Zuckerberg, protect our right to anonymity !


Anonymity is a fundamental aspect to the right to privacy, but Mark Zuckerberg appears not to care that the current policy of insisting that Facebook users use their real names on their profiles, actually contravenes user’s right to privacy.

I challenged Mark Zuckerberg on this policy in a public notice on his profile page on Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg - CEO Facebook

“To Mark Zuckerberg (CEO), Chris Cox (VP of Product), Sheryl Sandberg (COO) and Donald E. Graham (Chairman). Facebook has denied the right to privacy to someone who deliberately withheld her real identity in order to protect herself from hostile victimization and discrimination. Your company’s decision to out her, without any regard whatsoever to her right to dignity and security, has effectively placed her in harm’s way. I hold YOU personally responsible for this.” [0]

I will not name the affected person in this article in order to protect her real identity, but South African Pagans on Facebook who have been following the heated arguments for months will already know by now who I am referring to. As a result of Facebook’s recent arbitrary enforcement of its discriminatory policy regarding profile identity, most Facebook users privy to this will now also know the real identity of this person, against the express wish of the person now exposed.

This isn’t the first Facebook infringement of the right to user privacy either and given the smug pretensions emanating from Facebook headquarters, it probably won’t be the last.


Anonymity – historical literary use of pseudonyms

The literary use of pseudonyms is an ancient and respected convention. Authors have used nom de plume’s to disguise their gender, to distance themselves from work they do not wish to be associated with in real life, and most importantly perhaps to protect themselves from possible retribution from the public as a result of the controversial content of their work. Some authors who write in more than one genre sometimes choose to use different pseudonyms for each because authors believe that their name does not suit the genre they are writing in. [1]

The list of known authors who have and who still use pseudonyms is long and illustrious. Joanne Rowling writes under the name J. K. Rowling. Rowling has no middle name. Violet Firth wrote under the name Dion Fortune to protect her real identity in a conservative Christian environment. Samuel Clemens used the pen names Mark Twain and Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. [2]

In ‘A Case for Pseudonyms’ Jillian York writes “There are myriad reasons why individuals may wish to use a name other than the one they were born with. They may be concerned about threats to their lives or livelihoods, or they may risk political or economic retribution. They may wish to prevent discrimination or they may use a name that’s easier to pronounce or spell in a given culture. Online, the reasons multiply. Internet culture has long encouraged the use of “handles” or “user names,” pseudonyms that may or may not be tied to a person’s offline identity. Longtime online inhabitants may have handles that have spanned over twenty years. Pseudonymous speech has played a critical role throughout history as well. From the literary efforts of George Eliot and Mark Twain to the explicitly political advocacy of Publius in the Federalist Papers or Junius’ letters to the Public Advertiser in 18th century London, people have contributed strongly to public debate under pseudonyms and continue to do so to this day.” [3]

The Facebook user recently outed, without any regard to her personal right to assume an alternate identity for the purpose of protecting her real identity from unwanted attention, is an activist by profession. Her work, as activist and blogger in two different minority spheres, were meant to be kept secret for good reason; her livelihood in one could be jeopardized and her safety could be threatened should her alternate identity be leaked to her employer.


Privacy – legal right to anonymity

In a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission) the Court affirmed that “Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.” [4]

In South Africa, Section 14(d) of the Bill of Rights of the South African constitution guarantees its citizens a right to privacy in all communications. One could reasonably extend this right to the right to anonymity. [5]

In ‘The Legal Protection of Privacy in South Africa: A Transplantable Hybrid’, Jonathan Burchell writes “Privacy is most often seen as a fundamental personality right deserving protection either as part of human dignity or, if not subsumed under dignity, nevertheless warranting independent, but similar, protection to other facets of personality rights like dignity or reputation. Systems of tort (or delict) derived from the Roman actio iniuriarum, like those in South Africa and Scotland, have the immediate advantage of being able to locate a law of privacy within the civil-law protection of dignity.” [6]

The right to dignity is enshrined as a pre-eminent right in South Africa’s constitution.

