The Controversy of Facebook ‘Real Name’ Policy

The Controversy of Facebook ‘Real Name’ Policy

Facebook ‘real name’ policy has been sparking controversy for some time now, and recent events show the issue to be far from settled. Seemingly, Facebook introduced this policy in order to strengthen online safety, by ensuring that people on this social network use their real names. The logic behind this is that less anonymity means less cyber bullies and anonymous stalkers.

However, this generated a public backlash, mostly from LGBTQ community, who believe this is limiting their right to express themselves. Many LGBTQ community members use names that are different from their legal names – either because they don’t identify with those found in birth certificates, or because they are trying to protect themselves from stalking. In addition, as a lot of people pointed out, transgender people and drag performers are not the only people affected by this policy. Victims of domestic violence, for example, may wish to use pseudonyms on Facebook in order to protect themselves.

How did the company handle this issue?

Criticism intensified when Facebook blocked accounts of members of LGBTQ community.

Last fall, some gay and transgender users raised their voice by pointing that Facebook has been blocking their accounts and forcing them to use their real names. They were faced with three choices: setting up a fan page instead of an account, complying with the policy or logging out of Facebook forever. Setting up a fan page isn’t a preferable option for LGBTQ community members, because they prefer to build and strengthen community through networking with friends instead of having followers. Very soon, this issue generated an online campaign, under #mynameis hashtag, and a petition has been created.

Facebook apologized and promised to handle the issue better. But how?

After heavy criticism that the policy is discriminating LGBTQ community, Facebook met with San Francisco city officials and activists. After the meeting, in a statement from the company’s chief product officer, Chris Cox, Facebook apologized and said it will update its policy to allow users identify themselves by their preferred names, even if it’s not their legal name. The company promised to ‘fix the way this policy gets handled’ but didn’t specify how.

Cox said that the ‘real name’ policy ‘has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name.’ Instead, the policy specifies that ‘everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life.’ He explained that one Facebook user reported hundreds of accounts belonging to drag performers and transgender people as fake, which resulted in several blocked accounts of prominent members of this community. ‘There’s lots of room for improvement in the reporting and enforcement mechanism’, Cox said. Transgender Law Center stated that they had a very productive meeting with Facebook.

This summer brought organized protests for Facebook

LGBTQ community members protesting against Facebook 'real name' policy.

Following the meeting, Facebook updated the policy by expanding the option for blocked users to verify their real name. Additionally, as Facebook claims, users in the U.S. can access their accounts, even while they are still in the process of verification of their name. However, #mynameis coalition members were not satisfied.

In June 2015, a group of protesters gathered outside Facebook HQ to show their dissatisfaction with the way company is dealing with this issue. They said that Facebook has been slow to react on their behalf, which is why they are protesting.

Germany users can’t be stopped from using aliases

End of July brought another interesting incident to the table. The Hamburg data protection authority said Facebook cannot enforce its “real name” policy in Germany by changing a user’s chosen name to their legal name or by demanding users to hand over official ID. Forcing Facebook users to use their real names violates their rights to privacy, the Hamburg data protection authority argued. Facebook, of course, expressed disappointment with the ruling.

It is clear that Facebook needs to react rapidly and make concrete steps in order to overcome this situation. Personally, I do believe that Facebook had good intentions with this policy and that it wasn’t targeted towards LGBTQ community. However, they have to admit that these intentions weren’t implemented in the best manner because the policy can serve as a tool for other users who do want to target LGBTQ community. Therefore, the good intentions of the policy were counterproductive for some users.

What is your opinion on this? Share it in the comments.

Image Credits: #mynameis


Ivana Drakic

Ivana is a political scientist by vocation and a dancer by heart. She loves to be around geeky people. This mixture explains her interests in technologies, data, writing, research.

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