Trigger warning: mentions of physical and sexual abuse
Most of the people in the web industry, and especially in the diversity outreach circles, hate the Facebook “real names” policy. They say it prevents free expression, self-determination of identity, and privacy. While I have sympathy with some of the arguments, for the most part I support wanting real names. There’s a difference between lying about who you are and using a nickname or stage name. For example, a performer using their stage name on Facebook rather than their birth name seems logical, even if they haven’t gone to the trouble of legally changing it. A nickname that’s been in use for a long time and is more recognizable than your legal name — same thing. If you can show that the different name is what you typically go by, I think it should be allowed. Ditto for anyone who is transgender and still in the process of establishing a new name identity (or hell, anyone who’s using a different name and just hasn’t jumped through the hoops to legalize the change yet). As someone who has changed names twice, once just through common usage and once legally, I get the complications that name-dissonance can cause, and I don’t think Facebook should force people in those situations to live or die (at least on facebook.com) by the name on the birth certificate. But: kids!
I didn’t write about it here (though I alluded to it on Twitter at the time), but in 2010 I helped put an online sex predator in jail. I was at that point a primary caregiver of teenage girls, and thanks to a broken wifi card, a forgotten logout, and the fact that we were using the same gmail color scheme, I happened into email not meant for me. I was pretty horrified when I opened the first one; its references to what the guy wanted to do to various of “my” body parts were so far out there that my first reaction was that I was being trolled by someone. A second look told me it was intended for one of the teenagers, and that it was part of an ongoing thread, all of which was pretty graphic on his part, pretty blasé on hers.
After investigating the emails in the account, I started googling, and I found him on a site called Kupika, with a list of 300+ girls that he had relationships with, including an icon-based guide to how well he knew them, what level of naked pics and/or meetings he’d had with them, etc. There was also a VIP Calendar Girls room that required special access. There was a giant collage in the middle of the page, and when I saw a picture of my teenager, I flipped. I changed all her passwords that I could (since he was also on Facebook and her other social networks) and screamed for her to GET IN HERE.
As it turned out, this guy had been writing to her since elementary school, and had been grooming her for YEARS until she hit the age of legality in her state for sending naked pictures, at which point he made requests very specifically to keep him on the “right side” of the law. Now, sure, kids go through family crap and need outlets when the world seems unfair. In my generation, that meant crying in the bathroom mirror and reading Sweet Valley High novels. In this generation, that outlet is more likely to be online and/or over texts with strangers. It’s really scary. The guy in question’s profile said he was a hunky 19-year-old from California…what teenage girl wouldn’t want that guy to be her escape? But when I put Google to work (reverse engineering from his username and email address), I discovered he was a lawyer in his 40s who’d been excommunicated from the Jehovah’s Witnesses (How bad do you need to be for them to kick you out? The articles I found told me — really bad!), and a schlubby one with bad hair, to boot. He was also about to be disbarred.
The anonymity of the internet is one of the things that appeals to a lot of people. But what if you’re not looking for an anonymous escape, you just want to use the technology to facilitate honest communication? We’re forced to assume that anyone or anything on the internet might not be for real, in a constant state of distrust. I have to think that is doing something to our collective psyche.
That guy? I worked with the LAPD, who’d been trying to catch him for years but had never been able to trip him up, and we got him. I won’t go into details, but basically there was a sting, he was arrested in a mall food court for traveling to have sex with a minor, and then they found all kinds of nasty on his computers and phone. He was sentenced to 6 years in Chico, one for each girl who was listed in the complaint (based on their parents finding out and reporting it, I believe).
So yeah, I like the idea of a social network, especially one that started out being for students and requiring a .edu email address to gain access, wanting people to not lie about who they are.
But it’s not just kids who get duped.
It was recently brought to my attention that my aunt had friended someone on Facebook that turned out to be my 1st stepfather, aka the abuser who molested me and beat me with a hairbrush every night when I was five years old. Insert family drama here, but it came down to my aunt saying she didn’t know it was him. Why? Fake name on the Facebook account. Why would she suspect that Elly Medina was actually Nicholas Nitura, 7-month husband of her sister back in the 1970s, and doer of all evil deeds? No, he’s not transitioning, the photos in the timeline show him as the same guy he was 35 years ago, but with more belly and less hair. I saw that he asked on the timeline if I (using my new last name) was her niece, and it sent me straight into PTSD relapse. So that was awesome. And then today, he left a comment on this blog — MY BLOG — in response to that picture from the Park City chairlift that I posted a week or so ago.
A) I guess he figured out I am me, and now he’s coming onto my site? B) What does that ‘two men and a woman’ thing mean… is he trying to imply he had something to do with creating beauty and tranquility in me? The only thing he created in my family was a bunch of fucked-up kids, a traumatized mother, and furious grandparents who spent years trying to undo the damage he did. C) What the fuck?!
Cue the PTSD! So it happened again, while I was working this time, and I had to leave the coffee shop where I was co-working with a friend because I was pretty sure I was going to cry or have a panic attack (or both, or something else).
If he’d been using his real name on Facebook, then theoretically my aunt wouldn’t have accepted the friend request, he wouldn’t have had access to her family list, he wouldn’t have asked about me, he wouldn’t have found my blog. Okay, sure, people with good google savvy could do it pretty easily, but that’s not this guy. So, yeah.
- Monitor your kids’ internet activity. Know what the hell they are doing online, and who they are doing it with. If you would want to know where they are and who they’re with in person, don’t make the internet a big giant loophole. Even if they seem sweet and innocent. My teenager had been introduced to this guy on Kupika by a sweet Christian drama club girl at her school that could do no wrong.
- Real names are good.
- Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know just because you want to have a lot of “friends.” If they won’t bring you soup when you’re sick or pick you up from the airport, they are not your real friends.
- Child abusers are bad.
- Online sex predators are bad.
- Both deserve to rot in jail, but most don’t.
- Coda to #1.