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In a move that has resulted in the unification of unlikely groups, Facebook has outed its users, causing outrage among drag queens, political dissidents, asylum seekers, and domestic violence survivors. The indignity caused several drag queen personalities to be locked out of their accounts.
The company recently began a “real-name policy” campaign that required people to use their “real names” while on the social network. This policy was interpreted by some that Facebook would determine how people identified themselves.
A month ago a group of drag personalities spoke to the social media site about the policy that prohibits pseudonyms. They said that it jeopardizes the health, privacy, and safety of many LGBTQ users, meaning pseudonyms provide protection from harassment. Yesterday Facebook representatives met with members of groups that were affected.
The outcome of the Facebook meeting where outrage was expressed by users resulted in an apology by Chief Product Officer Chris Cox. He posted his statement on his own page, expressing regret for the hardship that the various communities had experienced in the past few weeks.
Cox said that the way things happened “took the social media site off guard.” He said that usually those who create duplicate accounts do so to bully, scam, troll (harass online), or otherwise perpetuate hate rhetoric.
However, despite wide criticism for the policy, Cox did not go as far as to say that the company had made an error. He did say that the policy was imperfect and that it had intentionally hurt members of the LGBTQ community. Cox clarified that it was not the organization’s policy that people use their legal names.
Rather, he stated that they use the “authentic” name that they use “in real life.” While nicknames, such as “Bob” for “Robert,” may be used, Facebook policy is that the name used should be on a credit card or driver’s license.
One of the outcomes of the policy was the deletion of certain accounts of drag personalities. This occurred after a user erroneously reported that several hundred of these were fake accounts. Facebook flagged those as account violations, resulting in a sweep of drag queens who used their stage names.
In protest to the policy, some in the LGBTQ community began a campaign on Facebook, with the hashtag #MyNameIs. In addition, many users participated in an exodus to Ello and it went viral among those who identify as queer. The new social network is by invitation only, allows people to use any name, is ad-free and does not track users’ data.
Not all blocked Facebook users in the LGBTQ community have opted to leave, however. One user, Sister Roma, a drag performer, expressed being pleased to have her name back and reclaim her identity. With yesterday’s apology, a protest previously scheduled for today at San Francisco City Hall will be renamed as a victory rally.
Part of the reason that the social media site prefers that people use their real identity in their profiles is so that they can receive targeted ads based on their likes. Following on the establishment of the “real-name policy” campaign, the company launched a service this week that targets advertisements to users based on their real identities.
With Facebook’s apology came a softer stance on names, resulting in a reduction in the outrage by users. It is unclear whether this modified approach will result in wider use of the social media site, or more duplication of pages. The latter would make the targeted ads less effective, thereby hurting Facebook’s revenue stream.
By Fern Remedi-Brown
The author writes about LGBT and other social justice issues.
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