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exactly how far do you want to take this, zuckerberg?

as many of you may have heard, facebook is clamping down on people who aren't using their real, or rather legal names on the social network. much of the attention has been directed towards drag queens, who want a personal profile under their performance name rather than their legal name, but the fact is that facebook's terms of service require everyone to use their legal name for their personal profiles. drag queens are just a very obvious example and also the main group who have spoken up.

drag queens, of course, might want to connect with friends and fans in the scene, apart from establishing a fan page [to say nothing of the fact that it's easier for privacy-minded users to hide their friends than it is to hide the fan pages they like] and the best way for them to do that is to use the name by which they would be recognised. being forced to use their legal name risks exposing them to ridicule or worse from close-minded employers, family or community members. but, of course, that's hardly the only issue.

as spokespeople who tried to convince facebook to back off from their sudden crackdown noted, this also threatens women and children who have suffered spousal abuse and who want to hide their whereabouts and, indeed, anything about their lives, from their former abusers. and it's unclear how the policy would accommodate transgendered persons who are in the process of transition, or even people who change their name after marriage, divorce or for any number of perfectly legitimate reasons.

most of the people who i know who have opted to use a name other than the one that appears on their birth certificate, however, have had one main reason for doing so: to keep their private life separate from their work life. if coworkers and bosses find them harder to trace, it means that they are afforded a certain level of protection. that doesn't just mean that they have the freedom to mouth off about their employers [which isn't a great idea even if you are flying below the radar], but if they wish to keep their personal details private, using another name means that they are free to do this. employers, particularly in the united states, have become increasingly insistent on being able to access social media information about prospective employees and facebook appears to be siding with them. yes, a user can set his or her profile to "private", but that blocks people with whom they want to connect from finding them as well.

facebook seems to have targeted the drag queens first, deactivating a number of accounts under professional names in one sweep [although some have since been restored], however, it remains to be seen exactly how far they will take this. what about authors who use pen names? one of my perennial favourites, jon stewart, was born jonathan stewart liebowitz. david bowie was born david jones. long before any legal change, do you seriously think either of those men weren't referred to by their stage names by friends and colleagues?

and it can get even dumber: a legal name is the name on your birth certificate or other government documentation. that technically means my name is in contravention of facebook policies, even though it's the name i've gone by every day of my life since i was born. it's true. there exists not one legal document on me that contains the name "kate", but no one who actually knows me [the people with whom i'm supposed to be connecting through facebook] would look for me as anything other than "kate". it's a strange little distinction that stems from the fact that the first name on my birth certificate is different than the one i use, but since it's always easier to get official documents based on other official documents, it's just easier to come back to the birth certificate for those purposes. so does that mean i have to change my name, facebook?

this touches on the issue of what constitutes a "real" name. if i choose a name when i present myself to the public, is that not "more real" than one that someone else put on my birth certificate? if most people know me by one name, how does opting for a lesser-known legal one increase transparency?

ultimately, facebook is a private company, no matter how ubiquitous it is and therefore zuckerberg and his board are free to enforce this regulation to the letter if they so choose. however, there are precedents for placing limits on the powers of private companies, particularly when they provide an important public service and hold a disproportionately large market share. facebook may still look like a fad to some, but the fact is that many jobs require a familiarity with social media and networking is an important part of doing business, which means that having a facebook account is less optional than it might seem, at least for the moment. furthermore, it is specifically a facebook account that's important. no one is going to judge you for being absent from twitter, but it constitutes a sort of statement at this point to stay off facebook; think of the people who have steadfastly refused to get an answering machine or voice mail as a comparison. so if it's expected that you'll be on facebook, or if your life will be made a lot easier if you are on facebook, it becomes a service that's not exactly essential, but still a little more than voluntary.

my guess is that facebook has no intention of fully enforcing this rule [although that would be the only fair solution, they've already bent to the will of famous people like lady gaga]. i'd like to believe that they are cracking down in an effort to stop internet bullies from hiding behind fake names or using the names of others on fake accounts, but the fact that they chose drag queens as their first target group tells a very different story. when you choose to make and example of a group in such a way that you expose them to harm, you don't get to claim that you're acting in the interests of safety, facebook.

[the image at the top of this post is, of course, rupaul, who is always just rupaul.]

it certainly doesn't cover everything wrong with the rule, but if you'd like to let facebook know that they should be allowing performers, all performers to use their stage names, you can sign this petition

Comments

Martin Rouge said…
Actually, the Facebook rule enforcement comes after someone notifies them of supposed infringement. So drag queens (and a variety of LGBT people, artists and so forth) were targeted by other individuals who told FB that the names weren't real. The rule itself is a holdover from the original purpose of FB, which was to serve as a professional networking site for college graduates. You obviously use your real identity to seek employment, so in that optics, the rule makes sense. That this limited purpose has long, long been irrelevant (or co-opted by corporations and other organisations) for "message control" matters not one ziltch to the Zucke.

At this point, I view the enforcement of this rule as being as much about truthfulness, as any and all online surveillance bills are about catching child predators and terrorists. In the case of FB, it's to gain actual consumer info to sell to hungry corporations who want to sell their junk.

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