Identity+: When Corporations and the Social Mob Determine Who You Can Be

I'm sure my sensitivity to self-chosen identity has a lot to do with living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where celebration of diversity is a keystone value. It also has much to do with spending much of my time online immersed in all kinds of social networks.Ā 

Adriel_Hampton_-_obscura.jpgYesterday, in what is now one of my all-time most discussed blog posts, I wrote a short reaction to a friend having her profile suspended by Google+ for not meeting community norms. The discussion on that post was great. It is clear that Google either utterly tone-deaf or worse on issue of identity. From sexual identity to cyber culture to X-Men 3, alternative identity is hardly an unexplored topic and the mega-corp had to have thought out how it would respond to the diversity of the web.

Google apparently has chosen to encourage community policing, and its algorithmic robots then pick off the offending profiles with automatic suspension. In the last several days, they've got a number of Second Lifers, including prominent blogger and early Google+ enthusiast Strawberry Singh, the community profile for the 700-member X-BAR Empire Avenue community, Girlfriend Social founder Amanda Blain, and, in what finally brought mainstream attention, William Shatner.Ā 

Sadly, there have been plenty of people piling on in support of Google (Facebook has similar policies about online identity - I am picking on Google+ because there is time to turn this ship). As is so often the case in civil rights battles, as long as one's own rights are not threatened, it's fine to side with the authority against the minority.

I wonder, how many of these would still be on Google's side if they were required to use their latest driver's license photo or another imposed and unflattering likeness on their profiles? (Fascinatingly, one commenter on my prior post actually had a digitized and privacy filtered copy of his license ready to post to prove his identity.)

The issue here is not anonymity.Ā We are talking about well-defined social identities run by real people. We are talking about people who choose to use alternative pictoral representations of themselves. I would go as far to defend parody accounts and pen names, too.

At issue, though, is whether we will sit idly while major corporations that have full access to our intimate and public lives through search results, friendship mapping, email, phone usage and more arbitrate our identities, and, worse, subject our beings to the vagaries of the social mob.

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