Facebook was scheduled to meet yesterday with San Francisco activists and city officials over its real-name policy, which many say discriminates against the LGBT community.
The policy isn’t new.
It states that, for the purposes of keeping the community safe, only “legal” names are allowed when registering an account, such as names that appear on passports, credit cards or licenses – no pseudonyms, no wonky punctuation, no nicknames.
What’s new is that Facebook’s been cracking down on those who don’t abide by the policy, going so far as to lock many transgendered people and drag queens out of their accounts.
Mashable points to one such person, the drag performer Sister Roma, a member The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – a drag group that the news outlet calls a “venerable” San Francisco institution – who it said was among the first to raise the alarm when she was locked out of her Facebook account.
Facebook’s crackdown forced Roma to change the name on her account to the legal name that shows up on her passport and which she says she hasn’t used for nearly 30 years:
Will this satisfy you @facebook? #MyNameIsRoma
The hashtag #MyNameIs is being used on Twitter to bring attention to the crackdown and to the meeting.
Twitter user “AKA Double Cakes” on Monday shared the account-suspension notice she received:
AKA DoubleCakes @jetta_rae Sep 15
My account has been suspended. After my article about the right to self-identify was shared a bunch. #mynameis
Sister Roma said in one of many Facebook posts that she’s been overwhelmed by the many stories she’s heard from people forced to use their legal identities:
I am overwhelmed and moved to tears by the literally hundreds of emails I have received from people who are sharing their compelling stories explaining why they don't use their "real" name on Facebook. I want you all to know that you are not alone, there are many people who were abused, shunned, discriminated against, fought custody battles, survived addiction, and maintain profiles that are very real and very separate from your legal identity. You are REAL, you are important, and your voice will be heard. I am trying my best to reply to everyone. I appreciate you all. Stay strong and safe and be proud of who you are!
Facebook isn’t the first online entity to go through this.
In the beginning, Google’s policy effectively had given users the choice of either using their real names or their Facebook or Twitter logins.
But as it tried to drain the fetid swamp of YouTube spam and other nastiness, Google asked users to sync their YouTube account to their Google+ account, meaning that every time they commented on a YouTube video, their real name would appear.
Naked Security noted at the time how we felt the company was missing the opportunity to bridge the gap between privacy and openness, and hoped that it would re-evaluate its policy in time.
Eventually, it did.
After years of criticism, Google dropped its real-name policy in July 2014.
Now, it looks as though Facebook might have to learn the same lessons that Google eventually took to heart.
When Google announced it had dropped the real-name policy, at least one commenter, Chris Chase, asked whether the change would mean a YouTube that would revert to what he memorably referred to as “a steaming pile of monkey sh*t.”
Google+ chief architect Yonatan Zunger responded, saying that Google had benefitted from two years of research that had given it a “much better understanding of what turned [YouTube comments] into the wretched hive of scum and villainy we all know.”
Besides, he said, the timing was right, given how adept Google’s “troll-smashing department” had become over time.
The Facebook crew works hard to fine-tune tools to report objectionable content and to keep Facebooklandia as safe a place as possible.
It doesn’t always get it right, as the tragedies of cyberbullying and the grooming of children by pedophiles makes clear.
But if Google can master the science and art of letting people use names that shield their privacy, there’s certainly hope for Facebook to do the same.
Let’s hope that after its representatives walk out of the meeting with San Francisco’s civic leaders, they’ll have a much clearer idea of why they should.
Image of rainbow courtesy of Shutterstock.
16 comments on “Facebook meets with LGBT community over real-name policy”
This is sad, and so wrong. A) forcing transgendered people to acknowledge the person who they “aren’t”, they aren’ the identity/sex they were born as. They are the identity they are now, the gender they identify with now. B) it’s laying them open to become targets for abuse and hate crimes, from the intolerant and bigoted…
I am a female survivor of domestic violence. What about how that violates my right to hide from my violent ex partner? (And anyone rise fleeing domestic abuse) I don’t want him finding me, tracking me down.
The singer cliff Richard was born Harry Webb. Will they be forcing him to use an identity he had not acknowledged for over 55 years? What about, for example, Marilyn Manson? Iggy pop? Alice Cooper? These stars have been known for years by their alternative identity…
I personally would like to see Facebook change their name policy along the lines of Google, but I disagree that this is a discrimination issue. The policy is applied across the board to all Facebook users, and thus is not discrimination. As for the claim that this violates anyone’s “right” to privacy, that’s nonsense. Facebook is not forcing anyone to have an account. If you want an account, you read and agree to the usage requirements and use Facebook, or you don’t agree to it and don’t get an account. Simple as that.
A rule being applied to everyone can be discriminatory. If I said nobody is allowed to bring anything metallic into my museum for example, I’d be discriminating against people who need wheelchairs unless I made an exception for them. Those individuals aren’t forced to go to my museum–but now they /can’t/ go because of the rule, and most other people can. The fact that I also stop other people from bringing metallic objects in as well doesn’t help these people at all.
