Weeks after Facebook apologised for the way its “real-name” policy had led to the suspension of numerous drag queens’ accounts, user accounts are still being suspended or deactivated for not using people’s legal names.
Sister Roma, a 27-year veteran of San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, is one of the leaders of the campaign to get Facebook to restore these accounts and has become a key liaison between the social media giant and people whose accounts continue to be suspended or deactivated.
“Every time one or two get fixed, a handful get suspended,” Sister Roma told the Guardian. “So we really feel like we’re swimming upstream, and while I’m hopeful that Facebook is doing the right thing, it’s discouraging.”
She and other members of the drag community challenged Facebook in September after their accounts were suspended or deactivated because they did not use their “real name”. Thousands rallied around the queens and others who might choose to use an alias on Facebook for safety reasons, like domestic abuse survivors or activists.
Facebook’s Chris Cox said in the company’s apology that one individual had reported hundreds of the accounts as fake and that the company missed the pattern in the mass of flagged account reports it receives. Many were reactivated after the Facebook apology, but accounts continue to be suspended or deactivated, including some belonging to New York City-based drag queens like Fussy Lo Mein, whose account was suspended then reactivated this week.
“Whatever or however my deactivation happened, it caused me to remember how I used to feel growing up when the world projected on to me all those judgments: I felt dirty in their eyes, but I internalised those judgments and they became part of my own sad self-image,” she wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday. “These are feelings I haven’t remembered for decades, but it all came back to me.”
Cox said earlier this month that the policy is meant to block impersonation, trolling and bullying by forcing users to use their legal names instead of being cloaked in anonymity. He said that the company is working to improve the reporting process and customer service.
“We are committed to ensuring that all members of the Facebook community can use the authentic names they use in real life,” a Facebook representative said in an emailed statement. “Having people use their authentic names makes them more accountable, and also helps us root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation and hate speech. Our team is busy working to improve the implementation of this standard so that some of the issues people recently encountered can be prevented in the future.”
In the meantime, Sister Roma said she has fielded 300 to 400 emails from people whose accounts have been suspended or deactivated. Facebook has given her a special email so that she can send it information about such users.
“Facebook is not the enemy here, really,” said Sister Roma. “The problem is that people are using this policy that Facebook has in place to target and bully members of the Facebook community they don’t like.”
She said people looking to restore access to their accounts must send her their profile URL, describe why their account was blocked or suspended and describe in their own words what their authentic identity is and why. “Your story, basically,” Sister Roma said.
Sister Roma thinks a simple solution would be to remove the option to report an account because “the timeline is using a fake name”. This is the first option available to people who click through a profile to report an account.
“I think reporting should be based on behaviour and not identity,” Sister Roma said. “Nobody wants these creepy bad users around, we’re all on the same page as far as that goes, but a reason to report somebody shouldn’t be just because they are using a fake name.”
This article was written by Amanda Holpuch in New York, for theguardian.com on Friday 17th October 2014 15.44 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010