Since its inception, Facebook has always demanded its users register with their real names on the site.
This, of course, has been the cornerstone of the social network’s popularity as people could easily find old and new friends and the source of the company’s profitability as personal information became its internal revenue stream.
But now, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek for his company’s 10th anniversary, Mark Zuckerberg is suggesting that he’s willing to loosen the reins on anonymity and let people use Facebook — in some cases, at least — without their real names.
“I don’t know if the balance has swung too far, but I definitely think we’re at the point where we don’t need to keep on only doing real identity things,” Zuckerberg said. “If you’re always under the pressure of real identity, I think that is somewhat of a burden.”
Currently, it’s very difficult to use to fake name Facebook at the moment; although some people have successfully slipped under the radar. Should you have a name the site deems suspect (aka Super Jen), the social network will disable your account until you can prove that is in fact your legal name.
In the interview with Bloomberg, Zuckerberg didn’t get into details on how the real-identity rule would be pulled back. But Facebook has already made a $1 billion experiment in anonymity with Instagram, which Zuckerberg bought for $1 billion in 2012.
New pockets of Facebook that might allow anonymous sharing may come out of a new division called Facebook Creative Labs, which promises to introduce several new standalone Facebook apps. The first is a news app called Paper, to be released on Feb. 3rd.
In the meantime, Facebook faces growing threats from Twitter and Snapchat, both of which allow people to post and share under fake names. Facebook’s core ideology in 2004 was authenticity, at least in how people were expected to identify themselves. But, as more people seek privacy and become wary of a digital footprint following them for the rest of their lives, Facebook is facing a major challenge.
Of course, this trend toward online anonymity is not new. Snapchat’s Founder Evan Spiegel said in a recent speech,
“This notion of a profile made a lot of sense in the binary experience of online and offline. It was designed to recreate who I am online so that people could interact with me even if I wasn’t logged on at that particular moment.
Snapchat relies on Internet Everywhere to provide a totally different experience. Snapchat says that we are not the sum of everything we have said or done or experienced or published – we are the result.”
Meanwhile as Google + continues to insinuate itself into our lives through personal identity, now is the time for Facebook to make these kinds of changes in order to remain relevant and keep that ever evasive cool factor in play.
Considering that parents have grown increasingly wary about allowing their teens to join the site and job-seekers are concerned a post they made at 13 years old will come back to haunt them as adults (see infographic to the right), it’s no wonder that the popular site is considering anonymity.
In a call with analysts after releasing the earnings report, Facebook executives, including Zuckerberg, didn’t discuss “Facebook’s teen problem,” as Mike Isaac, of Recode, has put it.
Instead, they focussed on the company’s growth in ad sales—driven largely by the success of the ads that the company displays in people’s news feeds, sandwiched between links to cat videos and friends’ baby albums.
What do you think? If Facebook allows for anonymous profiles, will you change your existing profile or create a separate one under a false name?
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