Gone are the days when Internet users were discouraged against revealing any personal information. In the coming weeks, Facebook is planning to suspend all accounts that do not use their “real” names. By “real name,” Facebook means that it must be the user’s name printed on a legal document, like a driver’s license or a credit card.
For many users, this will be a minor inconvenience, if not a non-issue altogether. For many more, especially in the LGBTQ-plus community, it will affect their safety, their business and their fan base. Facebook claims that this change will increase accountability and safety on the social network. Many more argue that this change has monetary motives.
For drag queens, who discussed the implications of the policy with Facebook, this means they will have to create a Page for their persona. As anyone who owns a Page knows, Facebook constantly reminds you of the dismal views and statistics that your page receives, and promises huge increases in views and likes if you are willing to pay.
Even after drag queens spoke with Facebook about how this would affect their business, Facebook promised only to reinstate those deactivated accounts when they decide to change their name or convert their profile to a Page, or else face suspension.
This policy, which professes to ensure a safe community, can be seriously imperiling for the transgender population. In certain states, the legal barriers to changing one’s name are lengthy and expensive, and even more difficult if someone is not out as transgender.
In some states, unless you are using hormone replacement therapy or undergoing sex reassignment surgery—which many transgender people do not want for a variety of reasons—you cannot get your sex marker changed. Judges can probe transgender people with invasive questions when they try to change their name, and this is to say nothing about the obstacle trans youths face if they are not out to their parents.
That many trans people—young and old—find solace in different Facebook communities behind the safety of their preferred name is reason enough not to go through with this ridiculous policy. Even more ridiculous is that Facebook recently added 58 different gender options in support of those who identify outside of the binary.
Not everyone has the means to get a legal name change, and the financial incentives of this policy overlook the potential consequences. Sister Roma, a member of a prominent drag group and outspoken advocate against this policy, was forced to change her name to one she had not used in nearly 30 years. In light of the violence transgender people often face, the potential consequences cannot be justified with “community accountability.”
For many people, their “real” name is not their legal name. Even Google knows this—after requiring legal names on Google+ starting in 2011, Google dropped the policy this past July in hopes of making its community as inclusive as possible. Facebook’s audacity to try this policy after it failed at Google+ is beyond me.
Ultimately, this policy is unnecessary in any context. If Facebook wants to remain relevant, then it should respect that people have good reasons for not wanting to deal with potential employers, students or distant relatives snooping. Putting users’ privacy above financial incentives might be a better long-term strategy, and it might behoove Facebook to keep that in mind.