India Wants a Real-Name Policy for Facebook, China Style

Looks like India is inspired by China in all the wrong aspects. India never tries to copy China’s massive infrastructure ability, or its ability to erect 30 storey hotel in 360 hours nor its string of pearls approach in the Indian ocean. India is trying to copy China style real-name authentication for Facebook, after its social media filtering debacle.

A Tibetan surfs a Facebook page at an internet café in this file photo from New Delhi, India, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. A network analyst is suggesting that India enforce a real-name policy for Facebook users in the country. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

In this case, it’s just one Indian for now. Network analyst Pradeep Kumar Manukonda wants to prevent the use of fake Facebook accounts. Mr. Manukonda’s idea: use official identification documents to authenticate Facebook accounts. That’s neat. Inject Indian style bureaucracy in the largely democratic online world.

As much as I dislike the notion of providing a drivers license to continue using my Facebook account, Manukonda’s case isn’t without its merits though. The recent brouhaha over censoring social media content and Facebook being asked to remove content is because of fake accounts being used to post unacceptable content. If you bring in new authentication methods, there will be less fake accounts, and hence less objectionable content, which reduces the need to filter social media content. That’s the theory.

The fact that Facebook is not deleting data even though accounts are long deleted is another matter of contention for the petitioner. Filing a petition in a court is good. Someone has taken the action. But how practical is implementing real-name policy for Facebook?

Paypal did it. Why can’t Facebook?

Paypal users in India and Paypal itself have gone through a similar exercise of registering their PAN card number to receive or send money. This was a India’s central bank regulation to curb money laundering. Paypal India users obliged because there’s money involved. All the freelancers in India who were using the wonderful medium of the Internet to get their work done and earn a living had to oblige. It’s a lifeline. Another thing: there was no real Paypal alternative.

What’s really necessary for Facebook users to oblige? That is of course, if Facebook does agree with this seemingly impractical requirement. Is Facebook really an essential service like Paypal? Is social media that important?

The reason there are 44 million Indians on Facebook (discounting the fakes) is because Facebook is really easy to use and it’s almost synonymous with the Internet for most users in the country. If you start requiring a new policy requiring a drivers license or PAN card to get a Facebook account, then it will scare people away — not just from Facebook but from the Internet, too. This is not what you want in a country which is betting heavily on Internet penetration.

Via ToI