This afternoon, I logged into Google+ and discovered that my account had been suspended. My profile read:
After reviewing your profile, we determined that some of the content (e.g. text, images, name) violates our Community Standards or our Names Policy. Please remember that we are currently limiting profiles to real people and will be launching a profile for businesses and other entities later this year.
If you believe that your profile has been suspended in error, or you have recently edited your profile to comply with our Community Standards or Names Policy please submit your profile for recommendation. Your profile will be reviewed again and unblocked if it complies with our Community Standards.
I have broken down these concerns into three sections for this post: Text, Images, and Name. I will provide the necessary information and let you determine whether their decision is appropriate.
Since I joined Google+ a couple of weeks ago, I have been thinking very carefully about how I wished to use it. Finally, I decided that I would use the network to develop conversations about pieces I was publishing on BlogHer, which allows comments only from people who have accounts on the community, thus preventing people who do not wish to create yet another account to voice their opinions.
To date, my 1,800+ followers and I have discussed the limitations of celebrity aid, specifically the misguided efforts of Ashton Kutcher to prevent child sex trafficking; the 4AM elevator incident described by Rebecca Watson at a skeptic conference that created a firestorm online; the Marriage Vow that many conservative presidential hopefuls are signing; the sexist California Milk Processors Board ads; how to ensure quality content from non-staff writers, based on Jason Calacanis’ last newsletter; and various aspects of Google+, including Violet Blue’s concerns about their policies regarding photos that are not safe for work (NSFW, or sexually suggestive).
Despite the fact that many of these topics do relate to sexuality, all content uploaded to Google+ has been analytical, and though at times dealing with difficult topics, not in any way harmful to young readers who may stumble upon it. For the record, I do not admit people who appear to be under the age of 18 to circles, aware that in the event that I should post something of an adult nature, that I could limit the people who viewed this content by making it accessible only to my circles.
It is my belief that I participated decorously in a number of discussions, as well as created a space for other people to openly engage with one another about important topics, taking care to intervene to ensure that everyone involved remained civil, despite the difficulty of the topic.
There are six images immediately visible on my profile. The first is my profile photo, uploaded when Google Profiles first became active. It features me about to swallow the heel of a patent leather stiletto. There is no nudity in this photo.
The other five, visible when a user accesses my profile, feature me beside the fantastic Alana Joy, musician and curator of everything that is wonderful online, taken at the 2010 LA Weekly Web Awards, where she won and I came in second; me (in a garbage bag through which you may detect a pair of black shorts) alongside LAist’s brilliant Andy Sternberg at the Standard Hotel; me in a little black dress at an underground event, a photo that appeared in the LA Weekly; me in a bikini and skirt holding guns before an American flag, which appeared in the LA Weekly‘s July 4th gallery last year; and a photo of me partially hidden behind a curtain (this is a headshot, though it implies nudity behind the curtain, nothing below my collar is shown).
Later, I added a gallery of photos taken by Enrique Gutierrez of me in a long dress, none of which are in any way suggestive.
I would like to point out that all photos I selected to appear on my profile either illustrate my involvement in the Los Angeles blogging community or chronicle how I have been presented in the media over time to make it easy for people searching for me to know that this is in fact my profile.
I started writing online before blogs were called blogs. Back then, it wasn’t cool to use your real name. It was scary. Plus I was underage and I didn’t want my parents to get online one day and somehow find what I was up to. So I took on a pseudonym. I didn’t know back then that I would end up writing online for a living, but when it became apparent, I took my audience with me. By 2007, everyone online was using their real names. I thought about changing mine, but by then I was all too familiar with the difficulty of rebranding something and eventually, I decided to keep it.
This turned out to be a fortunate call, as three years later, my extended family found out I had been part of a panel about relationships and sex and disowned me, causing me to abandon my faith in the surname with which I’d been born.
Due to the space constraints introduced by Twitter, when I adopted it in 2007, I completely ditched the full name I’d selected for myself at 13, and began using my initials. This had an unexpected bonus: writing as AV Flox instead of Anaiis Flox, especially when I was covering technology, afforded me a degree of credibility, as people who did not know me immediately assumed I was a man. I don’t want to turn this into a discussion of gender equality, but unfortunately, my own experience indicates that when it comes to a majority of industries, a reporter’s gender does matter.
Without realizing it, the abbreviated version of the monicker I selected when I was 13 years old (based on the ancient Greek words for “eternal fire”), had become my identity, both online and off. Very few people today call me by my given name. Most, both friends and colleagues, know me as AV.
Pseudonyms, according to Google’s name policy, are acceptable on profiles.
Google services support three different types of use when it comes to your identity: unidentified, pseudonymous, identified. According to their public policy blog:
Using a pseudonym has been one of the great benefits of the Internet, because it has enabled people to express themselves freely — they may be in physical danger, looking for help, or have a condition they don’t want people to know about. People in these circumstances may need a consistent identity, but one that is not linked to their offline self. You can use pseudonyms to upload videos in YouTube or post to Blogger.
I have created a professional identity around the name “AV Flox,” including buying the domain avflox.com. I cannot see anything more useful to people who employ Google’s services than to continue using the name they know as being associated with the work I do and content that I produce for the various publications for which I have written, including BlogHer, Village Voice Media, and the Los Angeles Times.
For the record, I hold no illusions that my real name would not somehow be in violation of Google Name Policy safeguards (“Use your full first and last name in a single language”), as it involves at least three different ethnic origins. I’m Euro-Latin-Asian. My name reflects that.
Would I consider using “Anaiis Flox” instead of “AV Flox”? Unfortunately, that is not how my readers, colleagues and friends know me. I haven’t gone by Anaiis since 2007. I worry that using this name would encourage people to search for my content on the sites to which I contribute by inputting “Anaiis” into the search field, thus disabling them from finding any relevant content.
Quora, it should be noted, forced me to go by Anaiis. I never logged in again.
I was a huge supporter of Google+ right out of the gate. The ability for users to access everything in one place, the compatibility with other Google products which I love and have supported over time, as well as the openness with which Google was embracing the social media game gave me hope for the future of conversation.
I am deeply disappointed that after lobbying for people to come to Google+, I have received the treatment that I did. Unlike other suspended users who were able to submit responses or rebuttals, when I clicked on the link to submit my profile for review, I wasn’t given a form to submit any kind of response or link to show that the name I use is in fact the name by which people know me. I clicked it, and that was it. Submitted for review, with no other hope of recourse.
It reminded me all too much of Facebook, a platform I have long since abandoned due to their knee-jerk reactions and complete lack of transparency. For more information about the Google+ suspension spree, check out Violet Blue’s piece for ZDNet.
UPDATE: As of 5:30PM Pacific, my Google+ profile has been reinstated. I cannot say how long the profile was down, as I spent last night and this morning offline, and I am impressed at the speed that Google reinstated it once I resubmitted the profile, as well as the fact that the situation warranted a response from Google’s own Matt Cutts on Twitter. But here’s what I want to know: what happens when a user whose profile has been suspended doesn’t have the reach or clout to make as big a fuss as I did?
If your profile has been suspended, try to address Google’s issue with it in a blog post as I have done here and leave the link to it in the comments. Include your Google+ name and a link to your profile. I will include these in a new post and do my best to ensure that you are heard.