After much backlash from the drag and LGBT community, Facebook says it’s going to change its policy requiring all members of Facebook to provide legal names on their accounts.
In a blog post, Facebook VP of Product Chris Cox wrote:
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.
Over the last several weeks Facebook has been cracking down on members who us pseudonyms, in order to “keep our community safe.” The drag community responded immediately, defending the right to use alternative names in a petition. “Although our names might not be our ‘legal’ birth names, they are still an integral part of our identities,” the petition stated.
Cox writes that this is pretty much how Facebook sees it, too.
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.
In his Facebook post, Cox writes that the situation occurred because one individual decided to report several hundred accounts without real-names as fake — many of them belonging to members of the drag community. Facebook followed its usual flagging process and asked the owners of the reported accounts to provide some sort of identification to prove their legitimacy. For the most part, the policy has been good at keeping out “bad actors,” but in this case it failed, writes Cox.
This accidental crackdown is one of the reasons that many in the drag and LGBT community have been heading to Ello as an alternative to Facebook. In a Daily Dot article titled, “The great gay Facebook exodus begins,” Ello founder Paul Budnitz even noted a rise in LGBT users, “There does seem to be a bit of an avalanche since then,” he said (“then” refers to when Facebook started requiring real names).
Though Facebook has certainly garnered some negative press on the subject, the Transgender Law Center, which facilitated conversations between the community and Facebook on this subject, is glad to have the real-name policy reconsidered. “For many, Facebook is a lifeline to their support, so it would be a shame if folks started to be divided,” Mark Snyder, a representative for the organization, tells VentureBeat
He also says that the Transgender Law Center will be working with Facebook on its policies going forward. In Cox’s Facebook post he says the company has new processes and better customer service in the works, so that when an account gets flagged, there’s a more personal response system in place.