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also protects the right to privacy. “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” [7]

By denying the right of its users to choose fictitious user identities in order to protect their real identities, Californian based Facebook Inc. could be found guilty of infringing its users rights to anonymity. One does not need a legal decision in this case to know that what Facebook is doing to users who wish to have their right to privacy respected is criminally unethical, and it must be reviewed and rectified.


International debate on violation of privacy rights by Facebook

The international debate on Facebook’s violation of users right to privacy has largely focused on the way in and extent to which Facebook gathers information on its users. [8]

The ‘Quit Facebook Today’ campaign is a direct result of Facebook administrators dismissal of serious and genuine concerns raised around issues relating to the privacy of user information.
“For a lot of people, quitting Facebook revolves around privacy. This is a legitimate concern, but we also think the privacy issue is just the symptom of a larger set of issues. The cumulative effects of what Facebook does now will not play out well in the future, and we care deeply about the future of the web as an open, safe and human place. We just can’t see Facebook’s current direction being aligned with any positive future for the web, so we’re leaving.” [9]

In ‘Privacy concerns about Facebook places’ Paula Jacobs writes “Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook says that we are all living [in] the transparent age where most people realize that their privacy does not exist. Most business use the information from users and customers to increase their bottom line. It seems that Facebook is gathering and making information available, just because.” [10]

In ‘Facebook privacy issues acknowledged by CEO Mark Zuckerberg’ she writes “CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently vowed to protect users privacy while still providing visitors with a rich experience. By sharing selective information, Zuckerberg and Facebook developers theorized, the world would become more open and more connected. Privacy settings were added that allow users to control who could see their information and more restrictions were added to monitor the way applications could access personal information. Facebook recommend users to be selective about the information they put in their profile. Real friends should be the only people to see photos, email addresses, cell phone number and any contact information.” [11]

Unfortunately, asking users to restrict sensitive information, whilst simultaneously forcing the unwarranted exposure of such private information when revealing the identity of users who choose to use pseudonyms, makes a complete and utter mockery of Zuckerberg’s attempts at placating general user anger at the way in which Facebook steals private information from its users without their permission. The “transparent age” does not give Zuckerberg and company Inc. the right to run roughshod over the already entrenched rights of its users to protection from unwanted exposure.

Facebook has and is ignoring your right to privacy and anonymity, and Facebook users have no protection against arbitrary exposure of their true identities by Facebook administrators.

Facebook’s requirement that its users use their real names on their profiles contravenes the right to privacy. The public exposure by Facebook of those who choose instead to remain private is a gross and violating infringement of the dignity of individuals affected.



[0] Challenge to Mark Zuckerberg (CEO), Chris Cox (VP of Product), Sheryl Sandberg (COO) and Donald E. Graham (Chairman).
Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile – https://www.facebook.com/markzuckerbergthecreator?sk=wall&filter=12

[1] Pen Names


[2] A list of pen names used by notable people.

10 Famous Females Who Used Male Pen names

Mark Twain – Why Did Samuel Clemens Use the Pen Name of Mark Twain?

[3] A Case for Pseudonyms
by Jillian York

[4] Anonymity – Electronic Frontier Foundation

Ohio Elections Commission – Cases & Codes – FindLaw

[5] South African Bill Of Rights

[6] The Legal Protection of Privacy in South Africa: A Transplantable Hybrid
Jonathan Burchell
Electronic Journal of Comparative Law, vol. 13.1 (March 2009) http://www.ejcl.org

[7] Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[8] Elton Gahr Internet Trends Facebook privacy
Privacy concerns about Facebook Places

Privacy groups assail Facebook changes
By Declan McCullagh

[9] Quit Facebook Today

Diaspora about to hit $100,000 in donations
By: Caroline McCarthy

[10] Privacy concerns about Facebook Places
by Paula Jacobs

[11] ‘Facebook privacy issues acknowledged by CEO Mark Zuckerberg’ she writes
by Paula Jacobs

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