Facebook Apologizes For Enforcing ‘Real Name’ Policy Against LGBT Users

Lil Ms. Hot Mess and Sister Roma at a press conference about their conflict with Facebook last month. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ERIC RISBERG

Facebook officially apologized Wednesday for enforcing its “real name” policy for users against drag queens and other members of the LGBT community. Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, acknowledged that the policy has been a “painful” experience for the many individuals whose profiles were suspended and promised to do better.

“I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks,” Cox wrote.

He explained that an individual user had reported several hundred accounts as fake, and they didn’t notice the pattern of how drag queens and other LGBT people might have been targeted for their identities rather than because they were trying to impersonate, bully, or troll others — as is the case for most fake accounts Facebook suspends.

In addition to drag queens, who often identify more socially by their stage name than their legal name and may have privacy concerns, the policy also threatened the safety of many LGBT individuals who feared being outed. This included transgender people who may not be able to update their legal documentation to match their preferred name, young people who might not be out, and LGBT people who risk persecution in other countries.

“The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life,” Cox wrote. “For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess.”

Sister Roma, a San Francisco-based drag queen, was one of the first to openly criticize Facebook for how the policy was being enforced and joined the contingent who met with Facebook a few weeks ago to share their concerns.

Cox admitted that Facebook must improve its “reporting and enforcement mechanisms” for tracking who is real and is not, as well as the customer service for users who might be flagged. “These have not worked flawlessly and we need to fix that,” he said, promising to manage the customer service “in a less abrupt and more thoughtful way.”

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