Facebook has always been based on identity. Unlike other social networks, which let you pick pseudonyms and have varying degrees of anonymity, Facebook holds you accountable to reality. You are your name. It’s how people find you. But now the network’s commitment to real names is being tested—and not just by popular anonymous apps.
Facebook recently began cracking down on well-known San Francisco drag queens who use their performer names on the network instead of their birth names, going so far as to delete profiles, which has caused widespread outrage in the city’s LBGTQ community. Facebook reps met with some of the affected drag queens and city Supervisor David Campos Wednesday night, but it doesn’t look like the network will be changing its policy any time soon.
That’s unfortunate. It isn’t just drag queens who eschew their birth names on the network. There are plenty of reasons you might want to use a different moniker or a variation on your given name. What if you have a stalker or a crazy ex? What if you’re trying to escape an abusive situation? What if you don’t want prospective employers evaluating your Facebook instead of your job application? Sure, you could lock down your account’s privacy settings, but now that you can no longer hide your account from Facebook’s search, people can still find you, message you, and send you friend requests.
For drag queens and transgendered Facebook users, names aren’t about hiding; they’re expressions of identity. Regardless of why you choose a name other than the one you were assigned at birth, you shouldn’t have to provide legal documentation to Facebook to use that name. The network earlier this year announced more gender options after meeting with LGBTQ advocacy groups and figuring out that the male-female binary was excluding many of its users. That policy doesn’t extend to names, apparently.
The network’s solution for drag performers is to create separate fan pages or use their drag names as aliases. But that’s not good enough. I know plenty of people who use made-up names to avoid being found in search, but they’re not drag queens so Facebook doesn’t bother them. A Facebook rep told TechCrunch that an algorithm had found the drag queens, causing the mass crackdown, but a user on Secret is taking credit for reporting users, making the situation seem even nastier.
Facebook has restored the deleted profiles, but is requiring all drag queens to start using their real names within the next two weeks. There’s also some talk of another meeting, perhaps with people who have more power at Facebook, but it doesn’t look like the network plans to change its policy. Drag queens are now waging a social media campaign against Facebook using the hashtag #MyNameIs.
If Facebook is examining anonymity in response to popular apps usurping its place in the phones of teens, the least it can do is look at its real names policy and see how it can make the network more inclusive. Your identity is more than your birth name.