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Facebook rolls out 'verified accounts,' celeb nicknames

Doug Gross, CNN
A TV crew carries gear near a sign marking Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
A TV crew carries gear near a sign marking Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Facebook is rolling out "verified accounts" on Thursday
  • System will let people with lots of subscribers apply to be verified
  • Those people also will be allowed to prominently display stage names, nicknames

(CNN) -- Taking a cue from Twitter, Facebook will be rolling out "verified accounts" for its most popular users -- presumably hoping to encourage the Lady Gagas of the world to get active on the site.

Starting Thursday, the site began testing a system that lets people with a large number of subscribers submit a government ID to prove they really are who they say they are.

"This update makes it even easier for subscribers to find and keep up with journalists, celebrities and other public figures they want to connect to," a Facebook spokesman said in an e-mail.

Once verified, a user will be able to "more prominently display an alternate name (nickname, maiden name, byline, etc.) on their timelines in addition to their real name."

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Unlike Twitter, Facebook has required users to register under their real names.

So, now presumably Stefani Germanotta can be Lady Gaga on Facebook, Declan McManus can be Elvis Costello, and Madonna Louise Ciccone can share photos of her Super Bowl performance using just her first name.

Twitter, which lets folks create an account using any handle they want, has long had "verified" accounts for public figures to distinguish the real people and their tweets from the impersonators. While at one point users could request one, the site now makes its own decisions about who gets the coveted check-mark.

The nickname issue has been a thorny one for social-networking sites like Facebook that stake their brand (and target their advertising) based on people using their real identities. Last month, Google's upstart networking site, Google+, settled the issue with a compromise similar to Facebook's -- allowing people to display a nickname or other pseudonym alongside their real name.

In the early going, Google+ had taken flak from early adopters, some of whom were booted for signing up with names that were not real. Many of those people argued they were more widely known by nicknames on the Web.

Celebrities, sports stars, journalists and the like who have been verified by Facebook will now get more prominent display on the site's "People To Subscribe To" list.

Facebook has been allowing subscriptions for about five months. They let users share information with anyone who chooses to subscribe to their feeds without having to actually become Facebook friends with them.

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