Facebook's Real Name Policy Boots Chinese Blogger

Facebook pulled the page of Chinese dissident blogger and journalist Zhao Jing because he posted under an alias, Michael Anti, violating the site's rules. But he thinks this violates his right to express himself on the site.

Facebook pulled the page of Chinese dissident blogger and journalist Zhao Jing because he posted under an alias, Michael Anti, violating the site’s rules. But he thinks this violates his right to express himself on the site.

Facebook company officials told him he must use the name listed on his government ID, as part of the company’s policy that no pseudonyms are permitted on the popular social networking site. However, Jing claims that he is well known as Michael Anti, and that in denying him access to his profile, Facebook is also denying him access to nearly a thousand Chinese academics, professionals and friends who rely on his online commentary.

Anti, a journalist who has won fellowships at both Harvard and Cambridge University, said the policy prevents journalists who need to operate under pseudonyms the ability to propagate views that are unpopular with the governments of the nations they are criticizing. According to Zhao, there is a tradition of Chinese writers with anti-governmental views to take on pen names to avoid governmental and police prosecution. Dissidents around the world have taken issue with Facebook’s policy in the past.

“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,” he told Associated Press.

While Facebook’s policy of no pseudonyms makes sense in terms of user accountability, a case like Michael Anti’s re-opens the long debate about whether there needs to be exceptions to this rule. Chinese dissidents — and others working towards increased freedoms in their countries while trying to avoid government crackdowns and exposure — might merit some special procedure where the individual could ask the site for permission to use an alias.

Debbie Frost, a spokesperson for the social network, cited the issues involved in making exceptions for anyone in the case of the real name policy and suggested that while anyone can have a page with a pseudonym, the company policy on profiles is based on helping to protect people — particularly children — from potential abuse from those with names that are not their real ones:

Facebook has always been based on a real name culture. We fundamentally believe this leads to greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for people who use the service. This view point has been developed by our own research and in consultation with a number of safety and child protection experts.

And while Jing Zhao might have a valid point that there are others out there who need Facebook as a platform to air unpopular views — in his case, his cover is blown — I think even the Chinese government now knows that Michael Anti and Jing Zhao are one in the same.

What do you think about Jing Zhao’s complaint?