Salman Rushdie wins name tiff with Facebook

Correction: This article originally incorrectly listed the first name of James Paul McCartney as John. This version has been updated to reflect the correct name.

November 15, 2011

Online identities are a touchy business, as Facebook was reminded this week when the company briefly changed the name on the account of award-winning novelist Salman Rushdie to reflect his never-used first name.

Rushdie, a recent addition to the Twittersphere, outlined the entire situation on his Twitter feed Monday. He explained that Facebook had first deactivated his account because they didn’t believe he was who he said he was. But after sending in a copy of his passport, the company then said he would have to go by his given first name, Ahmed, on the site.

“They have reactivated my FB page as ‘Ahmed Rushdie,’ in spite of the world knowing me as Salman. Morons,” the author wrote on his account. After trying to get some technical support, Rushdie said he hoped “ridicule by the Twitterverse will achieve what I can’t.”

But Rushdie, of course, is not the only one who has had this problem with social networks. Facebook is particularly strict about ensuring that people are using their real names for their accounts, as it lends itself to more accountability, Facebook vice president of public policy Elliot Schrage told The New York Times on Monday.

Google also instituted a strict real-name policy on its social network, Google+, but has been relaxing that rule in the face of complaints from people who say they have legitimate reasons to use online pseudonyms. Celebrities often go by different or stylized versions of their names publicly, but domestic violence victims and political dissidents can also rely on pseudonyms for safety. The discussion over the use of these names online has been referred to as the “nym wars.”

For Rushdie, who once spent many years hiding his identity, it was a nym war victory. After a rousing campaign that included listing famous figures that go by their middle names — James Paul McCartney, Adeline Virginia Woolf and George Orson Welles, to name a few — Rushdie reported that the social network had “buckled,” adding, “I feel SO much better. An identity crisis at my age is no fun. Thank you Twitter!”

He later updated his account to say that he had received an apology from Facebook.

“All is sweetness and light,” he said.

(Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of the Facebook board of directors.)

Related stories:

Google Plus relaxing real name policy

Schmidt: Google Plus is for those who want to use their real names

Facebook restores other Mark Zuckerberg’s profile

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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