Facebook finally responds to the recent ‘real names’ controversy

facebook icon holding flowers

Too little, too late?

Today in a post by Chris Cox, Chief Product Officer at Facebook, the company finally breaks its silence around widespread outrage over the enforcement of the social network’s “real names” policy. Facebook’s policy reached a flashpoint three weeks ago when the social network forced members of San Francisco’s drag community to alter their Facebook accounts to match their legal names.

Now, the company has spoken up, though oddly it’s done so through a long Facebook post from Cox rather than a post on the Facebook Newsroom, the company’s blog. In the post, the company claims that the accounts were flagged after a single Facebook user reported hundreds of accounts as fake. We’ve pulled out highlights from Cox’s full post (which you can read here) below. (Emphasis ours.)

I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks. In the two weeks since the real-name policy issues surfaced, we’ve had the chance to hear from many of you in these communities and understand the policy more clearly as you experience it. We’ve also come to understand how painful this has been. We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we’re going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were.

The way this happened took us off guard. An individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these accounts as fake.

Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess.

We believe this is the right policy for Facebook for two reasons. First, it’s part of what made Facebook special in the first place, by differentiating the service from the rest of the internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm. Second, it’s the primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm. The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names, and it’s both terrifying and sad. Our ability to successfully protect against them with this policy has borne out the reality that this policy, on balance, and when applied carefully, is a very powerful force for good.

And we’re taking measures to provide much more deliberate customer service to those accounts that get flagged so that we can manage these in a less abrupt and more thoughtful way. To everyone affected by this, thank you for working through this with us and helping us to improve the safety and authenticity of the Facebook experience for everyone.”

The policy has long been problematic, but the recent uptick in its enforcement resulted in protests across the LGBTQ community and Facebook at large. Those events also prompted many users to sign up for Ello, a very young social network and possible Facebook alternative. 

Illustration by Jason Reed

Taylor Hatmaker

Taylor Hatmaker

Taylor Hatmaker has reported on the tech industry for nearly a decade, covering privacy and government. Most recently, she was the Debug editor of the Daily Dot. Prior to that, she was a staff writer and deputy editor at ReadWrite, a tech and business reporter for Yahoo News, and the senior editor of Tecca. Her editorial interests include censorship, digital activism, LGBTQ issues, and futurist consumer tech.