Are you a Facebook snitch?

Facebook tests prompt asking you to snitch on your friends who aren’t using their real name

This article has slowly been making the rounds, complete with a validating screenshot. The premise: you are surfing around on Facebook, and suddenly the site prompts you with a window displaying a picture of your friend and asking “Is this their real name?” You’re presented with several options, including the “I don’t want to answer” opt-out. Which do you choose?

To illustrate one of the reasons I dislike this entire practice, I will share a story from my past. Years ago when I was helping organize raves, one of the key lessons I learned was that if or when the police come to ask what’s going on, there are a few words you never mention, including “permit.” When you mention a specific word or phrase, it can trigger reactions and disrupt a set of assumptions someone might have been making. With the rave example, the natural response to “And of course we have our permits” might be “Why wouldn’t you have permits?” whereas before you mentioned that word, the police weren’t even thinking about that. In a sense, you have just taken two concepts which might not have been linked (“the rave” and “permits”) and created a relationship.

Jumping back to the Facebook example, I believe that when random Facebook users see a construct like this over and over again, not only does it create a relationship between “real names” (I call them “legal names”) and your ability to maintain a presence on their system, but it also sets up a dangerous Prisoner’s Dilemma like dynamic. As a Facebook user, not only are you forcefully introduced to the idea of a “real name” (as well as the obvious fact that everyone has a first and last name), then convinced this concept is totally valid, but you are also asked to join the forces of good in helping police people who are not “with it.” While this construct remains opt-in for now, it makes me start to wonder two things: will there be an eventual cost for people who refuse to play the game, and what is the likelihood that a friend will “rat you out” regardless of whether your name is, to them, “real” or not?

Given that there has been at least one study showing that forcibly linking someone’s online profile on a website to the name approved to them by their government has little to no impact on the “quality” of data produced, it should make people begin to wonder not only who Facebook’s customers (not users) are and why they might be insisting on standards like these, but what lengths Facebook is willing to go to to ensure they meet their standards.