YouTube to yank curtain on users’ real identities 

click to enlarge YouTube users will now use their Google+ accounts to sign in to use the site. - COURTESY IMAGE
  • Courtesy Image
  • YouTube users will now use their Google+ accounts to sign in to use the site.

Think you’ve outgrown embarrassing usernames such as “origamiboy1981” and “cutepuppies99”? Well, YouTube definitely thinks you have.

Last month, YouTube, the San Bruno-based video-sharing company, announced some changes in how users will be identified on its website. Via the use of log-in identities from Google+, the social networking service from YouTube’s parent company, users will be encouraged to use their actual first and last names as their usernames.

Although YouTube said it would let users continue to use pseudonyms if they provided a valid reason for doing so, the website BetaBeat revealed Monday that the website only gives users two possible explanations for why they don’t feel comfortable using their real names. Users who select the option “I don’t want to use my real name” must then provide one of two reasons for their anonymity: “My channel is for a show or character,” or “My channel name is well-known for other reasons.”

The policy shift represents a potential sea change in the fast-and-loose world of online publishing, commenting and blogging.

YouTube itself declined to comment on the matter Tuesday. However, it and its parent company have quite a few people supporting their decision to encourage users to reveal their identities.

“I don’t see what the problem is,” wrote BetaBeat commenter Kyle Deming. “It’s their website and they have a right to try to influence you to use your real name. Obviously it won’t solve the cesspool of comments problem completely, but it will probably help some. … Personally I’ve seen little evidence of anonymity on YouTube being used for its possible good purposes.”

However, Larry Chappell, a San Francisco resident and a frequent commenter on YouTube videos, called the move an attack on personal privacy and freedom of opinion.

“I think it’s a terrible idea to force people into using their real names,” Chapell wrote. “If you take away the anonymous aspect you also remove the freedom users have to honestly express their opinions. If you work for Walmart you should have the ability to comment on videos pertaining to Walmart without worrying that your boss is going to find out. I wish they would leave it be. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

Some observers saw the changes as having more to do with preventing hateful comments and cyber-bullying than limiting personal freedom. Dror Shimshowitz, a YouTube product lead, foreshadowed an edit to the commenting system at Google’s I/O conference last month.

“We’re working on some improvements to the comment system, so hopefully we’ll have an update on that in the next few months,” Shimshowitz said in comments reported on the Wired website.

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