Facebook walks back real name policy after protests, Ello exodus

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After more than 10 years of requiring you to use your real name, Facebook may soon relax its policy. It took weeks of protests from San Francisco’s LGBTQ and drag queen communities and a mass exodus to newsocial network Ello for Facebook to reevaluate its policy, but now Facebook says it never meant real to mean legal name.

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In a Wednesday apology note posted to his personal page, Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox said the network has always meant its real name policy to include “authentic names” that people use in real life. But when someone began reporting members of the drag community for violating the real name policy, Facebook shut down hundreds of accounts. The only way to reinstate the account was providing a form of ID. But if you’re a drag performer who doesn’t use the name Sister Roma on a driver’s license, you’re out of luck.

“There’s lots of room for improvement in the reporting and enforcement mechanisms, tools for understanding who’s real and who’s not, and the customer service for anyone who’s affected,” Cox said, but stopped just shy of spilling how Facebook plans to make those improvements.

“We’re already underway building better tools for authenticating the Sister Romas of the world while not opening up Facebook to bad actors,” he said.

The apology note was posted after Sister Roma, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, and representatives from the Transgender Law Center met with Facebook Wednesday morning to present a letter of protest from a coalition of LGBTQ groups.

“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,” Cox said. “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.”

Facebook needed to address the situation, especially as users were threatening to leave the network altogether for Ello, a fledgling site that has positioned itself as the anti-Facebook. In addition to allowing pseudonyms, Ello also promises it will never sell your data to advertisers. If Ello can continue to build its user base even after Facebook has promised to do better, the new network may be in it for the long haul after all.

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