I ran into problems – not with official documentation – but with Facebook.
To change my last name, I was told to send in a scanned image of my marriage license to the company so they could verify my identity. Instead, I closed down my account and opened a new one bearing my new moniker. Imagine my surprise when I came upon this from the NY Times: “Rushdie Runs Afoul of Web’s Real-Name Police.”
Apparently Facebook gave Salman Rushdie grief for his name as well. Salman, I feel your pain.
The writer Salman Rushdie hit Twitter on Monday morning with a flurry of exasperated posts. Facebook, he wrote, had deactivated his account, demanded proof of identity and then turned him into Ahmed Rushdie, which is how he is identified on his passport. He had never used his first name, Ahmed, he pointed out; the world knows him as Salman.
Would Facebook, he scoffed, have turned J. Edgar Hoover into John Hoover?
Or C.S. Lewis into Clive Lewis? Hell no! I like to use Facebook for a variety of reasons – I can keep up with friends, connect with fellow writers, find out about social events, promote business, etc. The site’s usefulness is endless, but so is its power. I’m glad that Rushdie pressured Facebook to use his pseudonym, through Twitter no less. But I’m also concerned by the amount of information this company is aggregating, how much its profiting from our every click.
The debate over identity has material consequences. Data that is tied to real people is valuable for businesses and government authorities alike. Forrester Research recently estimated that companies spent $2 billion a year for personal data, as Internet users leave what the company calls “an exponentially growing digital footprint.”
Should we take our feet out of the mud and/or limit our online presence? The article notes the political power of social media, and again its dangers.
And then there are the political consequences. Activists across the Arab world and in Britain have learned this year that social media sites can be effective in mobilizing uprisings, but using a real name on those sites can lead authorities right to an activist’s door.
I won’t stop using social media – it’s too vital for future business. But I do plan on further limiting the amount of information I give out about myself and becoming more aware of the “digital footprint” that I leave behind. In this case, ignorance is definitely not bliss.