August 24, 2012, 8:37 AM — While online real-name policies have gained traction in the U.S. due to the policies of Facebook and Google+, they are increasingly linked with censorship in Asia, where governments mandate their use with the stated goal of squelching rumors and libel online.
On Thursday, a South Korean court struck down a controversial 2007 law requiring contributors to online forums to use their real names when leaving comments. Although meant to stop abusive postings from anonymous users, the law was found to be undermining freedom of speech.
Following the ruling, Internet users in neighboring China posted comments wondering if their own nation would end real-name policies being introduced on Twitter-like microblogging sites on the country. Like South Korea's law, the policies are meant to crack down on the spread of rumors. But many observers equate it to a form of censorship meant to scare users from posting comments critical of the government.
In the U.S., meanwhile, real-name policies have become important tools used by both Facebook and Google+ to create a "real world" environment, with the aim of making it easier for users to find and connect with each other.
The companies' policies haven't come without controversy. Facebook and Google+ will delete user accounts found using fake names. This caused Google+ users to complain in July of last year, with some stating their accounts had been wrongfully deleted, while others said they wished to use a pseudonym for privacy reasons.
But while both Facebook and Google+ use the policies to further their business interests, real-name regulations in China and South Korea have threatened to create burdens for Internet firms.
Due to South Korea's real name policy on Internet forum posting, sites with enough user traffic were required to implement verification systems for user comment pages, said Brendon Carr, a foreign legal consultant at Yulchon LLC, Attorneys at Law. This meant even user reviews for e-commerce businesses were forced to abide, he said.
"It's certainly a barrier for foreign investors," Carr said, noting that the law effectively prevented small businesses from using the Internet to engage with customers through forums, due to the cost of the verification systems.