San Francisco

#MyNameIs: Protesters Rally Against Facebook's “Fake Name” Policy

Critics of Facebook's requirement for users to authenticate their real identities staged a protest on Monday, saying that many in the transgender community feel they are being “maliciously targeted” and unfairly reported for using a "fake" name.

The #MyNameIs protest, organized through a Facebook page, began in San Francisco and headed down to Facebook campus headquarters in Menlo Park. About 60 people had made the trek by 11 a.m. and were shouting their disapproval outside the "thumbs up" sign, draped in a rainbow banner, in front of the Silicon Valley company.

The campaign and online petition specifically asks Facebook to remove the fake name reporting option, stop asking users for government IDs, and create an appeals process because Facebook's "customer service is non-existent."

Critics say that it's not fair that anybody can claim someone is using a fake name and report that person to Facebook for scrutiny.

"It's a tool that's being used by bullies and bigots to maliciously target and report people they find objectionable. People who've done nothing wrong expect to exercise their right to self identify," said one of the organizers, Sister Roma, a vocal critic of the policy and a self-identified San Francisco drag queen. Roma also pointed out that Bruce Jenner, who made a public debut as Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair on Monday, would also have a hard time registering on Facebook under her new name.

Facebook argued again on Monday, as it has in the past, that having people use their real names is for safety, and is meant to curb anonymous cyber-bulling. In fact, on Monday, the company outlined its "authentic name" policy.

“We are committed to ensuring that all members of the Facebook community can use the names that they use in real life," the company said in an email. "Having people use their authentic names makes them more accountable, and also helps us root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation and hate speech."

In a Facebook post, Justin Osofsky, Facebook's vice president of global operations, and Monika Bickert, head of global product policy, said they realized the company made it "too hard" for people to confirm their authentic identity on Facebook. So, they said after several community conversations, they made some "significant improvements"  such as expanding the options available for verifying an authentic name and allowing people continued access to their profiles while they verify their name.

Users can now verify their names by showing a piece of mail, a magazine subscription or library card, and that there is now a grace period of seven days if people need to verify their name, the posted explained.

This issue is  not a new one, and Facebook's chief product officer Chris Cox apologized over the issue in October 2014.

Cox wrote the company's policy has "never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name." The spirit of Facebook's policy, he said, was for people to use the "authentic name in real life." Still, Cox noted that hiding behind a fake name can lead to "trolling, domestic abuse and higher rates of bullying." He promised that Facebook would work to build better tools to authenticate the "Sister Romas of the world."

Still, it seems that despite that apology, many people, specifically in the transgender community, are still not satisfied. And on Monday, the critics reiterated their position: They don't think Facebook should have a right to ask for any type of ID. People should be able to remain anonymous, they argued. At the protest, people carried signs that said "Facebook's apology is a lie" and "Facebook exposed my abuser."

Organizers took particular issue with having to register with a government issued ID. The petition notes that "when exposed, trans men and women are often the victims of discrimination, bullying, harassment, and violence.”

But others listed different, non-LGBT issues as well.

On the event organizing page, Kathryn Suzanne-Dreamer wrote that Facebook does not think "Dreamer" is a real name so she can't simply have "Dreamer" as her last name, she has to hyphenate it.

The protesters also have what they say is a simple solution to the so-called problem: Just block the person if you think they are fake or abusing their fake name. “When you block someone they immediately disappear from your Facebook experience,” the petition reads.

Sister Roma said that Facebook has to realize that the social media giant is an "important and a crucial part of our social life. And it's time Mark Zuckerberg realize that identity is fluid."

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