Submitted By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
The LGBT community and Facebook are in the midst of a great controversy for Facebook requiring anonymous or aliased members of the Drag Queen community to provide their legal names for their user accounts. The community is concerned that the forced use of their “real” names could lead to discrimination, harassment and hate crimes and that their Drag names are an essential component of their personal identity. Facebook counters that its policy has been in place since the beginning and these policies are necessary to protect the integrity of its service and to bring accountability to its users by requiring actual names within the users’ profiles.
The controversy raised important questions about the role of privacy, anonymity, and free speech in an increasingly public world along with balancing the needs of different segments of our society, and individual choices.
The policy in question (downloaded on September 28th, 2014) has the following requirements:
What names are allowed on Facebook?
Facebook is a community where people use their real identities. We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you’re connecting with. This helps keep our community safe.
Names can’t include:
Symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, repeating characters or punctuation
Characters from multiple languages
Titles of any kind (ex: professional, religious)
Words, phrases or nicknames in place of a middle name
Offensive or suggestive words of any kind
Other things to keep in mind:
The name you use should be your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver’s license or student ID
Nicknames can be used as a first or middle name if they’re a variation of your real first or last name (like Bob instead of Robert)
You can also list another name on your account (ex: maiden name, nickname or professional name) by adding an alternate name to your profile
Profiles are for individual use only
Pretending to be anything or anyone isn’t allowed
Through a spokesperson Facebook stated:
“Having people use their real names on Facebook makes them more accountable, and also helps us root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation and hate speech. While real names help keep Facebook safe, we also recognize that a person’s real identity is not necessarily the name that appears on their legal documentation, and that is why we accept other forms of identification that verifies the name a person uses in everyday life.”
Facebook states it provides an alternate method in which readers may access a website using Pages instead of Profiles, where the page would serve as the user’s online persona. But that creates a problem with migration of “friends” to “fans”, images, and conveying the new website’s address to the rest of the internet. Moreover, fees could be charged to the users. Facebook offered to assist subscribers in the migration.
In a quote supplied by Facebook, Anti-Defamation League National Chairman Chris Wolf provided a statement through the leagues Civil Rights Committee which stated in part:
“As someone who has studied online hate for 20 years, I know that a real name policy works to prevent hate speech and harassment. … On balance, the benefits on anonymity for one group needs to be balanced against the potential harm anonymity can cause everyone.”
But it really comes down to money. Facebook wants the Real Names policy and perceives its business practices as necessary to make more. Why else would it be in business?
The objection, among others, the LGBT community has with Facebook is the damage that can be caused to individual drag queens by Facebook’s forced “outing” of their true identities.
The drag queen community nearly universally uses Drag Names as their identity, sometimes permanently and others when in their drag persona, which is also integral to their performances in drag events and social networks.
In an NPR article, drag queen Lil Miss Hot Mess, discussed her persona and why her drag name is part of her participation in the community:
“The way that I move through the world as a drag queen is different than how I move through the world every day,” she says. With her stage name, she has a different social circle, a different way of being online.
Her page was shut down early last week by Facebook, and she wasn’t the only drag queen whose account was deactivated. Facebook also closed the pages of other drag queens after they were reported for not using their “real” names on Facebook.
We previously discussed Facebook, in what was lauded in the LBGT community as being open and progressive toward the acceptance of differing gender and sexual orientation of individuals by creating fifty six gender identities available within a user’s profile in an article http://jonathanturley.org/2014/02/15/facebook-subscribers-can-now-choose-among-fifty-six-new-gender-identities/ HERE.
The policy in question is not new but the heavy enforcement of this against drag queens and other subscribers is relatively recent and directed, as the LBGT community believes, unfairly against them. But they are not alone in their objection.
Facebook warrants that the requirement of Real Names protects others, but according to Lil Miss Hot Mess she doesn’t see profile names as a way to hide, but rather as “a way of being able to participate in the communities you’re choosing to participate in. In some cases, drag queens only know each other by stage names. The online and real-life communities can be based on connections with those names, which aren’t exactly anonymous.”
Maria Carolina Morales, the co-director of Community United Against Violence which supports Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning communities in San Francisco, views the lack of anonymity as a potential threat to its members:
”Instead of simply remaining anonymous, victims of violence may use childhood names and other nicknames in order to communicate and interact with others who care about them. Another aspect to choosing a name, Morales states, is self-determination. In a violent situation, control over one’s self is taken away. One of the ways to restore it, she says, “is really having the freedom of choosing whatever name you want to use, whatever gender you really are and want to be.”
Facebook began enforcing its Real Names policy by deactivating subscriber accounts for those it accuses of being in violation, inclusive of drag queen accounts.
In a rather ironic situation, drag queens are having to use their Facebook accounts to advocate Facebook’s policy and the conflict therefrom as well as updates to any new pages created to adhere to Facebook’s policy demands or if they have changed providers with locations and ways to find them.
