He’s known as Michael Anti to Harvard and Hillary Clinton, among others. But in January, Facebook deleted the account of the Chinese media commentator because he didn’t use his legal name, Zhao Jing. Anti says Facebook’s decision cost him a profile with more than 1,000 friends and professional contacts. At first Anti says he didn’t want to stir up a fuss about the decision, but after the social networking company created a page devoted to founder Mark Zuckerberg’s new puppy, he decided to speak up. “So according to Facebook, I am more fake than Zuckerberg’s dog?” he tweeted Tuesday.
I first met Anti when we were both on an Asia Society panel in 2008. I think the panel listed him as Zhao Jing, but he was more comfortable with Michael Anti. He took the name Michael in high school because of his appreciation for Michael Jackson. And he later adopted Anti, rendered in Chinese as 安替, for the often contrarian stands he takes on political issues. He notes that it is quite common for Chinese to take English names, especially for use outside China. And in China pen names are just as common as in the West, most famously the 20th century writer Lu Xun. “For the Chinese, the pen name is a tradition,” says Anti. “Lu Xun’s name was Zhou Shuren, but nobody calls him that.”
Facebook, without discussing the specific’s of Anti’s case, told the Associated Press that “real name culture” adds to a safer and more trusted environment on its site. The page dedicated to Zuckerberg’s dog is technically different from Anti’s, which was a profile, and thus complies with company rules. Anti has been hit before by the heavy-handed decisions of an American technology company. At the end of 2005 Microsoft deleted his blog on MSN Spaces without explanation. While Anti’s legal name is easily discovered by anyone who reads his Wikipedia entry, he argues that Facebook’s policies could create a burden for other Chinese users who feel safer speaking under adopted names. Facebook has been blocked in China since 2009, but Zuckerberg recently visited here, prompting speculation the company may be pondering a new strategy to enter the Chinese market. Facebook’s polices mirror Chinese government efforts to enforce users of domestic websites to register under their real names, Anti notes. So Facebook’s real-name puritanism could win it some favor with the Chinese government. But Chinese users might not all be so happy.