Facebook Responds to Protest Over Real-Name Policy

Facebook’s campus in Menlo Park, Calif., was the site of a protest Monday over the social network’s failure to resolve issues with its real-name policy, despite promises to do so last year.

Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., was the site of a protest Monday over the social network’s failure to resolve issues with its real-name policy, despite promises to do so last year.

A group that calls itself The #MyNameIs Campaign was behind the protest, and Mashable and Re/code separately reported that protesters included members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community (including drag queens, burlesque performers and transgender people), as well as Native Americans and victims of domestic violence.

The protestors object to Facebook’s real-name policy, which requires users to use only the legal names on their birth certificates, for numerous reasons, including people who no longer go by their real names, people who are identified solely by their stage names and users trying to hide from stalkers and other abusers.

One of the leaders of the protest, drag queen Sister Roma of drag group The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, told Re/code:

People are still using the fake-name reporting option as a way to target and maliciously bully people they find objectionable for whatever reason. We were trying to get Facebook to understand that for the past nine months, and no significant changes were made. We’ve reached our breaking point.

Last October, Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox issued a lengthy apology, saying in part:

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.

Monday, Facebook vice president of global operations Justin Osofsky and head of global product policy Monika Bickert reacted to the protest with a post on the Facebook Safety page:

The authentic name requirement has defined and distinguished our service from its earliest days. We firmly believe in and are committed to our authentic name policy, and ask that everyone on Facebook use their authentic name on their profile.