Lil Miss Hot Mess reflected upon this:
“I think it really demonstrates how central Facebook is to our lives,” Lil Miss Hot Mess says.
If it had only been drag queens affected by the policy, she says she probably would have shut down her profile already. But instead she wants to help the other communities that have been affected. She changed her profile name and is keeping her Facebook account.
One strategy she mentioned is in light of the controversy rather than leaving is attempting to convince Facebook to change its Real Name policy and for “allowing as many people as possible to safely participate.”
Still, she is looking into alternate sites to provide her with a social outlet.
Facebook states the way it chooses to enforce the Real Names policy begins with subscribers posting complaints of other subscribers making use of aliases to the company. In a rather interesting oddity, the company claims that the reporting of these names in large numbers could be in violation of another policy of hate-speech and bullying. A copy of this policy can be found https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards HERE.
An example of what can be found by using the Facebook Real Names policy by those seeking to out and harass the drag queen community, Pink News reported that “[A] Twitter account named the ‘Real Name Police’ which targeted drag performers on Facebook, calling on followers to report accounts to the social networking site which do not use legal names,” had formed.
The article revealed exactly what many had feared could happen to the LGBT community as a result of public outings and the Facebook policy:
“The original Real Name Police account had trawled Facebook, and posted links to various accounts, including porn actor Michael Lucas, many drag performers and others who did not have their legal name on their Facebook account.
The account, now closed, posted an image of Twitter analytics, and claimed to have had over 201,000 impressions since it was set up three days prior.
Whoever was behind the Twitter account specifically targets those with LGBT-themed names on Facebook, although it does not exclusively target gay men and drag performers. People who named themselves after fictional character Sweeney Todd were also targeted by the account.
Each post included a link to the Facebook accounts, accompanied with “MyNameIs NOT:” followed by the Facebook account name, and “FAKE NAME! REPORT THIS ACCOUNT!”
As the result of dubious actions such as this and others and To counter Facebook’s actions, organizers including San Francisco City Supervisor David Campos met with Facebook on September seventeenth over the matter and arranged for a two week reprieve of the deactivation of subscribers who had their accounts affected. The company then reactivated two hundred. Further meetings were scheduled for the coming weeks.
The resulting backlash against Facebook is growing markedly in the LGBT community.
Numerous parodies, some of which aimed directly at Mark Zukerberg, a co-founder of Facebook, are spoofing or criticizing the efforts by Facebook to enforce the policy and its decision to not modify it to suit the needs of LGBT subscribers.
Now Drag Queen RuPaul has waded into the controversy, arguing that Facebook is “stripping the rights” of drag queens. As reported in Pink News:
“In showbiz, there’s no such thing as bad publicity as long as they spell your name right,” RuPaul told The Hollywood Reporter. “But its bad policy when Facebook strips the rights of creative individuals who have blossomed into something even more fabulous than the name their mama gave them.”
The support is growing in support of the community’s stand against Facebook:
An online petition on https://www.change.org/p/facebook-allow-performers-to-use-their-stage-names-on-their-facebook-accounts , Change.org to allow drag queens to use their drag names on Facebook has, as of the writing date of this article, gathered over thirty five thousand signatures.
The marketplace seems to have provided an alternative to those seeking to avoid Facebook’s approach and policy and one site is providing that means to increasing numbers of new subscribers.
The San Francisco Weekly reported a web service http://www.ello.net/ ELLO.NET has seen a great influx.
The website, initially having only a small subscriber base in San Francisco with most in The Netherlands, is now a favored retreat destination for the community.
The website has been growing exponentially. In fact, so much so that the website has become bogged down with so many new account requests in this and other social circles generally.
The SF Weekly’s “Homo Pages” called Facebook “An authoritarian Tyrant,” in the eyes of the SF gay community and SF area resident Mark Zukeberg as a “bad neighbor.” A friend has now reportedly been found in ello.net where its manifesto states:
Your social network is owned by advertisers.
“Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.
We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.
We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.”
You are not a product.
It seems that Facebook is eroding its support in some circles of the LGBT community that it had tried hard for years to form. But with over a billion subscribers, how much goodwill and more importantly for them their bottom line will be lost remains to be seen. But with premiums offered to advertisers for every personal detail on its subscriber base to sell to advertisers or whoever offers to buy it, Facebook will need to evaluate what kind of cost losing face and subscribers represents. Hopefully being responsible to the gay community would be deemed to fall in alignment with its profit goals, which obviously is the primary goal of a public for-profit corporation. Sadly in our world it often comes down to this over simply being virtuous. But it is true that what the market giveth, the market can taketh away.
According to Facebook’s 2013 10-K filing, between 5.5% and 11.2% of its 1.23 billion active subscribers were fake, that is between 67,650,000 and 137,760,000 accounts. Yet, Facebook has chosen to make much effort going after a segment of the LGBT community having several hundred to a few thousand among its subscriber base. One has to wonder where Facebook’s priorities lie when it targets this community.
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.