Facebook has been under scrutiny for a while due to their “real name” policy. After wide belief that the policy was discriminatory to certain ethnic groups, the major tech company has been forced to re-think the way they detect “real names.” Today, Facebook announced its efforts to improve the policy and possibly reinstate the accounts of Facebook users who were removed because their unconventional names did not meet the requirements of the “real name” policy.
In the past, many individuals who used Facebook found themselves victimized by the “real name,” policy. In the LGBTQ community, the use of female or male names that don’t match the listed gender often strike a red flag with Facebook’s monitors. For the same reason, drag queens also feel victimized by Facebook’s policy on authentic names. The question is, just how will Facebook adjust their policy to appease these various groups of victimized people? Recently, Facebook’s Alex Schultz, who “protects” Facebook users, wrote a lengthy letter about the controversial “real name” policy. However, what was supposed to be proof of Facebook’s efforts to improve the policy appeared to be more of a justification of the policy.
“We require people to use the name on Facebook that their friends and family know them by, and we’ll continue to do so. From experience, we know this policy helps make Facebook safer. When people use the name others know them by, they are more accountable for what they say, making it more difficult to hide behind an anonymous name to harass, bully, spam or scam someone else.”
In addition to Schultz justifying Facebook’s policy, he explains the reason behind the policy altogether, which is apparently to prevent bullying. The issue with this is that a Native American person with a native name, is basically being told that their given names make them a target for bullies. Is that the message that Facebook means to send? Likely, the answer is no. Despite Facebook’s good intentions, Schultz goes on to explain the research that led Facebook to enforce the “real name” policy.
“A review of our reports from earlier this year showed that bullying, harassment or other abuse on Facebook is eight times more likely to be committed by people using names other than their own than by the rest of the Facebook community.”
The “real name” policy has resulted in various opinions among users and observers. While some believe the policy is discriminatory and needs to be changed, others find it to be a necessary policy to protect Facebook users and allow them to know exactly who they are connecting with online. However, the law appears to be on the side of Facebook’s criticizers, as many human right organizations, namely the Electronics Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union have called Facebook out on the “real name” policy. In a letter to Facebook, the EFF calls for Facebook to take the matter of “identity” into consideration as a name is not likely to be how most people identify themselves but merely what they call themselves.
Despite being under scrutiny from these important organizations, Facebook considers them mere “suggestions,” according to the wording of Alex Schultz’ letter. To quiet the protesters of the “real name,” policy while also keeping Facebook users feeling safe and knowledgeable about who they connect with on the social media site, Facebook will alter its policy to be more effective in cyber safety but less discriminatory to racial and gender minorities.
Due to claims that the same pseudonyms that Facebook feels are threats to safety and security are a form of safety to Transgenders and drag queens, the “real name” policy is unlikely to be altered in a way the benefits everyone. For this reason, many call for complete elimination of the policy. Unfortunately, for many Facebook users, the “real name” policy is here to stay.
[Feature image via Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]