We have a new reason “to despise Facebook,” says Jay Barmann of SFirst.com. (“Talking Points,” The Week, October 3. 2014 pg. 16) The company has long had a policy that requires users to subscribe under their real names. But what’s in a name some Drag Queens are beginning to ask. Film stars wouldn’t be caught dead using their given names. Who would look up Diane Hall’s fan page when they want news of Diane Keaton? Drag Queens are no different. They make their living projecting a persona which includes their catchy monikers. So, when Facebook gave an ultimatum to Lil Ms. Hot Mess, Sister Roma and Heklina to use their real names “or else,” pandemonium broke loose.
Besides those wanting to use stage names, others may have good reasons for wishing to use an alias. Women with abusive husbands or lovers seek anonymity, for example. So do employees intending to keep employers from snooping on them.
Alina Tugend, commenting in The New York Times, wants Facebook users to be under no illusion about the terms for their presence on the social network’s site. At any time, the company can pull the plug on a subscriber’s existence. Last year, the ACLU was suspended for violating community standards when it posted “a photo of a bare-breasted bronze statue,” (Ibid pg. 16) — a decision which makes Facebook not only an arbiter of speech but of art as well.
When we sign their contract, we give the company censorship powers beyond those of the government’s and think little of it. We imagine we can walk away at any time. But like the web itself, wherever we go we leave traces of ourselves. Who owns those traces? The law is still unclear, making the present a good time for a discussion on consumer internet rights. At the moment, Facebook is the sole arbiter of its content with powers to sell our information, censor our behavior or eliminate us altogether. Talk about a brave new world.