Google+, Identity and The Corporation: The Second Life Purge

July 20, 2011 update: Berry's Google+ account has been restored without comment. My latest thoughts are here and I will be exploring these issues in greater depth in an upcoming edition of The Social Media Monthly. I believe it is important to continue to push for individual control of identity on the web - including on the large and general community socnets.

When I first began exploring Google+ as it opened up over the July 4th weekend, one of the things that fascinated me was the activity of Second Life participants. Other than a bit of Gov 2.0 crossover - such as public works applications for SL and the City of Edmonton build - I admit to not knowing much about Second Life. I learned a bit more over the past year as a significant Second Life community set up on Empire Avenue, the social stock market. Second Lifers, it is clear, have a strong tech early adopter community. They were very prominent in the first iteration of my Google+ stream, and seemed to quite enjoy the new social network.

One of the Second Lifers I met on Empire was Strawberry Singh, a Second Life blogger and photographer who makes her living in distance education. One of my first interactions with her was in context of blog posts she wrote about the Second Life community's response to the March 2011 Japanese quake and charity efforts by various avatar "skin" and apparel designers.

Yesterday, Google+ suspended "Berry," as she is known, for violating its policies against using "fake" avatars to represent oneself on the service. Berry and other Second Life folk had seen this coming from the onset, and slowly they either reverted to "real" identities or were picked off by the Google police.

Of course, any service is free to set its terms of service. But what troubles me is the power that corporations like Google, Facebook and others have to force a standard of identity on individuals. And it got me thinking about what constitutes an identity as Google+ also looks to bring "business" profiles into its fold. A corporation - a concept taken legal form to sell services or products - will be accepted by Google. But not an individual who chooses to represent themselves outside Google's defined norms. 

It is easy to mock Second Lifers. But I have to say I am coming to value more those who recreate themselves online than those who accept a life in which too many of us devote the majority of waking hours to jobs that we hate. And I don't want a world where "Google" is more real than "Berry."

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