These people are already on facebook. I have plenty of friends in the LGBTQ+ community who don’t go by their legal names on facebook because they either don’t go by those names in real life, or because if they used their legal names people who harass them could find them online. Facebook is really useful for a lot of these people–many young LGBTQ+ people end up homeless temporarily or for extended periods of time because their parents kick them out upon finding out they’re queer. Just last night I saw a post from a transgender person in an LGBTQ+ facebook group I’m part of asking for a place to stay for a few nights because they weren’t safe at home. They found a place, but they had to turn to a large internet group, not a friend. They probably wouldn’t have had anywhere to go if they didn’t have a facebook. So yeah. Of course they broke facebook’s terms and conditions and made an account.
I know you don’t mean badly, but some of us live in a really scary place, and I understand it’s really hard to see if you don’t live with it yourself but this stuff really, really is important.
Facebook is a free, non-essential service. If you don’t like their policies, don’t use Facebook.
Until such time as they make it mandatory for all users to provide government issued identity documents (as per their current requests) simply to log in to access their uploaded data, then it is a clear case of discrimination and in fact a form of data theft.
Once I get my data back they can shove their account… I wont be giving them a legitimate copy of any legal documents as their record on protecting peoples privacy is abhorrent…
The right to self identify is not simply a right of transgender people, it is a basic human right as is the right to protect oneself online … as it stands the policy used by facebook actually assists in discrimination in many forms including political discrimination …
I personally have had my account reported by members of political groups and refuse to give Facebook a copy of any legal document as my identity is easily obtainable by legal authorities should there be a legal matter which facebook or any other individual using Facebook would care to pursue ..
Originally used my real isp email address, which Facebook allows to be plastered all over the internet despite my objections and this has significantly increased the amount of spam I received in that account…
Presently have my account suspended and apps I have paid for are useless …
You can tell fb to hide your email address, but you have to do that right away when you sign up. Once it’s out there, there’s no going back.
Sure, but as with many things they don’t tell you that to begin with and there are many apps that can steal your personal information simply because people in your friends list use the app … and that is regardless of your privacy settings … their site is too insecure to trust personal data with …
My only issue with them now is I want my information and uploaded images back, they have the ability to give me access to my account to retrieve any information/images etc i have left behind … however they have denied me any access to the account under the false pretense that people on facebook want to know my name, yet they have the ability to restrict the accounts ability to comment/ chat with people on friends list …
Until such time as they make it mandatory for all users to provide government issued identity documents (as per their current requests) simply to access their uploaded data, then it is a clear case of discrimination and in fact a form of data theft.
If they want equal rights then they have to be ready to accept equal responsibility. If I’m required to give my legal name then they should too. It sounds like they don’t really want equal rights, they want elitist perks instead.
Until such time as they make it mandatory for all users to provide government issued identity documents (as per their current requests) simply to access the account, then it is a clear case of discrimination and the fact they are not allowing people access to their accounts to retrieve data before closing them, it is a form of data theft.
You have legal remedy to access the users name via law enforcement agencies which are bound by privacy laws which the likes of facebook are not bound by …
I take it you’ve never tried to change your legal name. I know plenty of trans* people that’ve changed their names but it’s not exactly a walk in the park.
Question: If these people have such overwhelmingly compelling reasons not to use their real names, why don’t they change their names?
If I had a problem with an ex spouse or if I were in the Witness Protection program I would assume that engaging in any type of social media would be a big no-no in the first place. When big problems enter your life you just deal with it as an adult and accept the inconveniences that go with it.
This happened to me in 2008, aside from other issues such as the right to anonymity, etc… there is a very serious issue I’ve tried to point out many times only to face complete indifference
Controlling criminal activities? OK I get that point, very commendable of them…. BUT, I never had to provide any ID when FB asked me to give my real name to “give me my profile back” I could have given just any random name. How is that going to help anything?
And that’s the real issue here. Make it really safe not this farce and stop harassing people randomly FB!
There are many sites that ask for ID’s and then let you use what ever nicknames you want, the rest is between you and them and it should stay that way.
And no, I am not posting this anonymously I was more known under this name before FB forced me to change all my communication system online. But it’s still me, and I am all over google if anyone had bothered to check before randomly deleting my FB profile!
The claim is that Facebook has over 1 billion monthly active users. Do you really think all those are legal names? I know for a fact they are not. And I don’t think Facebook has any idea how many are not legal.
Seems to me that the LGBT community are just easy pickings for Facebook to use as as an example that they implement their policy.
I have no tie to the LGBT community whatever, not gay, not lesbian, not transgender but even I take offence to this. Smacks of discrimination to me.
My wife and daughter are unable to use their real names *because* of Facebook’s real name policy. I have given up trying to contact them about it, they ignored the support requests.