Is Facebook Blocking Native American Names?

What’s in a name? A whole lot. And when your surname is Kills The Enemy, you’re swiftly reminded of that when Facebook swiftly deactivates your account. 28-year-old Parmelee Kills The Enemy had to send Facebook scanned copies of a government identification document to prove her real last name after the social networking site deactivated her profile, according to KX Net.

A Native American, Parmelee’s name is a hot topic for Facebook, social networking users and advocates. Nebraska journalism student Nancy Kelsey wrote a news story about Parmelee’s issue with Facebook, even going so far as to create a Facebook group called “Facebook: don’t discriminate against Native surnames!!” The group already has 1,000 users, and highlights ongoing issues automated systems have for individual scenarios.

While Parmelee’s particular case could be fodder for racial and cultural discussion, Native American names don’t appear to be the only ones receiving discriminatory practices. A friend of mine has a name that could be considered to be associated with a middle eastern religion and came to me for help when he was unable to even register for an account because his name was repeatedly rejected. I eventually advised him to use a ‘common” first name and drop a few letters from his last name in order to create an account, as well as sending a letter of complaint to Facebook.

Unfortunately most issues that arise from this particular action of denying a user’s name will appear to be discriminatory and racially or culturally driven. And maybe they are, considering an actual human or team of humans need to determine what words/terms/phrases can and cannot be accepted by an automated system.

But perhaps the real issue boils down to Facebook’s automated system and how it handles individuals on a case-by-case basis. With Facebook growing at a reported 600,000 new users a day, it’s impossible to manually approve all username requests, especially upon registration. But there’s certainly room for improvement, and it may be a worthwhile investment for Facebook, in order to avoid anyone thinking that Facebook itself is insensitive to other cultures and races.