Facebook’s “real name” policy has garnered much negative attention over the last several months as the company has gotten into legal rows with groups of users over their identities. The latest tangle? Facebook has consistently blocked certain Native Americans from the site.
A user named Dana Lone Hill recently called attention to Facebook’s controversial real name policy after having her account suspended, being asked to change her name on the site multiple times, and having to provide multiple forms of identification. She explained in a blog post recently that her scuffle with Facebook has been ongoing for months, and that the site has blocked her account for using either her mother’s or her father’s last names. She notes that this is not the first incident of Facebook blocking a Native American for using his or her name as the policy is biased towards “white man” names. (A user named Shane Creepingbear reported similar activity last year.)
Facebook came under similar fire last October when it publicly apologized to the lesbian gay bisexual transgender (LGBT) community for blocking some profiles associated with drag queens. Company executive Chris Cox issued a public statement:
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 company insists that the real name policy exists to protect users from abuse as anonymity would make such protection infinitely difficult. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly defended the policy — even after the apology to the LGBT community — saying that it is necessary to ensure user safety.
But given the recent altercations with the Native American community, the policy clearly still offends some users. This even after Facebook says it altered the policy so as to not exclude users with certain identifications. The Electronic Frontier Foundation — a non-profit group focused on bringing attention to user rights on the internet — wrote last week:
Without putting more controls on how people can report profiles, Facebook has given any user the ability to decide that they are the arbiter of someone else’s name—even when that name represents centuries of cultural tradition, as it does for Native Americans, or belonging in an adopted family for marginalized people, as it does for drag queens.
Despite the backlash, there’s no sign this issue will be resolved soon. Facebook insists that the policy must remain in order to protect users, even as it continues wrestling with the ramifications of determining “authentic” identification. Worse yet, perhaps, for the social media giant, is that the issue will further set Facebook apart from the many other networks that do not require “real” names.