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Facebook apologizes to drag queens for names policy

Facebook is apologizing to drag queens and the transgender community for deleting accounts that used drag names like Lil Miss Hot Mess rather than legal names such as Bob Smith.

The world’s biggest online social network caught heat recently when it deleted several hundred accounts belonging to self-described drag queens, other performers and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Facebook has long required its users to go by their “real names” on the site for security purposes, to stand out from other social networks and so it can better target advertising to people. Now, the company says the spirit of its policy doesn’t mean a person’s legal name but “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,” Chris Cox, Facebook’s vice president of product wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

Though the real names policy isn’t changing, the way Facebook enforces it might.

Last month, the company suggested that performers such as drag queens have other ways of maintaining their stage identities on the site, such as creating pages that are meant for businesses and public figures. But a fan page is not the same as a regular Facebook account and users were not happy with the suggestion.

While standing by the real names policy on Wednesday, Cox said “we see through this event 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.”

The Transgender Law Center, a San Francisco based transgender rights advocacy group that met with Facebook over the issue on Wednesday, said it is “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 values of making sure everyone is able to safely be their authentic self online,” the group said in an e-mailed statement.

Cox also shed some light on why so many accounts with drag names and other stage names suddenly started getting deleted.

“An individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these accounts as fake,” he wrote. “These reports were among the several hundred thousand fake name reports we process every single week, 99 percent of which are bad actors doing bad things: impersonation, bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams, hate speech, and more – so we didn’t notice the pattern.”

On the Web…

Facebook’s blog post: http://on.fb.me/10lE5I1 

Drag queens dress down Facebook over names policy

San Francisco drag queens are sparring with Facebook over its policy requiring people to use their real names, rather than drag names such as Pollo Del Mar and Heklina. But the world’s biggest social network is not budging from its rules.

In recent weeks, Facebook has been deleting the profiles of self-described drag queens and other performers who use stage names because they did not comply with the social networking site’s requirement that users go by their “real names” on the site.

Earlier this week, Facebook declined to change its policy after meeting with drag queens and a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors. The company said is usually deletes accounts with fake names after investigating user complaints.

“This policy is wrong and misguided,” said Supervisor David Campos, who was flanked by seven drag queens during a press conference at San Francisco City Hall.

The drag queens and others in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community say many Facebook account holders fear using their real names for a variety of reasons, including threats to their safety and employment.

“I have crazy family members who I don’t want contacting me through Facebook,” said a self-described drag queen who calls herself Heklina.

Facebook said it temporarily restored hundreds of deleted accounts for two weeks. After that they’ll have to either change their name to their real name, or convert their profile to a fan page.

Campos and the drag queens, led by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – a San Francisco group of drag performers and activists that’s been around since 1979 – say they plan another meeting with Facebook and are hopeful that the company will ultimately alter its policy.

If Facebook doesn’t change its policy, the drag queens at San Francisco City Hall said they would organize protests and boycotts.

“Abused women, bullied teens, transgender people … (there are) a million different people with a million different reasons to use fake names,” said Sister Roma, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Facebook says it policy “helps prevent bad behavior, while creating a safer and more accountable environment.”

The company says performers and others have other ways of keeping their stage identities on the site, including creating pages that are meant for businesses and public figures.

Many in the drag queen community are professional performers who rely on Facebook to publicize gigs. They said a fan page isn’t the same as a regular Facebook page.

“Your reach is limited, said Rosa Sifuentes, a San Francisco-based burlesque performer who goes by the name Bunny Pistol.

The company’s policy has been around just about as long as Facebook itself.

This isn’t the first time users have criticized Facebook’s policy.

Political activists have complained, especially those living in countries where they could face danger if their real identities are revealed. In 2011, Chinese blogger and activist Michael Anti, whose legal name is Zhao Jing, had his profile deleted because he was not using his given name – even though his professional identity has been established for more than a decade and is better known. Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, has “merged” her stage name with her birth name on Facebook in an apparent compromise.

It’s not always easy to determine which names are inauthentic. Some people whose real names sound fake have had their accounts deleted, too.

For Facebook, the real names policy is not just meant to keep people accountable. The company and other website operators argue that requiring people to use true identities can reduce online vitriol and bullying. Real names also help Facebook target advertisements to its 1.32 billion users.

Facebook estimates that 6 to 11 percent of its monthly user accounts were duplicate or fake in 2013.

“We believe the percentage of accounts that are duplicate or false is meaningfully lower in developed markets such as the United States or United Kingdom and higher in developing markets such as India and Turkey,” Facebook wrote in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “However, these estimates are based on an internal review of a limited sample of accounts and we apply significant judgment in making this determination, such as identifying names that appear to be fake or other behavior that appears inauthentic to the reviewers.”