Users are required to provide identification credentials and their legal name. A public pseudonym can also be used, but the person's identity is available to legal authorities for use in criminal investigations. Real-name systems are employed on websites such as Facebook and Quora.
Real name systems originated from government regulations. Governments provided citizens with official surnames. This allowed them to track property ownership and inheritance, collect taxes, maintain court records, perform police work, conscript soldiers and control epidemics.
For privacy reasons Germany forbade to force people to use real-names in 1997 with § 13 VI Telemediengesetz if a real-name is not really necessary for an internet service used.
South Korea was the first country to put an internet real-name system into practice. Since 2009, 35 Korean websites have implemented a name registration system in compliance with South Korea's amended Information and Communications Network Act. This act was enforced after the suicide of Choi Jin-sil, which was believed to have been related to malicious bulletin board comments about her. Real name systems aim to minimize the amount of negative information published on the Internet and encourage netizens to be responsible for their online behavior.
South Koreans have been familiar with offline real-name systems since the mid 1990s, when legislation was introduced that required a real name to be used for property and financial transactions. In August 2011 hackers accessed the databases for the real-name system, obtaining the registration numbers of 35 million people.
On 23 August 2012, the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled unanimously that the real-name requirements imposed on portal service providers were unconstitutional, claiming that this violates freedom of speech in cyberspace. As a result, the so-called "Choi Jin-sil Law" was discarded.
The Constitutional Court said:
The system does not seem to have been beneficial to the public. Despite the enforcement of the system, the number of illegal or malicious postings online has not decreased. Instead, users moved to foreign Websites and the system became discriminatory against domestic operators. It also prevented foreigners who didn’t have a resident registration number here from expressing their opinions online.
The Chinese government in 2011 promulgated its Regulations on the Development and Management of microblogging, which stated that microblogging sites should ensure users were registered under their real names. Major microblogging sites like Sina Weibo, 163 and Sohu agreed to put real name systems into practice by 16 March 2012. Users who had not provided their real information would be barred from posting and transmitting messages thereafter. On 1 June 2017, the Chinese Cybersecurity Law took effect, requiring that everyone who uses Chinese websites to provide their phone number. China's state-run media claimed this would provide a "safe and real" Internet environment.
With respect to video games, Chinese regulations require real-name authentication ("real-name ID") since 1 January 2020. The regulations are set to become more stringent on 1 June 2021, requiring authentication with a government system instead of third-party services. The aim of the regulations is to curb excessive gaming by minors. People under 18 are restricted by these regulations to 90 minutes of gaming between 08:00 and 22:00 (180 minutes on holidays), and are also subject to restrictions on in-app payments based on their age.
Social networking sites
Facebook employs a real-name system. Its online Name Policy states: "Facebook is a community where people use their real identities. We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you're connecting with. This helps keep our community safe." This strongly encourages users to provide real names when creating an account.
Facebook's first uses were university students. According to Danah Boyd, a social media scholar, "people provided their name because they saw the site as an extension of campus life." Later users adopted the norms and practices of the early adopters. The use of real names contributed to the quality and quantity of information Facebook has about its users. Facebook became an identity service by encouraging users to share their lives, including their real names.
Emil Protalinski, technology journalist for The Next Web, states that some "Facebook users opt to use pseudonyms to hide from stalkers, abusive exes, and even governments that don't condone free speech." Pseudonyms allows these users to connect with colleagues, friends, and family without compromising their safety.
"People feel as though their privacy has been violated when their agency has been undermined or when information about a particular social context has been obscured in ways that subvert people's ability to make an informed decision about what to reveal." Some users may feel uncomfortable with displaying their real names and choose a fake name that appears real to others.
Unlike Facebook, the Twitter social networking site does not require real-names for Twitter accounts. According to former CEO Dick Costolo Twitter does not care about real names. Whether the information comes from an account with a real name or one using a pseudonym does not matter. However, Twitter verifies accounts of prominent users such as celebrities and businesses in order to protect them against identity theft/fraud.
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