Open Letter To Facebook RE Dangers of Plan to Strictly Enforce Real Name Policy

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Dear Facebook: It would be in your best interest to take another page from Google+. This time, in relation to your plan to strictly enforce your real name policy, something Google+ has completely abandoned.

I can’t say I was shocked to read the reports of you giving drag queens two weeks to do the following: confirm their real name, change their name to their real name, or convert their profile to a fan page.

It’s bad enough that enforcing this policy in these circumstances gives validity to Facebook communities who report profiles for using “fake” names; some of these communities’ main purpose is to “out” people, specifically transgender people. In essence, you are validating transphobia.

But there is much more to it.  Let me enumerate other ways in which this policy is harmful to transgender people, all across the spectrum:

  1. While some may believe your extended gender options is somehow a show of support for the transgender community, it is not. Not everyone is in a position where they can disclose their trans status, whatever that status may be. So, they create an account with their chosen name and “male” or “female,” whatever binary gender label corresponds with their true name. Now, you are saying, “You have two weeks to revert back to your government ID name or create a fan page for your “fake” identity, or you’ll be suspended.” In the process of “outing” many people, you are placing the transgender individual in a position where they could lose their job, alienate friends and family, and placing their lives in real physical danger.
  2. There is also the issue of the transgender individuals who are very much “out,” but have yet to change their name, for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, bureaucratic barriers in many parts of the world, and cost. But everyone knows them and refers to them as their chosen/true name. So now, they will have to change their profiles to a name that does not correspond with their gender identity. <sarcasm>It’s great that you’ve never experienced what it feels like when your name doesn’t match your gender marker, and you don’t have had to deal with the consequences.</sarcasm> Let me tell you, it sucks and leads to daily misgendering and abuse.
  3. Because your suspension process involves real human eyeballs looking at a profile, with that human determining whether or not they believe the name could be a legal name based on someone’s physical appearance, you are perpetuating this false idea that someone must pass; someone must be able to traverse society in stealth mode in order to be accepted. This idea of, “you must pass in order to accepted as real,” is antiquated and dangerous. The majority of transgender people do not have the resources to undergo HRT, surgeries, or a basic name change.
  4. This process is also targetting people who have indeed legally changed their name and have updated their Facebook name accordingly. Since I have shared the news of how you’re strictly enforcing this policy with a two week grace period in regards to flagged members of the drag community, a number of transgender individuals have come forward to me saying that they, too, have had their profiles suspended over the course of the last few weeks. That has led us to conclude: either some asshat is trying to out them, or it is because they changed their profile name at some point. Either way, it’s a suspension targetted at the transgender community.
  5. Forcing someone to make use of a fan page if they want to continue to use what you consider to be a fake name is absolutely bollocks, plus I view it as a money grab. Why? Because we all know that fan pages need to pay in order for posts to reach all of the eyeballs that “liked” that page. There is also the issue that, in order to have a Facebook fan page, you have to have a personal profile, which leads back to previously mentioned issues.
  6. You are failing to recognize that the names we choose for ourselves are our real names. What is on our government ID is our assigned names.

There are probably other issues I am missing. But these are the first six that immediately popped into my head when I read what you were doing to the drag queen community, and the immediate consequences it has on the transgender community.

Sure, some people will be lucky and will never have someone report their profile in an attempt to out them. But it does mean, many transgender people will be living in fear, waiting for some asshat to come along, notice that they are visibly transgender, or don’t meet asshat’s standard of passing, or belongs to one of those transphobic communities, and then report them.

If I hadn’t already left Facebook over three years ago, I certainly would be leaving now because you are forcing the transgender community to adhere to a a dangerous and antiquated ideal about what constitutes a real name, and a dangerous and antiquated ideal that you must be able to pass/go stealth, or have undergone invasive surgery, hormones, and name change in order to escape harassment.

As someone said when we were discussing this issue, “The only accounts they are going for are those who transitioned and updated FB or those who are anomalous to the “norm”. It’s bullshit.”

Please reconsider your outdated real name policy. It only serves to perpetuate transgender stereotypes and transphobia. We all know that it doesn’t prevent trolling or hateful comments. You are the last remaining social media platform that requires it for unverified accounts.

Sincerely,

Jules

*To those who have yet to see what precipitated this, the following was posted to Facebook on Wednesday by Sister Roma:

Facebook refuses to agree that the legal name policy is unfair and discriminatory.

They acknowledged that although Facebook has the legal name policy they do not enforce it.

They acknowledged that the current rash of suspended and deleted profiles have been under attack by users of the Facebook community who report the profiles for using “fake” names. Once a page is flagged it is reviewed by living human beings who police the site all over the world. If they determine that the person is not using their legal name on their page it is suspended for being in violation of the Facebook terms of use agreement.

While we could not get them to budge on the actual policy they did seem more open to considering that there are flaws in the complaint review process.

We met with Susan Gonzales, a public liason, and via skype with Monika, the person in charge of content policy. We also meet with members of the Facebook LGBT alliance. The purpose of this meeting was to establish an open dialogue and that’s what happened. I was very impressed by our team. Everyone spoke very eloquently and intelligently. Our broad community was well represented by David Campos, Steven Heklina Grygelko BeBe Sweetbriar, Tom Temprano, 3, Carmen, Nadia Kayyali, Dottielux Smith, Trisha Fogleman, Matt Cagle, Gabriel Haaland, Lil Miss Hot Mess, Alex U Alex U. Inn. Adam from Scott Wiener’s office and Mark Snyder of the Transgender Law Center. Thank you all for your passion and dedication

We left the meeting with an agreement that they would continue to meet with us to further hear our concerns and work together to find a compromise.

Conversations with LGBT employees of Facebook after the meeting left me feeling a little more hopeful. They hinted that this issue has been raised internally and there have been heated debates on both sides of the legal name policy. We definitely have allies working “on the inside.”

Shortly after the meeting Facebook announced that they would reinstate profiles of members of the LGBT community that had recently been targeted, suspended or removed. The statement further goes on to say that Facebook hopes that within 2 weeks time the users will either confirm their real identity, change to their legal names, or move to a fan page. While at first glance this seems like a grand show of support for our community it is actually a completely hollow gesture. Basically they offered to give us our profiles back so that two weeks later they could suspend them, demand we comply to their unfair and discriminatory policy, and if not, take them away again. This is completely unacceptable.

To Facebook this is an issue of broader consequence that could take years to review, rewrite or rescind. We do not have that kind of time. Our communities profiles and identities are disappearing daily. We could be wiped out entirely in a short period of time. If we do not get adequate action from Facebook in a few weeks time I would say that we’re ready to go back to our original idea and hold a protest at their campus. They might be able to wipe us off Facebook but they’ll know we’re still here!

We will not rest until not only drag queens, but everyone, has the right to CHOOSE how they wish to be identified on Facebook.

Stay tuned. This is not over! #MyNameIsRoma

Profile photo of Jules Sherred

I'm a trans man. My preferred pronouns are "they/them" because it forces people to treat me as a person, instead of a gender. Though, I will very happily respond to "he/him." You can read my full bio here. You may send me an email.

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