Facebook Temporarily Denies Access to Users with Invalid Names

Users whose names don’t meet Facebook’s guidelines are being temporarily denied access to their accounts. Upon logging in, these users are warned to change to a full first and last name without special characters or punctuation. If they provide an invalid name, they’re prevented from viewing their news feed, communicating with other users, or even deactivating their account for a number of hours. This aggressive move should eradicate irregular names on Facebook, promoting authentic identity but potentially angering or driving some users away from the site.

A month ago, Facebook began asking users to use their real name in only one language with a full first and last name and without special characters such as ♥, ☮, or Ⓥ. Facebook explained that this was to “reduce spam and increase authenticity”, but many affected users felt it was unfair to force them to strip away symbols used to denote affiliation with causes or ideologies, such as  Ⓥ for veganism or voluntaryism.

In Facebook’s view, when users are tied to their real name and identity, they’re less likely to practice abusive or disruptive behavior. By only having real names on the site, Facebook could power future online identity systems which could become a lucrative business. However, Facebook has allowed irregular names until now, meaning some have become accustomed to this form of expression and are reluctant to change.

Now when users without valid names log in to Facebook, they’re brought to the URL http://www.Facebook.com/Checkpoint. Under the header “Please Update Your Name on Facebook” they see a warning stating “If you enter an invalid name your account will be inaccessible for [#] hours before your next opportunity to update your name.” The number of hours number reportedly increases from one to two hours to four hours, and possibly longer if the user repeatedly refuses to comply.

Users are shown first, middle(optional), and last names entry fields which they can use to update their name. If the user enters a valid name, they’re given normal access to their account. If they enter the same invalid name they’ve been using or another name that fails to meet the guidelines, they’re shown an “Account Inaccessible for [#] Hours” page explaining “Your account is temporarily unavailable because of repeated attempts to enter an invalid name.” They’re told to enter a valid name when they regain access.

Users with unusual legal names, such as those which umlauts or other special characters, could be erroneously prompted to change their names. The move could also stamp out some emergent behavior, such as users changing their name on Facebook while searching for a job to keep hirers from finding their profile, or users putting special characters in front of their names so they appear at the top of search results.

Facebook could merely be trying to clean up the site. However, the stern approach may be to speed preparations for an upcoming feature or integration which requires authentic identity.

[Thanks to Jill B for the tip]

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