A Response To Zuck

I’d like to address Mark Zuckerberg’s statement.

We know that people are much less likely to try to act abusively towards other members of our community when they’re using their real names.

I’m not sure that we do. Whether you’re using your government name, your common name or a pseudonym on Facebook, what’s important is that your friends recognise you. If you act abusively on Facebook, you’re doing it in front of your friends and they already know who you are.

Facebook should focus on bad behaviour directly. You can already report abusive users and abusive posts. The names people use are very badly correlated with which people are bad actors.

There are plenty of cases — for example, a woman leaving an abusive relationship and trying to avoid her violent ex-husband — where preventing the ex-husband from creating profiles with fake names and harassing her is important. As long as he’s using his real name, she can easily block him.

I’m horrified that Zuckerberg would use this analogy, because among the many voices shouting for this to change are victims of domestic violence who want to stay safe by not being found in the first place.

Worse still, it’s not even true. An abuser can very easily create a new profile with a fake name and photo. Zuckerberg suggests that someone will notice and report this immediately, but other users simply don’t know that an account has been created for anonymous harassment because it looks like every other account.

Second, real names help make the service easier to use. People use Facebook to look up friends and people they meet all the time. This is easy because you can just type their name into search and find them. This becomes much harder if people don’t use their real names.

This is what Facebook really cares about — user engagement. It’s a reasonable point that if you use a name your friends don’t recognise, they won’t be able to find you so easily. Users are smart enough to know this, so why is Facebook forcing them?

When we use a pseudonym or an alias, we do so for very good reasons. We might be hiding from abuse. We might be transitioning. We might be using a name that everyone has known us by for years. Some people don’t want to be quickly and easily found, and have good and important reasons for that.

That said, there is some confusion about what our policy actually is. Real name does not mean your legal name. Your real name is whatever you go by and what your friends call you. If your friends all call you by a nickname and you want to use that name on Facebook, you should be able to do that.

Yes, yes we should. So why is Facebook using legal documents to determine the validity of our names?

Facebook is making a conscious choice by allowing users to report names and by disconnecting those reported users from their friends. This choice disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable users on their site — those who most desperately need to protect their privacy, those who most urgently need the support of their peers. There are other ways to handle this than reporting and banning.

In this way, we should be able to support everyone using their own real names, including everyone in the transgender community. We are working on better and more ways for people to show us what their real name is so we can both keep this policy which protects so many people in our community while also serving the transgender community.

We are the final authority on what our names are. Facebook has set itself up as a gatekeeper to determine our realness. It has set its policy without any real understanding or analysis of how names work, and it’s no surprise that there are a thousand edge cases. It’s also no surprise that users understand that reporting a name will get their friends kicked off, and so use it against people they’d like removed and not people on their friends list going by “Captain Pants”.

I should not have to “show” Facebook what my “real name” is. All that is necessary is to tell them.

I’m Zoë Cat, and I shouldn’t have to prove that to anybody.