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A real-name system is a system in which when a user who wants to register an account on a blog, website or bulletin board system, is required to offer identification credentials including their legal name to the network service centre. One may use an on-line pseudonym, however, the person's real identity would be available if rules or laws are broken.
South Korea is the first country to put the real-name system into practice. Since June 28, 2009, thirty-five Korean websites have implemented a name-registration system pursuant to the newly amended Information and Communications Network Act of Korea. It was enacted after the suicide of Choi Jin-sil which was said to be related to malicious comments about her on Internet bulletin boards. The new rule is aimed at minimizing the amount of negative information to make netizens responsible for their behavior on the Internet.
South Koreans have been familiar with the real-name system. Since the mid-1990s, doing real property transactions and financial transactions must be performed under a real name following relevant laws. The real-name system in real property transactions and financial transactions is believed to contribute to the sound economic order of the nation.
On August 23, 2012, however, the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled unanimously that the real-name requirements imposed on big portal service providers by a relevant law is unconstitutional, citing such provision's violation of freedom of speech in cyberspace.
As a result, the so-called "Choi Jin-sil Law", under the deceased celebrity's name, is to be discarded. Until then, websites with more than 100 thousand visitors per day required users to authenticate their identities by entering their ID numbers when they used portals or other sites.
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.
According to Yonhap News Agency, the public voice started to agree on the abolishment of a name-registration system because of the severe problem caused by information leakage. Now the official response from the administration is that they will supplement the certain regulations of personal information on the Internet.
China's Sina Corp has introduced a code of conduct for users of the local version of Twitter amid accusations of censorship to rein in what has grown into a raucous online forum to air political and social grievances.
After the announcement of <Regulations on the Development and Management of microblogging, Beijing> in December 2011, the major microblogging sites like Sina, 163 and Sohu all put real name system into practice in 16 March 2012. The users in Beijing who hadn't provided their real information would be barred from posting and transmitting messages after 16 March 2012.
The code of conduct, first announced earlier this month, stipulates that users of Sina's Weibo microblogging site cannot post information that is against the principles of the constitution, cannot harm national unity, disclose state secrets or publish false information, among other rules.
Many users said the restrictions were aimed at muzzling the often scathing and anonymous online chatter in a country where the Internet offers a rare opportunity for open discussion.
The move, the latest in a series of steps to rein in discussion on Weibo, comes as China prepares for a once-in-a-decade leadership handover, expected to be announced at a party congress later this year.
Sina, the biggest of the Weibo operators, also introduced a points system in which a user starts with 80 points and loses points for every violation. A score of zero results in a cancelled account. A user can gain points for validating his or her real identity.
The introduction to real names in modern society originated from state regulations. State governments, in order to monitor and keep track of its citizens, provided citizens with surnames. This allowed them to track property ownership and inheritance, collect taxes, maintain court records, perform police work, conscript soldiers, and control epidemics.
Social networking sites
Though the Facebook social networking site does not directly employ the real-name system, the site's online Name Policy indicates the following: "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 means that under Facebook's Name Policy, users are strongly encouraged to provide their real names when creating an account on Facebook. This, according to Facebook, ensures that its users remain safe by knowing who they are connecting and communicating with at all times.
Facebook was first launched at Harvard, where the new social networking site provided a safe, intimate alternative to the other popular social networking sites. According to danah boyd, a social media scholar, "people provided their name because they saw the site as an extension of campus life." Because of this, new users adopted the norms and practices of the early adopters and began to also see Facebook as a secure and private site. Through this early adoption, today, Facebook's astronomical value stems from the quality and quantity of information it has about its users. The social networking site has become an identity service by creating a value proposition based on social norms in which users would naturally share their real names instead of feeling forced to.
Though requiring users to provide their real names such as the ones listed on credit cards, driver's licenses, and student IDs ensures safety for users, using real names could also be harmful. Emil Protalinski, technology journalist for The Next Web, states how many "Facebook users opt to use pseudonyms to hide from stalkers, abusive exes, and even governments that don't condone free speech." For these specific users, using pseudonyms allows for them to still be able to connect with colleagues, friends, and family without having to entirely worry about their safety had they provided Facebook with their real names that others could find more easily. This brings up the issues of privacy for Facebook users. "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 the knowledge that their real names would be publicly displayed and choose, instead, to use a fake name that appears real to Facebook under its Name Policy.
Unlike Facebook, the Twitter social networking site does not require users to enter real names when creating Twitter accounts, and the site is entirely void of the real-name system. According to Twitter's former CEO, Dick Costolo, the social networking site does not care what a user's real name is as long as the site connects users to the information that they care about. Whether the information comes from an account with a real name or one using a pseudonym does not matter. Yet, Costolo also points out that Twitter is not necessarily in full support of the idea of users having pseudonyms; instead, Twitter is simply "wedded to people being able to use the service as they see fit." Twitter emphasizes care in its services that it provides for users rather than requiring real names. This does not mean, however, that Twitter ignores the issue regarding real identities. Regarding this matter, Twitter is able to verify accounts of prominent Twitter users such as celebrities in order to ensure identity fraud is not being committed on the social networking site.
- See the real name system in Korea.
- See Korean Legal Information Institute for further information of the Act.
- Korea Times, "Online real-name system unconstitutional", August 23, 2012.
- The Constitutional Court Decision 2010Hun-Ma47 delivered on August 23, 2012.
- Scott, James. (1998). Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.
- Facebook's Name Policy
- boyd, danah (2012). "The Politics of 'Real Names': Power, Context, and Control in Networked Publics." Communications of the ACM.
- Protalinski, Emil (2012-09-21). "Facebook tests prompt asking you to snitch on your friends who aren't using their real name". The Next Web.
- Ingram, Mathew (2011-09-16). "Why Twitter doesn’t care what your real name is". Gigaom.com.