Claim: Facebook warned drag queens that their accounts would be deleted if they do not use their legal names.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, September 2014]
I just saw a news story stating that facebook is demanding that drag queens use their legal names on their profiles, or risk losing those profiles altogether. That seems odd to me for a few reasons: what about other professionals who use pseudonyms or aliases for their work? Would this apply to all users, and if so, how would it be enforced? What about people who use aliases (or their middle name instead of their surname) to hide from stalkers?
Origins: In September 2014, LGBT advocates warned Facebook’s drag queens and other LGBT users whose profiles and identities might not match
their legal names to be aware that the social network would soon be cracking down on identity checking. Facebook users are bound by the site’s terms of service to sign up using their complete legal names, and it’s very common for users to find their accounts suspended should a clearly obvious false name be spotted by Facebook or reported by another user.
Facebook’s drag queen policy does not, in fact, pertain solely to drag queens and LGBT people. However, as individuals of fluid gender or those with gender dysphoria might be disproportionately disinclined to comply with the rule, the effects on LGBT users may be more burdensome than on cisgendered users.
As such, the Facebook drag queen crackdown has caused considerable upset among this subset of users, many of whom feel that the policy undermines their gender identity. During a two-week “grace period” during which no deletions occurred, Facebook spokesman Andrew Souvall confirmed that the social network was sticking to its guns and not allowing users, drag queens or other, to use names other than their legal names for account purposes, saying:
We had a good discussion with the group about their perspectives on our real name standard, and we stressed how the standard helps prevent bad behavior, while creating a safer and more accountable environment.
Souvall’s weigh-in on the matter is unlikely to satisfy LGBT users worried about the imminent deletions. A September 2014 Change.org petition addresses some of the safety and community erosion concerns raised by LGBT advocates about Facebook’s drag queen policy:
Although our names might not be our “legal” birth names, they are still an integral part of our identities, both personally and to our communities. These are the names we are known by and call each other and ourselves. We build our networks, community, and audience under the names we have chosen, and forcing us to switch our names after years of operating under them has caused nothing but confusion and pain by preventing us from presenting our profiles under the names we have built them up with. People we have known (or who have known us) for years are unable to find us, communicate with us, or recognize us in our Facebook interactions now.
Additionally, many Facebook users — performers or otherwise — use names that are not their “legal names” to help protect their privacy and anonymity, with good reason. Victims of abuse, trans people, queer people who are not able to be safely “out,” and performers alike need to be able to socialize, connect, and build communities on social media safely. By forcing us to use our “real” names, it opens the door to harassment, abuse, and violence. Facebook claims that the restriction on using “real” names “helps keep our community safe” (https://www.facebook.com/help/112146705538576), but in fact this restriction enables our communities to be attacked and degraded, both online and off.
Following the meeting with Facebook, drag performer and meeting attendee Sister Roma posted a statement to her Facebook profile about the issue, suggesting that LGBT Facebook employees were advocating for the community, but that the threat of suspension remained:
Facebook refuses to agree that the legal name policy is unfair and discriminatory.
They acknowledged that although Facebook has the legal name policy they do not enforce it.
While we could not get them to budge on the actual policy they did seem more open to considering that there are flaws in the complaint review process. We met with Susan Gonzales, a public liaison, and via skype with Monika, the person in charge of content policy. We also meet with members of the Facebook LGBT alliance. The purpose of this meeting was to establish an open dialogue and that’s what happened. I was very impressed by our team. Everyone spoke very eloquently and intelligently. Our broad community was well represented by David Campos, Steven Heklina Grygelko BeBe Sweetbriar, Tom Temprano, 3, Carmen, Nadia Kayyali, Dottielux Smith, Trisha Foreman, Matt Cagle, Gabriel Haaland, Lil Miss Hot Mess, Alex U Alex U. Inn. Adam from Scott Wiener’s office and Mark Snyder of the Transgender Law Center. Thank you all for your passion and dedication
We left the meeting with an agreement that they would continue to meet with us to further hear our concerns and work together to find a compromise.
Conversations with LGBT employees of Facebook after the meeting left me feeling a little more hopeful. They hinted that this issue has been raised internally and there have been heated debates on both sides of the legal name policy. We definitely have allies working “on the inside.”
Shortly after the meeting Facebook announced that they would reinstate profiles of members of the LGBT community that had recently been targeted, suspended or removed. The statement further goes on to say that Facebook hopes that within
To Facebook this is an issue of broader consequence that could take years to review, rewrite or rescind. We do not have that kind of time. Our communities profiles and identities are disappearing daily. We could be wiped out entirely in a short period of time. If we do not get adequate action from Facebook in a few weeks time I would say that we’re ready to go back to our original idea and hold a protest at their campus. They might be able to wipe us off Facebook but they’ll know we’re still here!
We will not rest until not only drag queens, but everyone, has the right to CHOOSE how they wish to be identified on Facebook.
On 1 October 2014, Facebook acquiesced and issued a statement updating the “real name” policy. Chris Cox of Facebook said in a status update:
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 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.
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.
We believe this is the right policy for Facebook for two reasons. First, it’s part of what made Facebook special in the first place, by differentiating the service from the rest of the internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm. Second, it’s the primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm. The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names, and it’s both terrifying and sad. Our ability to successfully protect against them with this policy has borne out the reality that this policy, on balance, and when applied carefully, is a very powerful force for good.
All that said, we see through this event that there’s lots of room for improvement in the reporting and enforcement mechanisms, tools for understanding who’s real and who’s not, and the customer service for anyone who’s affected. These have not worked flawlessly and we need to fix that. With this input, we’re already underway building better tools for authenticating the Sister Romas of the world while not opening up Facebook to bad actors. And we’re taking measures to provide much more deliberate customer service to those accounts that get flagged so that we can manage these in a less abrupt and more thoughtful way. To everyone affected by this, thank you for working through this with us and helping us to improve the safety and authenticity of the Facebook experience for everyone.
It was not immediately clear how Facebook plans to enforce real name standards in light of the apparent policy reversal but it seems that drag queens will be permitted to retain their existing account names for the time being.
Last updated: 1 October 2014