Facebook killed me

Facebook recently conditioned my access to their services to the submission of an ID document that would confirm the name that I'm using right now (Hypolite Petovan). Not wanting to do it, my Facebook account is now good as dead.

Some history

Back in 2002 when I got a regular Internet access, I immediately adopted a new identity when I was first asked for one online. At the time I chose Ertaï because I was already lacking imagination, but I kept the pseudonym until 2006 when I changed for Hypolite Petovan, often simply Hypolite, sometimes MrPetovan, because my partner has way more imagination than me and I was sure there wouldn't be two Hypolite Petovan on the Internet.

In parallel, I took other security measures to never reveal my birth name on Internet, like not using it as is for my email addresses, but just a few letters from my first and last name. Since then, I submitted my names, addresses and credit card numbers to more websites that I'd like to admit, but the Hypolite Petovan identity stayed. It even jumped into real life after joining meetups with people met on Internet. Currently I'm answering to Hypolite as much as my birth name.

Facebook's authenticity crusade

Let's go back to Facebook. Since 2011 the social network started to enforce official name usage. This measure, far from being a legal constraint either in the USA or in France where I initially created my account, is a political choice intended on increasing user's responsibility regarding what they post on the social network. There is some truth to it, as Twitter shows day in and out how anonimity can be used to harm people, but it only goes so far. Using its birth name doesn't prevent insults nor private message harassment. Other measures like blocking allow a local treatment of harassment but bottom line is nothing can prevent someone to bully another, especially if they know each other in real life (classmates, coworkers...).

The problem is that this measure deals collateral damage. Between the cyberactivists that are risking prison charges for publishing subversive posts about their authoritarian government, transexual people that don't recognize their birth name and finally people having a real name way too weird to be real, this measure casts a net way too far and wide beyond simple harassment prevention.

I was using this identity since 2006 on Facebook, and I don't think I have been harassing anyone. What motivated the scrutiny? Why now? I probably will never know. I decided not to bow to Facebook's demands, either by submitting my documents and changing my account display name (my birth name was set in a field allowing people to find me if they knew it) or by pleading my cause to the support team I'm not expecting to be understanding.

Obituary column

Incidentally, my Facebook account is officially dead, because I can't close it properly, and in the same fashion I don't plan on beg the support team to do it. Frozen in place, it holds all my past social network interactions, but Hypolite Petovan's activity dramatically stopped on Monday, February 29th 2016, either on my wall or on Messenger, the instant messages app linked to Facebook accounts. Fortunately I didn't use the Facebook Login feature on many third-party websites, as their access would be denied with my current Facebook account.

I must admit that it hurt a lot. In a way, it highlights Facebook's success in creating a second virtual layer to reality where everybody could find each other. My account's death will make my virtual communications with my wife, my family and my friends way more difficult. Facebook was for me a very convenient communication nexus, and I will have to do some legwork to keep contact with quite a few people. I won't be able to promote my writings as easily as well.

What are the alternatives?

I spent half a day looking at Google Plus on which I recreated the structure I was using on Facebook to publish the articles I'm writing here. I dusted up the french page of the Aerie's Guard Refuge, created the english version page as well as two communities linked to those pages, set up dlvr.it and Buffer to automatically post the new public articles of each version on the corresponding Google Plus page.

Well, Facebook can relax. Google Plus' original interface, unintuitive and slowed down by constant animations is currently undergoing a transition to a new version that lacks some of the features in the name of simplification. I don't know which one is the lesser evil, but none are as simple as Facebook's while retaining all the social media features.

I considered Diaspora* or Ello (don't laugh) but neither of them comprise as much people that I know than Facebook or even Google Plus. The latter represents my best chance to recreate the social environment that I enjoyed on Facebook, even if I'm not fooling myself. And nothing prevents Google to start demanding birth name in the future.


How much time will I survive without Facebook? I don't know myself but aside from the compulsive social media checking that I replaced by Google Plus (with a substantial time saving, since nothing is happening), I didn't feel any withdrawal on the first day. If I want to chat with people, I still have the number of my closest friends, here and there, and for writing, the Refuge still stands. This maybe is my biggest satisfaction in this sad affair: being the almost absolute owner of the articles I'm writing here, published on a website I created, hosted on a server I'm renting myself.

(Banner and thumbnail images are "Ban Facebook" by nameIsRaJ on deviantArt, used without permission)

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