I got nuked by Facebook

Facebook is waging war on fake profiles. But the real victims may be people who hide behind fake names for very real reasons.

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I just got nuked by Facebook. I knew it had to happen eventually.

Well, not me exactly – one of my alias identities. Some time over the last 48 hours Facebook terminated it with extreme prejudice. There was no notice, no warning, just *poof* -- all evidence of it was gone. She was suddenly invisible, even to her “it’s complicated” paramour on Facebook (also fake).

The only reason I know it happened is because I (or rather, my female alter ego) created a test app a few months back, and the Facebook Platform folks sent an email telling me that since my account had been deactivated, my app has been disabled “as a precaution.”

[ See also: Facebook: A cop's best friend ]

Facebook’s rules are clear on this: You’re supposed to use your real name with personal accounts. I knew this. I also knew I needed an account where I could test out Facebook apps and other features without affecting my real Facebook identity. (In fact, I operate a handful of accounts for this purpose.)

In this I now have something in common with Michael Anti, a Chinese human rights activist and journalist whose account was also nuked this week. Why? Because despite publishing under the name Michael Anti for at least a decade, his legal Chinese name is Zhao Jing.

Anti is a bit more peeved about his expulsion than I am, especially coming on the heels of news that Mark Zuckerberg just created a Facebook page for his dog, Beast. He told the Associated Press:

"I'm really, really angry. I can't function using my Chinese name. Today, I found out that Zuckerberg's dog has a Facebook account. My journalistic work and academic work is more real than a dog."

Anti’s larger point: Many people who would want to use Facebook as a medium for social change – like Chinese dissidents, or protestors in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya – cannot risk using their real names.

So Facebook gives them a terrible choice: use your real name and expose yourself to tyrants, or use a fake name and find yourself cut off without warning.

The reason for all this? Facebook is trying to position itself as the authentication engine for the Web. You see it with Facebook Connect, enabling people to log into their favorite sites using their Facebook ID; you see it in Facebook Comments, which allows people to do the same thing when joining “the conversation” online.

Considering that the barrier to creating a bogus Facebook profile is extremely low – all you need is an email address – it seems an  ambitious endeavor at best.

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