Facebook changes controversial 'real name' policy in wake of criticism

Facebook unveiled changes to its controversial “real name” policy on Tuesday after criticism from transgender people and victims of domestic abuse.

The social network bans anonymity and has insisted people use their birth names on their accounts. The policy has caused problems for people who used different names from the one they were born with, including transgender people and victims of domestic violence who use aliases to hide from their abusers.

Facebook remains “firmly committed” to having verifiable names linked to their accounts, the company wrote in a statement. “However, after hearing feedback from our community, we recognize that it’s also important that this policy works for everyone, especially for communities who are marginalized or face discrimination.”

A coalition led by drag queens in San Francisco pressured the company to review its system last year after users reported problems with the “real name” policy.

The new policy will relax some rules on how people verify their names, streamline the name verification process, and change how people report fake names. It is being tested in the US so that developers, led by product manager Todd Gage, can work out bugs and determine how best to expand the system globally.

“We will also continue to work on making the experience itself more compassionate and easier to navigate,” Gage and Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s vice-president of global operations, wrote in the post.

The new system will ask people who are reporting users for having fake names to provide more information about why they are filing a report, including a required text box to write specific details. Critics of the policy have long suspected that they were targeted by users guilty of the same bullying behavior Facebook said its ban on anonymity was meant to prevent.

People whose profiles are flagged after going through this reporting process are presented with options to explain their situation, including: “affected by abuse, stalking or bullying” and “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer”.

And instead of immediately suspending people whose profiles are reported for having a false name, users will have seven days to access their profile while disputing the challenge.

Before, the site could change people’s names without their consent; now they cannot.

Facebook has also responded to criticism about requiring people to give the company forms of identification to prove their name because these documents did not always reflect the preferred name of the user.

The company said it is expanding how many documents people can use for this part of the process but that it is also taking advantage of the mass of information it has on users to expedite the entire process. For instance, if the company can see that people use a name over and over again on a user’s birthday, then that is the name they are best known by and the identification documents may not be needed.

“We want to create the best experience that we can for everyone, and we will continue to make improvements until everyone can use the name that their friends and family know them by,” Gage and Osofsky’s post said.

The company is holding a community forum in San Francisco on Tuesday night to discuss the changes.

Facebook apologized in October 2014 to people who had been negatively affected by the rules, but the drag queen coalition criticized the company a year later for failing to make substantive changes to its policy.

Critics grew to include rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union of California and Human Rights Watch. They formed the Nameless Coalition to protest the policy because it “has facilitated harassment, silencing, and even physical violence towards its most vulnerable users”.

Glaad CEO and president Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement that Facebook had taken “important steps to improve its name policy”.

Ellis said: “GLAAD looks forward to our continued work with Facebook to further improve on this policy and ensure that the world’s largest social network remains a place where all people can feel accepted and safe to be their authentic selves.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Amanda Holpuch in New York, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 15th December 2015 18.15 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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