Facebook recently tuned up its “real name” policy against using pseudonyms on its site. On Dec 15, Facebook said that it was testing new tools that allowed people to share the circumstances under which they felt pressurized to use a different name.
“We require people to use the name their friends and family know them by. When people use the names they are known by, their actions and words carry more weight because they are more accountable for what they say. We’re firmly committed to this policy, and it is not changing. However, after hearing feedback from our community, we recognise that it’s also important that this policy works for everyone, especially for communities who are marginalised or face discrimination.”
The system made new arrangements to support channels for LGBTQ issues, non-Western names, and instances of stalking or abuse. Instead of immediately suspending people whose profiles are reported for having a false name, users will have seven days to access their profile while disputing the challenge. It will be implemented in the United States immediately and further spread internationally.
Sister Roma, a widely known LGBT personality and member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, whose legal ID actually reads Michael Williams, found herself locked out of her account with a prompt asking that her profile name be changed to the legal one as it “appears on your driver’s license or credit card.” While speaking to the Daily Dot, she said,
“I’ve been Sister Roma for 27 years. If you ask anyone my name, in or out of drag, they will tell you it’s Roma. Is it the name on my driver’s license? No. But it is my name.”
USA Today reported that Facebook received a letter from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Human Rights Watch in October, accusing the company of having a system that “disregards the circumstances of users in countries with low levels of internet penetration, exposes its users to danger, disrespects the identities of its users, and curtails free speech.”
Facebook has also acted in response to criticism about asking people to give them forms of identification to prove their name because these documents did not always echo the name preferred by the user.
The company said it is increasing the pool of recommended documents that people can use for this part of the process but that it is also taking advantage of the mass of information it has on users to expedite the entire process. For instance, if it observes that people use a name over repeatedly on a user’s birthday, then that is the name they are best known by and the identification documents may not be needed.
The real name policy has also rendered problems in cases of stalking and abuse. Victims of abuse sometimes avoid using their legal names for privacy reasons, but there’s been little guidance for how to harmonize it with Facebook’s policy. In the worst cases, the old system could lead to problems if a user sent in a driver’s license only to have their account automatically switched to their legal name. To avoid that, the new system adds a Name Verification step, showing reported users exactly how their name will appear on Facebook before making any changes.