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Facebook and real names

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Ah Facebook. You were doing so well. You gave us over 50 options to describe our gender, you even let us use more than one! It seemed you were finally learning your lesson, improving yourself, and now it seems you’re back to your old tricks.

So for those of you unaware, Facebook only allows you to use your legal name for personal profiles. Now the reason for this makes sense, they don’t want people posing as someone they aren’t nor do they want someone to be able to bully others while hiding behind anonymity, but, surprise surprise, the execution is pretty horrendous and ends up causing a lot more harm than good.

Many in the trans* community end up getting affected by this policy, often times getting their account banned and having to start a new one simply because their real name does not match up with their legal name. But they aren’t the only ones. Abuse victims may use a different name so that their abusers can’t follow them and many performers use a different name for their stage persona. In fact the latest issue over this policy has been thanks to Facebook deleting the accounts of drag performers.

As well intentioned as this policy is, it simply ends up being discriminatory. If you have a “normal” sounding name you won’t get reported and you’ll just get ignored by Facebook. But if you’re name is unique, whether or not it’s legal, you can get reported and told by Facebook to provide proof it’s your legal name or change it. Otherwise, they’ll just delete your account.

Look, Facebook, I know you want to keep your community safe. You want people to feel comfortable sharing and talking to their friends without the fear of some anonymous troll coming out of the woodwork to ruin their day. But you can do it much more easily than saying what is and what isn’t a real name. Does this person have a name, a location, and actually has discussion with others who recognize and know who this person is? If they do, guess what, they aren’t anonymous. They’re just another person trying to live their life. How about you keep them comfortable and not tell them they aren’t real.

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8 Comments

  1. Great article! I thought I was going to have to write about this this week, but you beat me to it. As you’ve said, this can happen to anyone, not just drag queens and other performers using stage names. Anyone can be reported for using a fake name, whether the name is fake or not. An acquaintance got her account suspended with the requirement that she use her “real name” in order for it to be unlocked. This is the message she received: http://goo.gl/YxpQL1
    FB also locked some adult entertainers out of their accounts and forced them to submit their legal names with scans of their IDs in order to access their contacts and other account content. With the high levels of violence experienced by sex workers, forcibly outing women who work in the sex industry would seem almost criminal.

  2. And, if anything, I’d imagine a drag queen would be even more accountable using a stage name rather than a legal name, since it’s the name that fans and gigs know them by. If you say some hateful things as John Smith, people might not connect that to your performances as Mary Fabulous.

    (And, as you said, there’s reasons people might wish to establish an online identity that is not linked to their legal name… and, for instance, using a screenname need not be an anonymous identity. If I use Jade Moonflower as my handle everywhere on line, I still establish a reputation while shielding my real ID from, say, someone who wants to threaten to kill my cats* and posts my address.)

    * Which happened to author Seanan McGuire. I don’t even remember why; it might have been over Amazon shipping the paper preorders early, before it released the ebooks.

  3. The very wording on Facebook’s policy bothers me. From the linked page:

    “The name you use should be your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver’s license or student ID”

    The name on my ID currently isn’t my “real” name. It’s my “legal” name, only because it was given to me at birth without any input from me. It only remains my legal name because my state has an onerous process, as most states do, for changing it. In my case, that process is almost over; but in the meantime, *I* will decide who I am for “real”, not a piece of paper and not the people at Facebook.

  4. I went to a great deal of effort to change my name legally, meanwhile the TERF stalkers (who don’t even need to be named, given it’s You-Know-Who) put two of my three legal names on one of their name-and-shame websites. Unsurprisingly, I’m not going to willingly give them the final remaining name that would make it far easier for them to harass my family or send poison letters to my employers – with the potential result that I might get booted off Facebook. How nice of them to facilitate things for stalkers without giving users – who simply want to do social things with friends – any real means of redress.

    • Yep. Instead of making FB a safer place, the policy of locking people out after 1 complaint that they might be using an alias seems to have been co-opted by bullies as yet another form of harassment.

  5. A lot of people in Mexico use nicknames or versions of their names that would be recognizable only to friends because of kidnappings. There have been stories circulating of kidnapers using information from Facebook to get to know the target or even picking one. Maybe it’s an urban legend, but still. Not cook, Facebook.

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