Thoughts on Facebook Legal Name Policing

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Facebook legal name policy lately. For those of you who haven’t heard, Facebook has been deleting accounts of people who don’t wish to use their legal name as their profile name. They’re coming for people, one by one, and telling them they either need to change their name to their legal name or convert their profile to a “page.” Pages don’t have the same kind of interactivity that a regular profile has.

This is very disturbing on a lot of levels. The first, is that primarily in this round, drag queens and gender variant folks seem to be targeted. They’re also on the forefront of the fight with Facebook to reverse their legal name policy.

What is baffling to me, is that Facebook is a platform that is reliant on users for content. It seems wildly inappropriate for them to be putting requirements on users to out themselves. If folks don’t feel safe using facebook they won’t have the kind of content they currently have. People who are using legal names would be more likely to curtail content.

People choose variant names for lots of reasons, here are just a few reasons I came up with, but there are tons of folks who choose to use their non-legal name:

1. Trans people and other people for whom their legal name does not represent their gender(s).
2. People whose name is extremely googleable. The John Smiths of the world don’t have the same issues with online content that the Bevin Branlandinghams do.
3. Performers who use facebook to connect with their performance community.
4. Roller Derby folks who want to use their derby name to connect to their community.
5. People whose jobs or careers would be jeopardized by interaction with social media.
6. People for whom a legal name change is a barrier of time/access/money.
7. People who use social media for a specific group that utilizes nicknames.
8. People who don’t want people knowing their legal name in a casual setting.
9. Folks who are hiding from abusive exes/parents/relatives or stalkers.
10. Folks whose countries of citizenship would punish them for speaking about their country.

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I don’t use my legal name on Facebook for the Google concerns of number 2 above. Because I still have a day job to be beholden to, I can’t just have all my stuff out there. I also use Facebook specifically to only be friends with people I actually know—I already have a “Page” and I don’t need to have another one to connect with folks I know in real life. I worry about when Facebook comes for me. What am I going to do? I don’t even have email addresses for many of the folks I’m connected to there.

I feel a deep love for the intimacies of social media. I have had so many great connections in the world and keeping up with them on a common platform is awesome. It’s kind of awesome that Facebook has become a place where I have access, at the same time, to my radical queer friends and straight folks I know from when I was a camp counselor. I really miss having time to chat for hours with my former co-workers, and it’s nice to get a glimpse into their lives.

What’s odd, too, is that the government will allow you to change your legal name to whatever you want as long as the intent isn’t to defraud creditors. That’s pretty wide open, right? Why can’t Facebook be guided by the same principle? Why does a judge need to codify someone’s name in order for Facebook to feel satisfied that the person is able to connect with their friends and provide Facebook free content?

Just because they haven’t come for you doesn’t mean they won’t. First it’s legal names then who knows what else. I think it’s important for folks who don’t have the same legal name concerns to be on the side of folks who do. It’s time to ally, and time to work together. It’s also time to find other ways to stay connected to people.

There are a couple of things happening to support people for whom the legal name requirement is prohibitive to their involvement on Facebook that I have heard of. One is on October 8, a day of deactivization—folks are deactivating their FB accounts for the day in protest.

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Spread the word!

As concerned citizens of the world we are now making it clear to Facebook that on October 8th, 2014 as the Full Moon goes into a complete Lunar eclipse so will Facebook. On that day we will be deactivating our accounts for 24 hours in protest of Facebook’s recent enforcement of their dangerous and ill-considered “naming policy”.

We demand that Facebook change it’s “real” name policy and stop policing the identities of it’s members. We stand in solidarity with those who have joined Facebook to create and build community where they can inhabit a safe and friendly environment. Due to the difficulties faced by people in oppressive countries and bigoted environments many people have used pseudonyms to protect themselves as they reach out to others to escape abusive families, spouses, stalkers, to protect their jobs, to voice political dissent -as did the founding fathers when America was fighting for it’s Independence from England, as have many other freedom-fighters throughout history.

There are numerous valid reasons why people use pseudonyms including the joyous and powerful antidote to oppression -whimsy!!!

Our names and identities whether given, chosen, or earned are our own!

Another is a queer group of folks working on creating an open source social network–Quirrel. This doesn’t exist yet but it is in development, so if you’re a coder you can get in on that. (From my Facebook feed, “CollectQT is run by black trans women, non-binary queers, and a sex worker, and the social network they’re building is open-source.”)

People are starting to flood to Ello, another social media site that is being funded by venture capitalists. It might be the answer, it might not, and currently it doesn’t have the valuable “friends only” features that Facebook has.

It all feels so powerless. And yet, when one in four website hits is Facebook and Facebook decides to change things, we feel the hit pretty deeply. And need to get less dependent on it.

In the meantime, you should backup your facebook data. In case they come for you and you lose all your photos. You can back it up by going to settings, scrolling to the bottom and click back up your facebook data.

P.S. If you’re a friend of mine and rely on Facebook to tell you when I update my blog, you can get on my email list and I promise to send one email a month with my top blog posts and upcoming events.

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