Facebook issued a formal apology to the LGBT community and drag queens after a controversy erupted over the popular social site’s policy of requiring members to use only real names for their accounts.
Right since its inception, Facebook has insisted on members using their real names and authentic identities instead of allowing anonymous activity. It recently came down heavily against some users whom it suspected to be using the site under drag names and blocked their accounts, which led to a huge outcry from the community on the grounds that using their real identities could endanger their privacy and safety.
The company, whose authentic-name policy is meant to protect members by avoiding impersonation, bullying, hate speech and scams, now realizes that the resulting events put these users through a hardship, and Facebook will fix the way the identification policy is handled, the Chief Product Officer Chris Cox wrote in a post on the site.
In a statement issued yesterday, Cox mentioned how Facebook was caught off-guard when someone reported several hundred of these accounts as fake, triggering a process that requires users to validate their names with some form of identification, like library cards, mail or gym memberships, which can be difficult for those who go by pseudonyms.
In this statement, Cox vowed to ease its “real names” policy that prompted drag queen performers to quit the social network and sparked wider protests in the gay community and beyond.
The push expanded to include other groups such as domestic violence survivors and immigrants, who also argued that being unable to use a pseudonym may compromise safety.
On Wednesday, the social network sat down for negotiations with representatives from many of the groups. After that meeting, Chief Product Officer Chris Cox issued an apology on his own Facebook page.
Facebook executives and representatives of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender communities said they found a solution acceptable to both sides, allowing people to use assumed names, subject to verification.
“For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess.”
Cox said Facebook would come up with improved tools to “authenticate” legitimate users such as those who sparked the protest.
“I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks,” Cox said.
In the two weeks since the real-name policy issues surfaced, we’ve had the chance to hear from many of you in these communities and understand the policy more clearly as you experience it. We’ve also come to understand how painful this has been,” he wrote. “We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we’re going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were.”
But the apology did not go so far as to admit that Facebook’s widely criticized policy was incorrect. The accounts of drag personalities, he said, were deleted only after another user falsely reported that they were fake.
“Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name,” he wrote. “The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life.”
But Facebook’s policy, as listed on the site, does not seem to spell out such a lax interpretation of what constitutes a “real name.” Nicknames, for example, “can be used as a first or middle name if they’re a variation of your real first or last name (like Bob instead of Robert).”
Facebook further advises that “the name you use should be your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver’s license or student ID.” That seems to imply a definition of “real name” synonymous with “legal name.”