The multiple Booker Prize-winning author Salman Rushdie was embroiled in a conflict with Facebook over his real name yesterday. The social network deactivated his account and requested that he prove his identity, only to reinstate it under the wrong name. Even though he has always used his middle name, Facebook demanded the account be under Ahmed Rushdie, in accordance with his passport. The story has a happy and ironic ending in that the problem was fixed when Rushdie went to Twitter to seek help. Within two hours of his followers kicking up a storm, Facebook had reinstated the original name and issued an official apology.
While Rushdie has certainly been in more controversial situations than this (unless in today's world losing a Facebook account is worse than having the Iranian government issue a death warrant for you), the matter raises questions about the value and purpose of online identity. Who really owns or controls our online accounts, and how many followers does it take for that to be a non-issue?