Facebook to change name policy
by Sean Piverger
Following a second meeting with Facebook officials, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos announced Wednesday that the social media giant would be making changes to its policy requiring real names to be used.
"The drag queens spoke and Facebook listened," Campos, who is gay, said in a statement released by his office and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. "Facebook agreed that the real names policy is flawed and has unintentionally hurt members of our community. We have their commitment that they will be making substantive changes soon and we have every reason to believe them."
Campos said that Facebook also apologized to the community.
"They're working on technical solutions to make sure that nobody has their name changed unless they want it to be changed and to help better differentiate between fake profiles and authentic ones," Campos said.
Drag queens, transgender people, performers, and survivors of abuse and stalking and others were upset about Facebook's policy of requiring real names, saying it put members of the community at risk.
A Facebook spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment, but a post on the Valleywag blog prior to the October 1 meeting indicated that the company would be making changes to its name policy.
Wednesday's sit-down was the second meeting with Facebook at its Menlo Park headquarters. An initial meeting last month with low-level communications officials did not result in any changes to the name policy.
Facebook has long required users to register with their real, or legal, names, as they appear on a driver's license or credit card, for example. The social media site last month deactivated the pages of several prominent drag queens because the performers were using their drag, or stage names, instead of their legal names.
According to the Milk club's news release, community members brought a letter with them signed by nearly 100 organizations calling for an end to the real name policy.
"The real name policy hurts the people that it's supposed to protect," stated Milk club Co-President Tom Temprano in the news release. "We're asking Facebook to evolve their policy to ensure that all of us are able to be our authentic selves online. We believe that if Facebook hears how this policy has been affecting so many people that they will reconsider."
The letter, a copy of which was unavailable at press time, outlines three requests of Facebook, the news release said. Those items include: publicly commit to fixing the policy to ensure people can be their authentic selves online; end the requirement for people to show forms of identification; and establish clear and easy procedures for users to appeal account suspension.
Artist and drag queen Lil Miss Hot Mess, who didn't want her legal name published, was one of those who were affected by the policy. She along with Campos, drag queen Heklina (given name Stefan Grygelko), Sister Roma (given name Michael Williams), and others have organized an October 2 rally at San Francisco City Hall.
"We're meeting with Facebook, we're organizing protests, we're talking to the media, and taking to the streets," Lil Miss Hot Mess said in an email. "I think everyone has a stake in maintaining control over their digital identities, and we invite everyone to join us."
In a phone interview, Lil Miss Hot Mess said that the Facebook policy is "deeply flawed" and that a solution must be reached so that people who use their stage names, including members of the LGBTQ community, and abused and battered women can maintain their privacy.
Roma, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence drag nun group, plans to fight the policy. Like others, Roma was locked out of her account and was forced to use her legal name to regain access to it.
"Facebook is denying my right to express my true identity," said Roma before the meeting.
Wednesday, Roma praised Facebook for "doing the right thing."
In a phone interview prior to the meeting, Campos said that this is an "issue that impacts people throughout the world."
In an e-mail prior to the meeting, Roma said that Facebook's policy is being used to hurt the LGBT community.
"Facebook's own policy, which was intended to create a safe user experience free from harassment and bullying, is being used as a weapon, essentially harassing and bullying the LGBT community," Roma said. "The only way for this to end for the LGBT community, as well as the millions of other users who require privacy and safety, is for Facebook to do away with their legal name policy."
In an email Monday, Facebook spokesman Andrew Souvall said the company's name policy was created for several reasons.
"Having people use the names they use in everyday life on Facebook makes them more accountable, and also helps us root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation, and hate speech," Souvall said. "We look forward to continuing the conversation with the LGBT community later this week, so that we can work to ensure they can continue to connect and engage on Facebook using their everyday names."
In the wake of the controversy, many users are ditching their Facebook accounts to join other social media networks such as Ello and Dragbook. Ello has been used privately for a year. It is ad-free and doesn't sell personal data. However Ello, which is still in its beta stage, has no privacy settings and is invite only.
The one-year-old Dragbook is similar to Facebook. It shares photos, videos, and other features. It also doesn't require users to use their legal names on their profiles. Its slogan is "Your other face" in regards to an alter ego. In an e-mail, Dragbook officials said that it has no policy for names. Users "can use their real name or make one up."
"We do, however, have a zero tolerance policy for spam and/or harassment. Most high-profile accounts are Dragbook-verified and we monitor this closely," said the officials, who only identified themselves as the Dragbook team.
Facebook has a list of community standards that protects users from unwanted content such as violence, bullying, and hate speech. When it comes to identity, Facebook wants people to "connect using their real names and identities" and to "refrain from publishing the personal information of others without their consent."
"Claiming to be another person, creating a false presence for an organization, or creating multiple accounts undermines community and violates Facebook's terms," the policy states.
In an e-mail, entertainer, columnist, and activist BeBe Sweetbriar (given name Kevin Junious) said that she has "one identity" and she wants the public to see that.
"I do have one identity, and it is the one I choose," Sweetbriar said. "If it happens to coincide with the name given to me at birth, well hallelujah, but if not, then my identity is what I tell the public who I am."
The irony was not lost on some drag queens that they are using Facebook posts to protest Facebook's name policy.
"It's a great tool for spreading messages and organizing people," said Lil Miss Hot Mess. "So we're using Facebook in our campaign to change Facebook – some may see it as a contradiction, but that's why we're fighting back because it's so central to people's lives."
Facebook Community Standards can be found at https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards.
Facebook Day of Deactivation can be found at https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/1498118683777782/.
Information on the City Hall protest is at http://dragqueensgalore.com/2014/09/24/spread-the-word-the-facebook-protest-is-on-october-2-2014/.