San Francisco

JM-TEST Facebook Apologizes to Drag Queens, Drag Kings and LGBT Groups, Promises to Fix Real-Names Policy

Less than two weeks after a group of Bay Area drag queens met with Facebook to protest how the social networking giant had suspended their accounts for not using "real names," Facebook's chief product officer Chris Cox apologized for their ordeal, promising change.

And Mark Zuckerberg "liked" it.

“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 Wednesday in a post on his own Facebook page.

“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,” he added. “We've also come to understand how painful this has been. 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.”

Mark Snyder, a spokesperson for the Transgender Law Center who met with Facebook Wednesday over the real names policy dispute, called the meeting productive. "We are excited to continue working with them on solutions so we can all be our authentic selves online," he said. Local drag queens have turned a protest rally initially scheduled for San Francsico City Hall Thursday into a victory celebration.

Bay Area queer performance art group The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and its supporters first met with Facebook on Sept. 19 after some users received messages saying their account had been “temporarily suspended” because it looks like “you’re not using your real name.”

Facebook's stance is that the "real names" policy is designed to "keep the community safe."

But Bay Area drag queens called the policy discriminatory, saying that by requiring performers to use their legal names, Facebook may be compromising their safety and making them vulnerable to attack.

The group said it would mobilize against Facebook if the social networking giant didn’t address its concerns.

“Facebook is discriminating by basically not allowing a large part of the community access to a public forum because of this policy,” said Lil Miss Hot Mess, who reluctantly had to identify herself as Harris Davis on her Facebook page.

Heklina, a 47-year-old drag queen from San Francisco, said she would boycott Facebook if she could, but “it’s too ingrained in our everyday lives.”

A growing coalition of people who support the Bay Area drag queens — including artists, immigrants, domestic violence survivors, activists and members of the transgender community — delivered a letter to Facebook at Wednesday's meeting, requesting that Facebook update its policy to allow everyone to be their "authentic selves online," end the requirement to show ID and make it easier for users to appeal account suspension.

“Many people need to use a chosen name in order to feel safe or to be able to express their authentic identity online,” the letter said. “While drag queens have experienced a rash of reports of being in violation of the 'real name' policy, many others remain at risk of being reported.”

In his post, Cox explained that it all started when an individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these accounts as fake. The reports were among the several hundred thousand fake name reports Facebook processes every week, 99 percent of whom he said are "bad actors doing bad things," including impersonation, bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams and hate speech.

"So we didn't notice the pattern,” Cox wrote.

Cox wrote that Facebook's "authentic name" policy was put in place to act as a safeguard against impersonators: “Everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life.”

“For Sister Roma, that's Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that's Lil Miss Hot Mess," he added. "Part of what's been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook."

Cox said Facebook is working on building better tools for “authenticating the Sister Romas of the world."

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