My chosen authentic name is Stardust. Benjamin Patterson and I have written this blog post on the occasion of a June 1, 2015, protest at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, CA, against Facebook’s current prove-your-name policy (see videos and photos at the bottom of this blog post).
Claiming to create a more secure online community, Facebook encourages participants to report users with names they feel are not “authentic”. How people are supposed to know which names are not authentic is not specified. So, those people with names that are a bit out of the ordinary, the creatives among us, those from unfamiliar cultures, and those on the receiving side of a grudge, will bear the brunt of this misguided policy.
Besides encouraging a Stasi-like atmosphere among Facebook participants, the policy neglects many legitimate needs for using a profile name other than one’s legal name.
For example, people facing domestic abuse may wish to create profile alias to communicate with friendly family members. Participants in the witness protection program obviously needs profile aliases if they want to participate in the Facebook community.
People who are undergoing gender transition often do not yet have a legal name that matches their gender identity. Drag queens and other performers are usually known by names other than their legal names. In some cases, faeries, burners, and others who serve as psychologists, doctors, teachers, priesta, or in other sensitive capacities can’t be their social self publicly, so they use their chosen name on Facebook to maintain some privacy and separation between their professional life and their social life Being forced to use one’s legal name often causes confusion among one’s friends and may know you by your chosen name.
Even the U.S. founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay published the Federalist pseudonymously to ensure ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Facebook would have booted them for not using their “authentic” names.
What a shock it is when Facebook takes down your profile without any warning. When it happened to me (Stardust), I had just posted an ad for a new housemate and I didn’t know whether people could still see the ad or how they would respond since my profile appeared to be deactivated completely. Suddenly I was cut off from all my Facebook friends and my online community.
When a company like facebook has a virtual monopoly on a community space, people get used to a certain dependability of communication. Perhaps one lesson from all of this is that we can’t and shouldn’t depend on corporate monopolies to meet our community needs.
Facebook sees us as customers that are using their products, so we should be grateful and use it the way they intend it. In fact, Facebook’s prove-your-name policy is more like a corporation enforcing a governmental aecurity function, which smacks of fascism.
The fact is, it’s the users that create Facebook content. Without its users, Facebook would just be a lifeless empty skeleton.
So why does Facebook want this ridiculous prove-your-name policy? It has nothing to do with safety. There are other ways to address bad behavior directly. For example, Facebook and or law enforcement can legitimately seek court subpoenas to monitor Facebook access in the case of criminal activity. For activity such as harassment, stalking, or spam, it’s very easy for users to block or report a profile. Facebook users can themselves take action to ensure their own safety.
The real reason Facebook wants us all to use our legal names is that they want the name that’s on your credit card or your bank account, so that so that they can cross reference your profile with all of your online activity and searches. This enables them to sell the information to companies who wants to sell products to you.
They may even soon use your payment information to make it possible for you to buy products directly on Facebook.
One way to come back Facebook’s aggressive prove-your-name policy is to boycott. But because Facebook has such a monopoly on social media communications, another alternative is to post your content somewhere else, such as on your own blog. Then, you can still link from Facebook to your content, but Facebook will no longer own your content.
Finally, keep protesting Facebook’s bad policies!