on the iste knows you by that name", its the same for me and the real people around me, so "Quinton of Facebook" and the FB mgmt must change their TOS to accommodate me too, isn't it?

200% frustrated,
Nomsta Gooodness

Anonymous said...

Facebook is like the TSA of the online world. The pain/gain ratio of their security policies seem to be equally out of whack. I don't think that people mind being inconvenienced as long their sacrifice is accomplishing the security goal. The question is does having little old ladies take off their shoes all day or not letting an artist use their alias really make anything more secure? The policies may keep Crystal Light from putting a bomb in her shoe it doesn't seem to stop Steve Smith from putting a bomb in his underwear.

Anyone can use a fake name to sign up for Facebook as long as it sounds like a real name. How does that make anything more secure? I would think online predators would be more likely to use a name that sounds real to keep a low profile than to go with something that stands out like Santa Clause. It almost seems like the policy would make Facebook less secure by forcing the ones that would use Santa Clause blend in instead.

When I went to Facebook to create a profile using my DJ name I was so annoyed to find out it was not allowed. The complete disgust for the policy didn't set in until I started reading about all the hundreds of people who are rejected when they are actually trying to use their real name! Unbelievable! So now you have just insulted 100 innocent people whose parents were hippies but Hector the molester singed up as Hector Rodriguez with no hassle what so ever. Suddenly limiting everyone to 3oz containers or shampoo that must be in a plastic bag seems like a really smart and efficient policy.

Anonymous said...

Myspace asks for your real name under your profile info but you are able to change your "displayed name" to whatever you want. How hard would that be to do? That way FB would still have access to your real info but users could display what they wanted making everyone happy.

Green assassin Brigade said...

Good article,

I've just had the same thing happen to me but I've yet to here from "Aubrey from Facebook".

I particularly like the

", since others on the site seem to know you by this name, and since you don't appear to be using the name to impersonate or to hide your identity, we have determined that you are not violating these Terms."

Well Duh, if you have any friends at all on facebook then it's pretty obvious that someone knows you by this name.

Green Assassin Brigade said...

A facebook group supporting my reinstatement

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=68478115015

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fake consultant said...

thanks for taking on this fight, and good for you...and that's coming from the liberal side of the fence.

Anonymous said...

HI, I am having the same problem as u. U mentioned that u sent an email to facebook before they send u the 'audrey email'. Do u now how to send the email to them? I tried and failed. Please contact me at desmond_google@hotmail.com. Thx

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Anonymous said...

Dear Jon,

a friend of mine found this helpful link, when I sent him an invitation to join the "Wir wollen Katrin Bpunkt zurück!!!!" (we want K B back) group. As it happens facebook deactivated my account for the same reasons as yours, although Katrin Bpunkt IS my actual artist name. And as with you a friend of mine had the idea to found this group. I'm happy to read that it helped for you. Feel free to join the group and forward the invitation to all your friends that brought you back.

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=260756406478&ref=mf

All the best, K

Katrin said...

By the way: I really enjoyed reading this!

K again

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Anna Kiss said...

Hi Jon, I must say I found your blog here the most helpful in 2 days of searching high and low for people with similar experiences.
I too have been deleted for having a fake name. I have used your blog here in my response to facebook, which you can read here:
http://anna-kiss.blogspot.com/2010/08/my-facebook-account-has-been-disabled.html

Thanks again for posting up your experiences as it really helped

Anna

Mal Byrne said...

I love this blog more than any I have ever read. I went through exactly the same thing but to no avail in keeping my account as Mal Byrne when my name is Malcolm. Still stewing over this unjust treatment. However reading this made me feel Oh so much better...Thank you Mr Swift (if that is your real name) LMAO!!

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