Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg finally came out to explain Facebook’s real name policy. While it is true that the decision of the Supreme Court about same-sex marriage and Facebook’s way of celebrating it via the “Celebrate Pride” tool is starting to fade, the problem of how Zuckerberg’s social media treats LGBT users still lingers. Zuckerberg made a public statement about FB’s real name policy, but many find his answer confusing.
The issue is quite clear: Facebook does not allow the use of fake names. Nonetheless, this exposes LGBT members to the risk of violence and harassment. Survivors of domestic violence have also voiced objected against the real name policy as well.
Zuckerberg answered the questions of reporter Alex Kantrowitz of BuzzFeed in a Q&A on Tuesday, June 30, about FB’s real name policy. Zuckerberg explained that the policy is very important in “order to support everyone using their own real names.” He said, “Real name does not mean your legal name. Your real name is whatever you go by and what your friends call you. If your friends all call you by a nickname and you want to use that name on Facebook, you should be able to do that.”
According to Zuckerberg, they are working on ways so people will show their real names and keep this policy which “protects so many people in our community while also serving the transgender community.” This explanation did not give much light to the matter. FB employee Zip Cat blogged that it is a kind of insult for FB to sponsor activities and launch a support tool to show its support to same-sex marriage, yet it cannot solve its own problem. It is difficult to understand why Zuckerberg’s company is refusing to change its real name policy. The LGBT community marched in protest this month against the said policy.
One of the organizers said that the policy harms the LGBT people directly, especially the queer and transgenders who face discrimination, and turn to Facebook for support in order to express their real selves and build communities .Gizmodo says Facebook seems to dwell on other things instead, thus pretending there is no problem whatsoever. Users of Zuckerberg’s social network drenched their profile pics with rainbow-colored Pride tool last week, despite being aware that Facebook could track them.
When a FB spokesperson was asked about the real name policy, his answer did not directly address the question. He talked about Facebook’s commitment to diversity and their support of the LGBTQ community, as an employer. However, as Gizmodo notes, Zuckerberg’s company only hired seven black people, something that does not show great diversity.
What Zuckerberg explained about Facebook’s real name policy has a similar tone to the site’s help center. The webpage says it is a community of people who use authentic identities. The company requires that members use the name they are known for in real life, in order for everyone else to know who they are connecting with. They claim it helps the community, and aids in keeping it safe as well. It discourages use of some characters like numbers, symbols or repeating punctuation for the names.
It defines “real name” as what one’s friends use to call the person in real life; use of an additional name on the account is also allowed, such as nickname, maiden name or professional name. It says that pretending to be anyone else is not allowed.
In August of last year, some Vietnamese activists found their Facebook accounts closed. They claimed they were targets of a government-sponsored “online army.” The same thing happened to at least a hundred pro-democracy protesters, some of whom posted protests on Facebook. These users claimed that they were targeted by a government-paid rival team, who also use the social networking site.
The trouble is that when Facebook receives reports about site members who are violating the rules, they have to suspend the accounts of those reported. When Facebook asks for real identities, the Vietnamese protesters could not comply with this request, as they are indeed using fake names lest they be targeted in the real world.
Earlier in June, demonstrators gathered outside of FB’s headquarters in California to protest against the real name policy. However, as Mark Zuckerberg’s explanation about Facebook’s real name policy details, the company requires authentic identity to keep users safe. The social media network’s rule ensures that people cannot hide behind fake names to abuse others.
By Judith Aparri
Edited by Chanel van der Woodsen
Gizmodo: Mark Zuckerberg Finally Weighed in on Facebook’s “Real Name” Problem
Facebook Help Center: What names are allowed on Facebook?
BBC: Protesters target Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy
Photo courtesy of JD Lasica‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License