Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

Saturday's Google Plus user account deletion purge plunged the new social network into a crisis of user trust: the community wants it fixed.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

Saturday's Google+ user account deletion purge plunged the new social network into a crisis of user trust. The community wants it fixed.

Saturday's deletion of multiple Google+ user accounts spanned from well-known tech figures to ordinary netizens. It was ostensibly over Google Plus' enforcement of using so-called "real names."

Google+ remained silent, and combined with contradictory actions over the weekend it's now a trust trainwreck, a growing PR shadow and a textbook-case community management nightmare.

Other social networks are now probably laughing into their morning coffee, while Google+ users are most certainly both furious and frightened.

Google+ is not warning users before deleting user accounts, and some people have reported being locked out of all Google services, including docs and Gmail.

Google+ has told some users they can now only use the names on their government ID's for their Plus profiles. Currently the policy asks that your display name is what your "friends, family, and coworkers" call you. Requiring ID seems to contradict the stated policy.

Some users were able to find favor with Google employees off of Google+ and have their accounts restored. Privileged Plussers like celebrity Arianna Huffington got the immediate and personal restoration of her account by a Google+ Community Manager while others were told to seek help in forums or submit a request for review.

By Sunday, entire posts on Google+ became dedicated to documenting double-standards users witnessed.

Ex-Google employees were deleted. Writers, musicians, programmers and more were deleted. And if you elected to edit your name you needed to be very, very carefulnot to raise suspicion or you were flagged for deletion as well.

Sunday evening, people began tweeting that they were voluntarily deleting their Google+ profiles as a pre-emptive, "no thank you" measure.

Robert Scoble remarked, "Google is digging a deep hole here, not because of the rules, but because of how they are implementing them."

But it is the concept of forcing users into identifying their legal names to the public as a requirement to use the social network that has people angrier at Google than I expected.

Google+ user Todd Vierling revealed that programmer "+antimatter fifteen" who created several extensions for Chrome and ChromeOS including "Cloud Save" and "CrOS Save" and "Surplus" for Google+ had his Google+ account suspended for - yes - using a pseudonym "to protect his personal identity and safety."

Google+ has left users so in the dark that people are going out of their way to create solutions for Google Plus' problem. Some are openly calling for Google+ leadership to be accountableand restore accounts.

There are now posts, threads, and even a Change.org petition to beseech Google to allow pseudonyms on services like Google+.

Page 2: [Why did Google let this happen? Can they fix a worsening disaster?]  »

One has to wonder, how did Google+ let this happen?

For complete problem and solution documentation, see Google+ Requires You To Use Your "Real" Name.

It seems impossible that the issue around name and identity - and how to implement policy, let alone understand the needs of modern social network users - could have been overlooked in the year and a half that Google+ was being created.

They created the slickest UI of any social network in the world. It is tragic that no one at Google also saw the opportunity of Google+ as an opportunity to innovate in community management.

Four Things Google+ Can Do To Fix This

It's bad enough that Google+ policy seeks to censor speech and underserved communities out of the starting gate - we are not off to a hopeful start.

But how can Google+ recover from a weekend of deletions, confusion, accusations, hypocrisy and loss of trust?

1. Leadership

Fix this. Vic GundotraBradley Horowitz and other Google+ leaders must make an immediate priority of openly addressing this issue and restore all legitimate accounts that were suspended for pseudonymity.

They should make a statement about doing so that includes a clear outline of the process and addresses all rumors and concerns that reaches every single Google+ user personally, as well as on a public-facing blog. Make a vow to eliminate all inconsistency in policies. Address actions that are being perceived as favoritism.

2. Transparency

A clearly outlined takedown and review policy, including exactly who the point person is for this issue. Lady Ada was removed in a retroactive application of the name policy: retroactive punitive measures must be avoided, and punitive acts must come with warnings.

Allow users to know when they have been flagged and what they have been flagged for. Make deletion or suspension the last thing you want to ever have to do to your community members.

Create a streamlined appeals process, allow people to take their data when you delete them, and if they do wind up deleted, make their profile URL a generic "find me at" card with a Twitter handle and a website URL.

3. Consistency

State your official policy regarding exceptions for notable people. You have shown that Lady Ada is not allowed to use the name she goes by in business, but Lady Gaga is. Thus, two standards are being applied. Certain people are clearly famous, privileged, and/or wealthy enough to be permitted to use a pseudonym - and others are not.

It is becoming obvious that there is a policy somewhere at Google+ delineating what the cut-off point is between the two. You must explain why some people are allowed to control their own names, and others are not.

4. Acknowledge The Modern Internet and Allow Pseudonyms

I feel like we shouldn't need to have this conversation after all these years on the internet, but it looks like we must.

Some people have suggested that the name policy is to enrich Google's data mining and advertising endeavors, specifically to match names with credit headers.

Google+ seems to suggest that the name policy is to curtail abuse by creating accountability in regard to anonymous accounts. Pseudonymity is not anonymity. Significant online communities that thrive with both anonymous and pseudonymous accounts include Reddit and Hacker News.

The modern, open internet is one where people have control over their own names and who sees them. The reasons for this control range from personal privacy to life-and-death safety.

The people that need this control include those who have been bullied, people that have been assaulted, stalked, and made victims online. Domestic abuse survivors. Women. People also have sensitive jobs; some people have business names.

There are people at risk for persecution in their country, people that are at risk for violence or losing jobs, homes and family for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Religious and ethnic minorities. Forcing use of legal names puts all sex workers at risk for violence as well - you are singling out communities that require different names associated with their likenesses for their own personal safety.

For the record, I'm on the Advisory Board for nonprofit organization Without My Consent - a legal and general resource for people (mostly women) that are victims of having private information used against them online.

The harm to these women is grave. The victims usually have no clear path to justice and there are more victims than the organizaiton can currently help. This abuse happens when the perpetrator takes away control of the victim's name and likeness, and harms them through exposure, humiliation and harassment.

These victims need to keep their names under their control. They did not choose to be victims. I strongly feel that those who would force use of their names, or tell them they simply can not use this service - if it is indeed a social network and a public service - are then supporting the abuser.

Don't be evil, please.

Image by Chris Hayes, under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license, via Flickr.

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