Hamlet Au over at New World Notes has an interesting blog post about Facebook’s real name policy : Facebook Apologizes & Tweaks Real Name Policy to Better Support LGBT Community — But Avatar Community Should Stick With Fan Pages.The issue revolves around drag queens who had been using names they had long been known as, such as Lady Roma or Lil Miss Hot Mess. The story will be familiar for many Second Life users because it has been played out many times before with regards to the Second Life community.
Hamlet’s post links to an official apology from Facebook by Facebook’s Chris Cox and the apology is quite a mixed mess of strange claims but it does explain what happened :
The way this happened took us off guard. An individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these accounts as fake. These reports were among the several hundred thousand fake name reports we process every single week, 99 percent of which are bad actors doing bad things: impersonation, bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams, hate speech, and more — so we didn’t notice the pattern. The process we follow has been to ask the flagged accounts to verify they are using real names by submitting some form of ID — gym membership, library card, or piece of mail. We’ve had this policy for over 10 years, and until recently it’s done a good job of creating a safe community without inadvertently harming groups like what happened here.
I don’t really know where to start with this. How something that happens regularly took them off guard remains a mystery. This happens on a pretty regular basis to Second Life users who use Facebook against their terms of service. That’s important to remember by the way because whereas I have a certain amount of sympathy for people who want to use a pseudonym, it is against Facebook’s TOS. The part about bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams hate speech and more has actually been used by people on the other side of the Nym Wars argument as a position to argue against the enforced use of real names in social networking. There are risks associated with using a real name in social networking and those risks are very real.
However what’s odd here is that Facebook are almost implying that the person reporting the accounts was a bad actor, whereas they may have been spiteful in whom they reported, they were actually following Facebook’s rules of engagement when reporting them. Names such as Sister Roma do not comply with Facebook’s official policy … or do they? Chris Cox went on to make what I see as a very odd claim :
Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess. Part of what’s been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook.
This is an odd claim to say the least. Facebook’s policy has at times even went as far as asking someone to send in their ID when they suspected he wasn’t who he claimed to be. Upon seeing his ID Facebook changed his name to his official ID name, not the name he is commonly known as. The person in question was Salman Rushdie. However Salman is his middle name and as explained in a report in The Guardian back in 2011, Facebook changed his name initially :
Rushdie became embroiled in a battle with the social networking website after his account was deactivated for breaching its strict real name policy. Facebook claimed that Rushdie, who refers to himself by his middle name, Salman, was an imposter.
The author had to send a photograph of his passport to the security team to prove his identity, but when his account was reinstated he found his name had been changed to Ahmed – the first name on his passport.
Salman Rushdie won his battle with Facebook, largely thanks to using Twitter to ridicule the company but that experience does not tie in with the claims of Chris Cox regarding the nature of Facebook’s policy and nor does it tie in with Facebook’s terms which state :
Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way.
Facebook appear to be making it up as they go along but let’s bear with them for a little bit longer. Chris Cox then defends the real name policy and claims it helps to avoid bullying etc. this remains open to debate but there does seem to be an inkling of progress being made on Facebook’s part.