The Facebook “Real Names” policy has been the nemesis of Trans people and victims of abuse since it was implemented several years ago.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, together with a number of other advocacy groups penned an open letter to the social media site. The “Nameless Coalition” says:
Facebook’s real name (“authentic name”) policy has facilitated harassment, silencing, and even physical violence toward its most vulnerable users. It’s time for Facebook to fix its broken policy.
The main issue is that Facebook’s official policy is so poorly implemented. The official policy states:
Please refrain from adding any of these to your name:
- Symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, repeating characters or punctuation.
- Characters from multiple languages.
- Titles of any kind (ex: professional, religious).
- Words or phrases in place of a middle name.
- Offensive or suggestive words of any kind.
Other things to keep in mind:
- The name you use should be your authentic identity; as your friends call you in real life and as our acceptable identification forms would show.
Like many Facebook decisions, this can be interpreted in a number of ways: on the face of it, it seems to be reasonable; it’s hard to determine if someone is “really” who they say they are online as it is. On the other hand, it’s also a great way to harvest people’s “real” online behaviour, and it’s a massive problem for those people who need to keep their identities private, such as victims of abuse or Trans people whose identity documents don’t always “match” their actual identities.
Chris Cox of Facebook writes of the flood of criticism:
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.
But with Facebook being the arbiter of good taste, and regularly real profiles are regularly banned for breaching the policy, so if you’ve an unusual name, you’re flat out of luck and have to prove you are who you say you are.
Add to this, the ease with which trolls attack people on the site (Clementine Ford writes about this double standard here) and the inconsistently applied Facebook name and trolling policies, and you’ve a recipe for absolute chaos.
But there is a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel; the policy hasn’t changed, but Facebook is requiring more information before they accept a complaint about someone’s profile.
The Verge writes:
To do that, the new system first requires more information when reporting someone for using false name, offering separate options for impostors, fictional characters, or simply unexpected names. Once that report is filed, the user in question will be notified and have a week to respond before any action is taken. Facebook has also built out a specialized support team devoted to helping users through the process, providing personal attention to what has historically been a more mechanical process.
Whether this is an improvement or a hack to a poorly implemented system remains to be seen.