Facebook’s “real name” policy has been under fire for some time, and it seems the protests are finally coming to fruition.
Since its inception, Facebook has insisted that users provide their real, legal name instead of permitting aliases or screen-names. This has caused problems for a wide variety of people, from Native Americans whose names are flagged as fake to trans people whose legal names are still their dead names. In October of 2014, the policy was changed to reflect some of these complaints, allowing everyone to use the “authentic name they use in real life,” even if that isn’t their legal name.
The change, however, didn’t wipe away the problems, and users continued to be banned for inauthentic names. While Facebook officials have made it clear that their “authentic identity” policy is a permanent one, claiming that it keeps people accountable, last Friday brought some changes to the way in which it is administered.
If a user chooses a name other than their legal name, they are able to provide an explanation to hopefully avoid being blocked. When users are blocked for breaking the name policy, it is now easier to get back into locked accounts. And perhaps most importantly, it is now the responsibility of the person who flags a name as inauthentic to provide evidence somehow. The burden of proof no longer rests solely upon the person whose account is being flagged, which will hopefully help prevent people from targeting minorities, including trans people.
Many people have been fighting this policy for its unfairness towards members of the LGBT community, people of color, sex workers, and others, and I hope that the changes will bring increased safety to all of these communities. While I understand Facebook’s commitment to authentic identities for the sake of accountability, that accountability cannot come at the expense of the safety of its users.