By Daryl Hannah
What’s in a name That’s the question Facebook officials will ask and answer before deactivating or flagging users who use pseudonyms instead of their “real names,” the company announced on Wednesday.
Chris Cox, the company’s Chief Product Officer, announced the change via a Facebook post, saying:
“I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks.
“In the two weeks since the real-name policy issues surfaced, we’ve had the chance to hear from many of you in these communities and understand the policy more clearly as you experience it. We’ve also come to understand how painful this has been. We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we’re going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were.”
The slight reversal is the latest development in a two-week struggle between the $220 billion social-media company and its users, who urged a more nuanced understanding of identity protection and privacy. The announcement is a particular victory for drag queens and kings, LGBT-rights groups, and victims of domestic violence who were among the first to balk at the rule saying they are justified in using aliases to avoid unwarranted harassment or unwanted contact from at-large users.
“Facebook apologized to the community and has committed to removing any language requiring that you use your legal name,” David Campos, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who has championed the issue, wrote on Facebook after meeting with company officials on Wednesday. “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.”
Mark Snyder, a spokesman for the Transgender Law Center, which was also part of Wednesday’s meeting, told reporters: “It was very clear that Facebook was apologetic and wanted to find solutions so that all of us can be our authentic selves online.” He also praised the company’s LGBT employees for pressing the issue internally. Three years ago, Facebook’s LGBT employees pushed the company to add “civil union” and “domestic partnership” as relationship-status options, and earlier this year the site expanded the gender options from two to 58.
However, Wednesday’s announcement isn’t a total about-face. Cox maintained that “real names” are important to Facebook, noting that it differentiated the service from the rest of the Internet, where pseudonyms are common, and tended to protect people from bullying, trolling and other threats from anonymous attackers. “This policy, on balance, and when applied carefully, is a very powerful force for good,” he wrote. “The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life.”
What will be new is the process for deactivating or flagging accounts. When a name is reported as fake, the company will now take extra steps to understand why the name is being used and then make a more active decision about whether to allow it.
A protest planned in San Francisco for Thursday was rebranded as a victory party to celebrate the announcement.