2011 is the year Google made its major social network play with the launch of Google Plus – and became the year that imprinted Nymwars onto the map of wider collective consciousness.
Not long after Google launched Plus, it staked its citizens ability to participate in the social network and ancillary Google services on whether or not Google thought its users were operating in Plus under their “real names.”
It pitched many ordinary netizens into longstanding battles surrounding identity and anonymity online – and brought issues of privacy and safety to the fore of mainstream media discussions.
Shortly after welcoming everyone to its new social network, Google Plus quietly embarked on a sudden, mass account purge. The shutoff of Google+ user accounts spanned from well-known tech figures to generally anyone that didn’t conform to its ill-defined policy.
It was the first strike in Google Plus’ enforcement of its “real names” identity rules. Accounts with pseudonyms, nicknames, mononyms, names that included scripts from multiple languages, names that “looked fake” and stage names were all suspended in a mass purge.
At launch the G+ policy stated, "To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you."
Google+ did not warn users before suspending user accounts. Some people reported being locked out of all Google services, including docs and Gmail.
Controversies and raging debates about online anonymity and pseudonyms are certainly part of the online landscape. But Google Plus’ mishandling of social networking in regard to user names pushed pseudonym arguments out of online community spheres, and into mainstream consciousness.
The Google Plus “real names” issue is so deeply troubling, divisive and unendingly problematic that 2011 effectively became Nymwars Year Zero.