What’s in a name? Quite a lot, according to the activists who gathered on Monday to protest outside Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. The #MyNameIs campaign has been pioneered by a diverse collective of Native Americans, transgender individuals, drag queens, burlesque artists and other performers who have found their Facebook accounts suspended as their given names, self-assigned identities or stage pseudonyms don’t comply with the social network’s ‘authentic name’ policy.
“People who’ve done nothing wrong are being targeted and harassed,” says San Francisco drag queen Sister Roma, who believes that the ‘fake name’ reporting tool is being misused to persecute minorities: “People realised it was a tool to maliciously target and bully people they didn’t like. It started with drag queens and then spread to hit gay and lesbian activists and others.”
The first protest against this policy took place in September last year. Facebook promptly apologised, and clarified that an ‘authentic name’ isn’t necessarily the name you were born with, but simply the name by which most people know you. The anonymous reporting has continued though, sparking this week’s protest and causing serious image problems for a company which was previously praised for introducing a range of inclusive gender identity options for its LGBTQ users.
The principle behind Facebook’s ‘authentic name’ policy is arguably well-meaning, as it encourages people to take responsibility for the way they behave online. “Having people use their authentic names makes them more accountable,” says Facebook spokesman Andrew Souvall, “and also helps us root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation and hate speech.”
However, this enforced kind of transparency has come at the expense of certain individuals’ privacy, including survivors of abuse whose assumed identities on Facebook were a matter of personal safety. This specific issue was dodged in the official statement released on Monday by Justin Osofsky, Vice President of Global Operations, and Monika Bickert, Head of Global Product Policy, although they did assert their commitment to the continuous improvement of these users’ experiences.
“As with all our products, we will continue to review and improve implementation of this policy to make sure it is working as effectively as possible, and will continue our on-going conversations with members of the Facebook community,” the post reads. “We believe these changes will allow us to provide a better experience for everyone who uses Facebook, and ensure all members of the community can use the names that they use in real life, without sacrificing the safety that is important to us all.”