Here's Why Having To Use "Real" Names On Facebook Is Putting Some People's Lives At Serious Risk

BuzzFeed News spoke to campaigners battling against the social media company’s “real name” policy.

The #MyNameIs campaign

On Monday morning, hundreds of drag and burlesque performers, LGBTQ people, Native Americans, and survivors of domestic violence demonstrated outside of Facebook's headquarters in California, calling for the company to change its “real name” policy.

The policy, which has been in place since 2006 in an attempt to curb fake and spam accounts, has come in for heavy criticism in recent years. The company requires users to use their “authentic” name; meanwhile, imitating someone, or something, isn't allowed. “Facebook is a community where people use their authentic identities,” it states on its help page. “We require people to provide the name they use in real life; that way, you always know who you're connecting with. This helps keep our community safe.”

However, many Facebook users who cannot use their legal name are being targeted, reported, and suspended every day because of the policy, which they deem discriminatory. Some users require pseudonyms to protect themselves from harassment and harm, while others – such as transgender youths – wish to use a preferred name but lack the resources to obtain the legal identification required by Facebook as proof of identity.

TED ALJIBE / Getty Images

Last October, Facebook's chief product officer, Chris Cox, addressed the concern and said the company would make significant changes to the policy and its enforcement. “I want to apologise 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,” he said.

However, since Cox made the statement, little has been addressed – until this week. Justin Osofsky, vice president of global operations, and Monika Bickert, head of global product policy, told BuzzFeed News that the company is “committed” to the authentic policy but will be making “significant improvements” to improve the safety of its users. In a statement on Facebook, the company apologised for making it difficult for users to confirm their authentic identity, and said that with the guidance of “local and national members of the LGBTQ community and others”, it is making the following changes:

– It won't be suspending accounts while users verify or update their name.
– It will be expanding the options of what documents people need to provide to verify their name to includes items such as a piece of mail or a library card.
– The language used on its site has been clarified to “make it clear” that the name required does not need to be a legal name.

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