First it started with drag queens — Facebook began eliminating the accounts of female impersonators who weren’t using their legal names in their profiles. The policy quickly spread to target transgender users and Native Americans, all who may go by names other than those listed on their birth certificate. The enforcement of this “real name” policy has always confused me, as not only is my personal Facebook account under an assumed name (I’ve had problems with stalkers), but I have several accounts that I use just to play Facebook games that are all clearly made up names.
So obviously not all Facebook users are going by their given name, not only to avoid domestic abusers and predators, but because their religious order or culture gives them new names later in life. This led to protests over the summer, on behalf of everyone who doesn’t use their legal name on their Facebook profile:
Facebook claims it isn’t a “legal name” policy — officially it’s the “authentic identity” policy — they only ask that you can verify the name you use is the one people identify you as in real life. Then what’s the deal with people who genuinely use their stage name in public being deleted from the network?
An open letter to Facebook criticizing the policy was written by the Electronic Frontier Foundation — and signed by some 80 international groups including the ACLU — was penned at the beginning of the month. It appears Facebook has listened. In response, Alex Schultz, an openly gay VP for marketing at Facebook, claims that testing is ready to begin on a new identity verification process that should help eliminate trolls rather than legitimate users:
We are deeply invested in making this better. I’ve seen first hand how people — including LGBT people — can be bullied online by people using fake or impersonating accounts. At the same time, I’ve walked with our head of Community Operations at Pride in San Francisco, and heard the feedback from the LGBT and other communities that our policy and tools aren’t enabling people to be their authentic selves on Facebook. We also understand the challenges for many transgender people when it comes to formally changing one’s name. That’s why we’re making changes now and in the future, and will continue to engage with you and all who are committed to looking after the most vulnerable people using our product.
The “report a user” function is being blamed on many of the deleted accounts. The solution seems to be making the tattletale feature so annoying to use, trolls won’t bother. (That hasn’t been my experience, but perhaps other people have less dedicated stalkers.)
Based on feedback from our community, we are building a new version of the profile reporting process that requires people to provide additional information about why they are reporting a profile. This will help our teams better understand why someone is reporting a profile, giving them more information about the specific situation.
The other change Facebook will be instituting is a better way to authenticate users who have been locked out of their accounts. A more robust system for verifying ID is in the works, and the company claims that everyone who has been mistakenly flagged has a “real live person” helping them at the other end.
These changes to policy are not the end of the name policy, however. Schultz insists that reporting users with possible fake names is a way to police against abuse. Insisting people have their “real” name — the identity that their friends, family, and co-workers use for them — on their profile is the only way to “hold people accountable” for the sh*tty things they say online. (Again, I haven’t found this to be the case, but perhaps Facebook is building themselves a utopia where no one has political opinions.)
The new “authentic identity” policy should start rolling out in December.