As first reported by TechCrunch yesterday, Facebook today started allowing prominent public figures, notably those with many subscribers, to verify their accounts by submitting a government-issued photo ID and display a preferred pseudonym instead of their birth name. From there, they are given the option to enter an "alternate name" that can be used to find them through search and that can be displayed next to their real name in parentheses or simply replace their real name on Facebook (birth names will still be shown on the user's profile).
"We are rolling out a minor update to our Subscribe feature," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "Starting today, we'll begin testing a verification process for people with a large number of subscribers. The new process enables people to verify their identities by submitting a government issued ID. Once verified, they'll also have the option to more prominently display an alternate name (nickname, maiden name, byline, etc.) on their timelines in addition to their real name. This update makes it even easier for subscribers to find and keep up with journalists, celebrities and other public figures they want to connect to."
Since the feature is only available as of today, Facebook confirmed it doesn't have any example accounts with which it can show off the new feature yet. Facebook will manually approve alternative names to make sure individuals are really the celebrities, politicians, journalists, and so on they claim they are. Those with verified accounts will also gain more prominent placement in Facebook's "People To Subscribe To" feature (also called Subscription Suggestions).
It's important to note how verified accounts work with Facebook's real name policy, which has always stated you must use your birth name on the social network. On the one hand, verified accounts allow more than just the nick names allowed previously, since verified accounts allow pseudonyms that can replace your real name on the service, while nick names are just attached to your name. On the other hand, the same rules still apply since if anyone can simply go ahead and check a celebrity's real name.
Five months ago, Facebook announced Subscriptions, an optional feature that lets you control what types of stories you get from your friends and non-friends in your News Feed. Subscriptions are meant to help you keep up to date with people you're not friends with.
In other words, these are one-way friendships for subscribing to a public figure, celebrity, politician, journalist, or anyone else who wants to post public updates via their Facebook profile. It benefits both parties: the subscriber (could be you), who wants to use Facebook to receive a person's updates, as well as the public figure (also could be you), who wants to reach their audience on Facebook without having a separate Page. Two months ago, the company pushed out the Subscribe button to the whole Web, letting you subscribe to a person's content when you're not on Facebook, like a news website, blog, and so on.
Facebook is trying to get as many celebrities as it can onboard, but I suspect many don't want to share their real name on the social network. Their pseudonym is part of their brand, and so Facebook is being forced to offer this new feature so that it can coax them to opening up their profile to the public and build their subscriber count.
This move is also an attempt to mitigate the potential problem of impostors and scammers abusing other people's names on Facebook, which is already a big issue even without the ability to use pseudonyms. It also means Facebook is pointing yet another gun at Twitter, which allows you to use any name you want and is very popular among celebrities.
- Facebook launches Subscriptions, similar to Twitter following
- Facebook now lets you update Twitter
- Facebook launches Subscribe button for websites
- Facebook: 1000s of journalists are already using Subscribe
- Mark Zuckerberg passes 10 million subscribers on Facebook
- The rich flock to Facebook, don't bother with Twitter