Days after Facebook said it would rethink policies demanding that users go by their “authentic names” following outcry from San Francisco’s drag community, the social network is now embracing an even broader concept of user anonymity.
Various outlets have reported that Facebook is putting the finishing touches on a standalone app that would enable members to log in under the guise of a pseudonym.
Arriving in “coming weeks,” according to The New York Times, the effort marks a sudden about-face from Facebook’s founding mission, which sought to establish a network of actual identities in an Internet often trafficking in anonymity.
Few details were leaked about the project, though the Times claims Facebookers may soon be allowed “to use multiple pseudonyms to openly discuss…[topics] which they may not be comfortable connecting to their real names.”
It is unclear, however, how the app will mesh with existing interactions and connections between ‘friends’ on the site. Whether users will be able to anonymously share photos also remains to be seen.
The development process is reportedly being spearheaded by Josh Miller, whose startup, Branch, fosters small online discussion groups and was acquired by Facebook last January. The app would follow other recent standalone creations by Facebook, including Paper and Slingshot.
While Facebook’s strict real-name policy aims to clamp down on fake accounts that are used to impersonate, bully, troll and scam other Facebookers, said the company’s chief product officer, Chris Cox, in a recent statement, having actual customer data on file also marks a huge business benefit for the notoriously data-rich network, enabling marketers to deploy highly-targeted ads.
But could Facebook’s decision to welcome anonymous users mark a strategic business move as well? Perhaps the very users who shroud their specific interests in digital secrecy, or pursue vastly hidden lives online, could come to comprise the social network’s most discernibly targetable demographic yet.