A global coalition has called upon Facebook to revise its “real names” policy as it harms and discriminates against particularly transgender people.
In a letter, the coalition demands that “Facebook should get rid of its real names policy altogether, especially considering that it clearly violates European data protection laws.
“In the meantime, we wanted to create demands that would support the dignity, safety, and expressive rights of all users.”
The coalition is made up of 10 prominent human rights and internet freedom organisations, including: Access, ACLU of California, EFF, Center for Democracy and Technology, ForABetterFB, Global Voices, Human Rights Watch, the Internet Democracy Project, One World Platform, Point of View India, and Take Back the Tech.
Under Facebook’s current policies, users create profiles using the names they use “in real life.” When a user first creates a profile, Facebook does not require proof of identity.
Any user can easily file reports with Facebook claiming that a fellow user is violating this policy, and has no obligation to submit evidence supporting their claim. Once reported they are forced to submit ID or lose access to their account. While some users are given time to comply, we’re still receiving reports that some are kicked off the site immediately.
While Facebook amended its policy “the types of ID that Facebook asks for in the ‘report abuse’ process, whether issued by a government or private entity, do not necessarily feature a person’s nickname or ‘real life’ name—especially for transgender people and others who modify their names to protect themselves from harm.”
“This process can put users who use a name other than their legal name for safety or privacy purposes in real danger. In some cases Facebook has reinstated accounts with the legal name of users … exposing them to abusive former partners, politically-motivated attacks, and threats of real-life violence,” stated the coalition in its letter.
A transgender woman who was locked out of Facebook, that preferred to remain anonymous, pointed out: “I am a trans woman at the start of my transition. So I cannot do my legal name change right now (where I live, it may take a year).” For users who cannot change their names, the policy provides another barrier –according to one locked-out Texas transgender user, he “ha[s]n’t legally been able to change my name yet as it is a process.”
Drag queen and community activist Sister Roma was kicked off of Facebook in September of 2014 for using her stage name. She stated after the suspension: “”I use this site to keep up with friends and simply don’t want employers or crazy stalker people to log on and search me.” While Roma and other drag queens accounts were reinstated after massive media attention, many drag queens continue to have their account suspended.
The policy adversely affected transgender people, drag queens, and sexworkers, and also native Americans, people using traditional Irish and Scottish names, Catholic clergy. LGBTI users outside the US have been kicked off due to the policy. Even Facebook employees have been kicked off the platform, and the policy has placed domestic violence survivors and targets of harassment in danger by restoring suspended accounts with legal names, allowing their attackers to find them.