If you ever have the desire to make a comment on YouTube, Google has now implemented a new popup box that urges you to use your real name instead of whatever name you registered with when you signed up to YouTube. If you refuse to use your real name, you are no longer allowed to comment on YouTube, even on your own uploaded videos.

When you try to comment on a YouTube video, a box will pop up that displays your username as it’s currently seen, along with a side-by-side comparison to what it will look like if you let YouTube pull your name from Google+. You can choose “I don’t want to use my real name,” but that will lead to another dialogue box that basically guilts you into agreeing. If you still insist on remaining anonymous, you have to tell Google why: “My channel is for a show or character” or “My channel name is well-known for other reasons” are two options. “I want to remain anonymous,” is–unsurprisingly–not one.

There are several reasons why a user may want to keep their real name off comments in YouTube while still being allowed to participate in the commenting process.

Some may want to remain anonymous in an effort to avoid being fired, or not hired, by employers. While it is perfectly legal for one to express their opinion outside of work, if an employer sees that an employees ideology is different from theirs, overt and covert discrimination can occur.

There is also the chance of misinterpretation by others. Context matters as well as sarcasm and they don’t always automatically convey the idea the author was attempting to make.

What happens when someone gets your real name from a comment and is slightly unstable? They can feel free to stalk you and harm you, your family, and your pets because you were forced to use your real name online. It’s one of the reasons that YouTube originally encouraged not using your real name online.

Anonymity also assures that individuals, particularly in other countries, aren’t prosecuted for their beliefs. There are far too many cases worldwide where an individual makes a comment or a post and the government arrests them for their words. By forcing these people to use their real names, Google is placing their very lives in danger.

By using a pseudonym on Google, YouTube, Reddit, Slashdot, or any other place online ensures that something stupid you did or said five, ten, or twenty years ago will not be held against you later on. As more and more young people access the internet, they will likely make these mistakes. It shouldn’t be held against them ten years later as a fresh, college graduate seeking gainful employment.

There are many internet users who can already trace posts back to the 1980s. Most have long since figured out how to use pseudonyms and anonymous postings to avoid having their conversations tracked for the future. Companies like Google archive this information, creating a situation where that stupid comment from 1996 could cost you later. It’s also used to create a personal profile on you that can be used in targeted ads or place you on government watch lists.

People love the internet precisely because of its anonymity. Stifling free speech and making people fearful of their own words, thoughts, and ideas is not a good idea. It never leads to constructive criticism and makes the internet far less interesting. We all have plenty to hide and we should be accorded anonymity on the internet. Without freedom from repercussion, there is no freedom of speech.

Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views … Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. … It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation … at the hand of an intolerant society.

This doesn’t even take into account the complexities of implementing such a system.

Anybody who has dealt with data validation for anything on the Internet that is available around the world has dealt with the crazy complexity of real names.

Europeans use first names and last names, but often make the last name all caps like LASTNAME. Many cultures have complex rules about capitalization of names. “Van der” in Dutch names is really complex, because the capitalization differs depending on how it’s used (and just getting a system to realize a last name is 3 words long can break bad systems).

Korean names are complex for multiple reasons. First of all, they put the family name first. Next, there are only about 300 Korean family names in total, and about half of Korea is named “Kim ___”, so you better not be counting on names being at all unique.

Then there are Chinese people who use English names. These names often don’t make much sense to English speakers, like a guy calling himself Valerie or a woman calling herself Shoe. Not only that, but while they may be fairly official names, and even show up on some documents, they’re not at all permanent. Sometimes people just feel like changing them.

Then there are mononyms, which are fairly common in some places like Indonesia. If you built a form asking for a first name and last name… you’re screwed.

The end result is that YouTube is owned by Google. Google can do whatever they want with their product. YouTube has since made the following post on its blog.

We realize that using your full name isn’t for everyone. Maybe people know you by your YouTube username. Perhaps you don’t want your name publicly associated with your channel. To continue using your YouTube username, just click “I don’t want to use my full name” when you see the prompt.”

If you value your anonymity you might want to seriously reconsider making comments on anything Google related. It might be policy now, but that could still change. You should also have different account names at different websites to further protect your anonymity.

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