4Chan Founder Moot Cherishes Choices: 'Facebook and Google Do Identity Wrong'

Facebook, Google, you're doing it wrong by insisting on only real names and not allowing pseudonyms, said 4Chan's "moot" aka Chris Poole during his talk at the Web 2.0 Summit. "I don't see myself as any more an advocate for anonymity than identity - I am just someone who cherishes options. I like having choices," Poole said. Choosing to use an alias is not "paranoid or secretive." The "disturbing" trend of big players eroding our identity options is not a good thing. We are fast approaching a "fork in the road where we are about to sacrifice something that's valuable and it's special. And the complexity and identity is part of what defines our humanity and we are coming close to losing that."

Facebook, Google, you're doing it wrong by insisting on only real names and not allowing pseudonyms, said 4Chan's "moot" aka Chris Poole during his talk at the Web 2.0 Summit. When it comes to online identities, Poole said, "Twitter does it better" by allowing users to choose a screen name and use aliases for handles if so desired. "The portrait of identity online is often painted in black and white," he said. Facebook forces you to have one identity and paints online anonymity, even pseudonymity, a chaotic black. "But you can incorporate identity without asking users to make sacrifices."

We all have different roles to play in life, with different context for different audiences. What you say as a parent to a child is not the same as what you might say to peers or co-workers. "It's not who you share with, it's who you share as and your context within that group," Poole stated. "We all have multiple identities. And that's not something that's abnormal, it's just a part of being human." What Facebook and Google fail to see is that we are "multifaceted." He said, "Google and Facebook would have you believe that you're a mirror, but in fact, we're more like diamonds."

Like last time when Poole said Zuckerberg was 'wrong' on anonymity and that 'anonymity is authenticity', he slammed Facebook. This time, however, moot scolded Google too. Facebook pushes a "one size fits all" choice when even the grocery store "toothbrush aisle" offers more options than how you can express yourself via Facebook real name policies. And, instead of innovating, the mentality behind Google Plus ended up copying "the same broken principles that Facebook subscribes to."

While Chris Poole's Canvas requires users to authenticate through Facebook to help handle spam bots and trolls, users can post under their chosen handles or anonymously. Poole seems to resent how Facebook is trying to push the way online identity should be handled on a global scale. "I don't see myself as any more an advocate for anonymity than identity - I am just someone who cherishes options. I like having choices," Poole said. When it comes to the "disturbing" trend of big players eroding our options in the identity space, he added, "I just don't understand how anybody could say that's a good thing." Our ability to be creative and to explore is endangered by real name policies and requirements that Facebook and Google Plus are setting up as the identity standards.

It's said that you can choose your friends but not your family. Regarding online identities, Poole chose to liken names to hacker conferences where, when asked to give your name, many people choose to give their "handle" and not their real name. Choosing to use an alias "is not because hackers are paranoid or secretive," Poole said. "It is because they chose that name - it's not the one given by their parents."

It's no secret where I come down in the nym wars as using an alias online seems like wisdom for both security and privacy reasons. In fact, people should be allowed to have many screen names and explore different interests and images of themselves depending upon the audience. For example, it's not uncommon for a handle to be abandoned, as I learned early on from hacking buddies, "we all have to die sometime."

Real name policies at Facebook and Google Plus are blurring the lines between digital and offline life, locking us into one online identity to be used and tracked by for your entire lifetime. Poole warned that we are fast approaching a "fork in the road where we are about to sacrifice something that's valuable and it's special. And the complexity and identity is part of what defines our humanity and we are coming close to losing that."

Napster co-founder and former Facebook President Sean Parker tossed in his two cents on the social networking giants, "The threat to Facebook is that power users have gone to Twitter or Google+." Yet Parker tried to dodge the Facebook-is-creepy argument until he finally said, "Look: There's good creepy and there's bad creepy. Today's creepy is tomorrow's necessity." A few weeks back, when Parker joined Twitter his first tweet was, "Sorry Zuck, I had to do it eventually."

But I disagree with Parker about Facebook's creepiness factor. Creepy is creepy and those giants are advertisers who want to track you to increase their bottom line. Do you really believe they have your best interests at heart with their real name policies? I do agree with "moot." It's up to us, users, to "set the bar" and "demand" certain unalienable rights in online services. As Poole said, "Facebook and Google do identity wrong. Twitter does it better. And I want to think about what the world would be like if we did it right."

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