Facebook and the real name controversy 

Is Facebook setting a dangerous precident? Or is it just looking out for the safety of its many users?

That’s right – another post about Facebook. The only topic we seem to broach more frequently is Amazon activities! Regardless, whenever you think nothing is happening in the world of digital or technology, just check out Facebook. Odds are, they are doing something controversial.

This particular issue revolves around the concept of real names versus pseudonyms, and if people should be allowed to self identify their digital presence. And it all began with a Drag Queen.

Meet Sister Roma

Several weeks ago, Facebook began suspending the accounts of people’s whose names didn’t fall under their ‘real name’ policy.

This has been a rule at Facebook  a while now, but it was rarely enforced. (This ‘no fake names’ isn’t the only rule – did you know it’s against the rules to have more than one account at Facebook under the same name? Yet my elementary school account remains open and unused.)

 That's more of a guideline than an actual rule. -  That's more of a guideline than an actual rule.  more of a guideline

The fact of the matter is, these rules were pretty much unenforceable, and if an account was deleted well – it’s difficult for a single person to raise a fuss against a power like Facebook.

Until the Drag Queens sauntered into the fray.

Facebook Warns Drag Queens They Will Delete Every Profile In Two Weeks

Sister Roma, whose real name is Michael Williams, is a drag queen. She is also a member of the San Francisco-based Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence advocacy group.


Now, she has been identifying herself as ‘Sister Roma’ on Facebook without a problem for six years. Recently though, Facebook gave her an ultimatum. She had to switch her username to her legal name Michael Williams, or risk having her account suspended.


As I already said, this policy is not new, but was  rarely enforced before now.

Why now?

Facebook is claiming that this is about safety. Forcing people to use their legal names apparently protects users from stalkers, jealous exes, and others who might want to hide behind a pseudonym.

Which is true. It’s good to know who you’re talking too online. Most of us have heard enough horror stories about this issue to last us a lifetime.

“We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you’re connecting with,” says the policy.

I personally have no desire to be caught by a Catfish.

However, would a fake name really stop that? There are thousands if not millions of ways for hackers, thieves and criminals to get access to people online. Look no further than the celebrity photo stealing scandal for an example.

So, can Facebook really be hoping to protect its users safety by enforcing a name change policy?

Realistically? Probably not.

More likely this is about money. Facebook now admits that “performers” should establish pages, rather than profiles.

It’s in the interest of Facebook’s bottom line for its users to use fewer profiles, and more pages.

This crackdown comes as Facebook’s revenue continues to soar. A big part of that success is because of its marketing initiatives.


Why are people so upset?

I was chatting with my boyfriend the other day about this issue, and he couldn’t understand why I was so upset about it. I claimed it was a violation of rights, and he said:

“If you’re using Facebook to make money, you should spend money on it.”

If it was just about profits, I might agree with him. But it’s not;  it’s about identity. With this policy in effect, it is virtually impossible for anyone who self-identifies with a name that isn’t legally documented to have a profile on Facebook.

Yes, that effects Drag Queens and performers, but what if you’re trying to hide from that aforementioned angry ex, so you refer to yourself by a different name? Or you are from a different country and you want to be known by a different title where you’re living now. Or what if you are LBGT and you don’t self identity with your birth name?

Check out this illuminating article over at the Washington post by Jade Sylvan, and her real world experience with pseudonyms. She does a fantastic job explaining the personal side effects of Facebook’s decision.

Jade Sylvan


Will Facebook Change its mind?

Well, that remains to be seen. But it’s not looking good.

Drag queens and transgender activists started a protest campaign against Facebook for forcing them to either register with their real name or get off the site. Facebook did agree to meet with them, but it didn’t really change anything.

After the meeting, Sister Roma posted the following statement on her Facebook page.

Shortly after the meeting Facebook announced that they would reinstate profiles of members of the LGBT community that had recently been targeted, suspended or removed. The statement further goes on to say that Facebook hopes that within 2 weeks time the users will either confirm their real identity, change to their legal names, or move to a fan page. While at first glance this seems like a grand show of support for our community it is actually a completely hollow gesture. Basically they offered to give us our profiles back so that two weeks later they could suspend them, demand we comply to their unfair and discriminatory policy, and if not, take them away again. This is completely unacceptable.

Saying you have two weeks to comply is not much of a compromise.

Money, Drag Queens and Social media aside, it seems that Facebook may be forcing us to reassess our sense of self, and what is truly in a name.

It will be interesting to see what happens as this story develops.

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