After meeting today with drag queens, transgender people, and other LGBT and allied users concerned about Facebook's policy requiring users to be listed under their "real name," an officer with the social networking giant has apologized for the policy and offered a clarification.
"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," wrote chief product officer Chris Cox in a Facebook post this afternoon. "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. Part of what's been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook."
Cox noted that the issue around the site's "real name" policy arose after a single user reported hundreds of accounts as fraudulent, reports ThinkProgress. At first, the company didn't notice that the accounts being reported as fake overwhelmingly belonged to drag queens and other LGBT people, instead of belonging to users who were attempting to harass, impersonate, bully, or spam other users — which are legitimate grounds for an account's suspension.
"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," continued Cox. "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."
Several notable performers who use a stage name, among them many drag queens like Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, were forced to modify their Facebook profiles earlier this month to comply with the social media platform’s rules regarding user identity.
That policy originally stated that “the name you use should be your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver's license or student ID,” and it prohibited “words, phrases or nicknames in place of a middle name” as well as “offensive or suggestive words of any kind.”
At press time, it's unclear exactly how the language of Facebook's naming policy has changed, though Cox's statement makes it clear the company intends to enforce it differently, acknowledging that "there's lots of room for improvement in the reporting and enforcement mechanisms, tools for understanding who's real and who's not, and the customer service for anyone who's affected. These have not worked flawlessly and we need to fix that."
"With this input, we're already underway building better tools for authenticating the Sister Romas of the world while not opening up Facebook to bad actors" concluded Cox. "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."
A statement from the Transgender Law Center, representatives for which were at a meeting today between concerned activists and Facebook executives at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., expressed optimism about the social network's willingness to revise its policy.
"We had a very productive meeting with Facebook today in which they apologized for the way this situation has been handled, and they committed to making changes to the way they enforce their 'real names' policy to ensure that folks who need to use chosen names that reflect their authentic selves online are able to do so," reads the statement issued Wednesday afternoon. "We are excited to work in good faith with Facebook to address all the concerns raised in today's meeting. What was made clear today is that Facebook is ready to collaborate with our communities and shares our value of making sure everyone is able to safely be their authentic self online. We applaud the many staff at Facebook who advocated tirelessly for this progress."