The change could make people more vulnerable to harassment and doxxing.
Image: Shutterstock/OkCupid Composition: Samantha Cole
Update, 12/22 1:03 p.m.: This piece has been updated with OkCupid's response.
Online dating site OkCupid announced on Thursday that it would abolish usernames on its site, instead requiring users to post their “real names.”
In a fairly condescending blog post about the change, OkCupid wrote: “We know, this is tough to hear — especially for StayingPawwsitive, Dootdootledootd0 and Britney__Tears. It’s because, like the recent goodbye we said to AIM screen names, it’s time to keep up with the times. We want you, BigDaddyFlash916, to go by who you are, and not be hidden beneath another layer of mystique. Even if that mystique is crucial to you and your dating life, unicorn__jizz.”
Honestly, all of these people sound like amazing dates, especially Britney_Tears. But OkCupid has decided that usernames are not fun or expressions of personality, but annoying bullshit that they don’t want on their already outdated dating website. And for those who want to protect their privacy, there’s now one less place to do so.
Most other online dating sites either link to a Facebook account (which you can create a spoof account for, with a fake name, if you’re concerned about privacy) or only require first names or nicknames. Tinder and Bumble are connected to Facebook, but both only display first names.
In an email, an OkCupid spokesperson told me that "in order to qualify as a real name it has to be two letters minimum, no numbers or symbols or emojis. We also have a list of banned words that would not qualify. Also we are only asking people for first names only, not their last names, so this is an added level of protection."
I asked Girl on the Net, a sex blogger who chooses to work under a pseudonym for her own privacy, about this change. She told me in an email that years ago, she went on a first date with a man she met on OkCupid. They had a nice enough time, she said, but wasn’t interested in a second outing, and politely told him as much.
“He proceeded to get very drunk and send me a series of increasingly angry/righteous/pissed off messages, culminating in a couple of threats and a 'fuck you' or two for good measure,” she said. He threatened to contact her boss, but couldn’t, because he didn’t know her full name.“My only reason for raising it was because I am genuinely terrified for the people (many of whom may be far more vulnerable than I was at the time) who go on dates with Jekyll/Hyde characters like this, who seem totally fine in the first instance then turn into threatening nightmares.”
The logic for this change is shaky at best: A previous version of the blog included the phrase “we’re all born with names,” a phrase it has now edited out, probably because humans are not born branded with a name at birth. This statement can also erase trans people and divorcees.
Anonymity can add its own safety concerns—people hiding behind a username are more apt to say whatever they want. But revealing your identity can have serious consequences: Just this month a woman was murdered by someone she met on Tinder.
I asked OkCupid if the company was aware that this change could open users up to harassment or doxxing. The spokesperson said:
"We take privacy at OkCupid very seriously...We also are not collecting or encouraging full names – we want users to share how they like to be called which can be your first name or your nickname, or whatever you are comfortable with. We encourage users who do not feel comfortable to instead use a nickname or their initials."
The responses to the announcement are largely negative. Li Poltorak wrote: “Everyone who doesn’t want to be stalked is going to close their account. Every queer, kinky, or non-monogamous person who is closeted in any part of their life will have to close their accounts too.”
“This post insults the intelligence of your audience, including some who are your paying customers,” user kimberley commented. “Forcing real name usage isn’t about whether you enjoy people’s choice of usernames.”