Posted by: Tony Carson | 27 July, 2007

What’s in a name? The Dilemma of being Aileen Siu

Earlier this week, we learned that the Canada had a policy that required Sikhs in India to change their names or risk losing a chance to immigrate to Canada.

Trouble is, many Sikhs assume the names proscribed by their religion: men take Singh and women Kaur, meaning lion and lioness.

But a Canadian official didn’t see it that way: by changing their names “It’s less confusing for everyone,” and “it will also ensure fewer misfiles or mis-mailed pieces of correspondence as well as fewer incidents of mistaken identity.” and “Doing so also allows us to ensure the safety and security of Canadians,” but it is “not a mandatory requirement.”

After the shit hit the fan, Canada dropped the 10-year quasi-policy later in the week.

Because Canada has roughly a half a million Sikhs, there are probably a lot of Singhs and Kaurs in the country. That can be confusing.

And troubling.

The Aileen Siu “Ghetto Dude” story shows just how troubling this confusion can be.

In a story in the Toronto Star entitled Facebook user caught in ‘ghetto dude’ backlash we learn that an entirely unrelated woman with the same name has been widely vilified and her picture widely pasted on the internet. “All this week she’s been frantically trying to get bloggers and website hosts to repair her reputation and take her Facebook photo off their sites,” reports the Star.

Siu’s mother, Kathy, said police have told the family there’s nothing they can do.

So here we have the horns of the dilemma: on the one hand, people should have the right to hold their birth name, even though this may lead to confusion, mis-mailed pieces of correspondence and mistaken identity. On the other hand, when there are hundreds of thousands of people with the same name this can lead to a considerable risk of … well, confusion, mis-mailed pieces of correspondence and mistaken identity.

The conventional media has long known about this risk and has taken steps to make certain these confusions don’t happen in print or on air. And they have a very real incentive to do so: law suits.

The internet and bloggers as yet have no such incentive. With typical internet carelessness, reputations can be wrecked with impunity. Indeed, kids today have found a new form of bullying: they use the internet to deliberately and maliciously slander others knowing there are few if any consequences.

So what do you do? Change the laws? Police the anarchy of the internet? Give everyone their own handle?

It’s a problem right now, a problem without a solution, well, other than keeping your self as private as possible, the warning of all the experts.

But there should be pro-action, too. Bloggers should be promoting the need to get it right because when we don’t there can be real harm, just ask Aileen Siu, or one of them.



  1. The best qualified people to police the web are the members of the web community themselves. I’ve started by contacting all my friends on facebook and urging them to take swift action to deal with any situation similar to Aileen Siu’s (the innocent one) as soon as they become aware of it. The result is that we’ve actually decided to form a kind of “Web Interpol” of our own.

    Our plan of attack is simple: We intend to put pressure on any poster or website that (knowingly or unknowingly) posts erroneous and potentially damaging information about individuals or groups. In the case of those who’ve unknowingly posted erroneous information, we will demand an apology and the immediate removal of the damaging information. In the case of bullying, we will push for the removal of all posts, and demand the removal of the individual or individuals responsible from the network. (Ostracism can be a very effective teaching tool.) Furthermore, we intend to push social networking sites like facebook to increase their efforts to safeguard member information. (After all, the technology to prevent unauthorized users from copying photos off the web has been around for quite some time. Why isn’t it being used by facebook?)

    Refusal to comply with our “forceful requests” will be followed by extensive public awareness campaigns and/or boycotts of the offending sites. After all, social networking is all about the members–and, in our view, it’s up to the social networking sites to ensure that their members are properly served.

    We know our plan isn’t perfect…and that it will no doubt require quite a bit of fine tuning…but we think it’s a good start.

    In order to focus on our new mission, we’ve decided to call ourselves “Defenders of the Web Community”. Anyone can become a member, there are no dues to be paid, and there are no forms to fill out. The only requirements are the proper mindset, and the will to act. (Feel free to join on the spot.)

    So far, almost everyone I know has already signed on. (I fully intend to remove anyone who doesn’t sign on from my list of friends–and I’ve told them so in no uncertain terms.) I’ve also started to receive messages of support from people who were not on my friend list, which is testament to the true power of the web.

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