Facebook's Anti-"Real Name" Policy Discriminated Against LGBT Community, Facebook Admits

After members of the LGBT community lobbied Facebook over its "real-name" policy, the social media giant has agreed to alter its platform so it's more accessible for gay and transgender users. On Wednesday, Facebook apologized to the LGBT community for targeting gay, transgender and drag queen users who don't use their legal names on their profiles. The company promised to change its policy so it can better accommodate LGBT members who use pseudonyms.

LGBT activists began lobbying Facebook recently when numerous gay, transgender and drag queen users were reportedly locked out of their accounts. On Wednesday, members of the LGBT community, represented by the Transgender Law Center, met with Facebook executives in Menlo Park, California, to discuss the recent events and the problems with asking transgender people and drag queens to authenticate their accounts.

In a letter sent to Facebook in September, the LGBT activists said:

Facebook’s requirement that users provide a form of identification to prove their “real names” is unfair and disproportionately impacts our already vulnerable communities. This policy lends itself to abuse; some people are using this tool to target and harass our communities with the intent of erasing our identities. ... While drag queens have experienced a rash of reports of being in violation of the “real name” policy, many others remain at risk of being reported.

According to Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, hundreds of these LGBT accounts were reported as fake by one user. Because Facebook checks out hundreds of thousands of fake accounts each week — most of which are harmful or impersonations — Cox said the company failed to realize that LGBT members were being targeted.

Cox elaborated on the situation in a Facebook post:

The process we follow has been to ask the flagged accounts to verify they are using real names by submitting some form of ID — gym membership, library card, or piece of mail. We've had this policy for over 10 years, and until recently it's done a good job of creating a safe community without inadvertently harming groups like what happened here. Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses 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. Part of what's been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook.
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Cox said there's "lots of room for improvement" in Facebook's real-name policy, and the company has already begun finding new ways to authenticate accounts without jeopardizing the profiles of LGBT members. "We're already underway building better tools for authenticating the Sister Romas of the world while not opening up Facebook to bad actors," he said.

Cox added that Facebook is also ready and willing to make adjustments to its customer service response to these falsely flagged accounts. However, he didn't outline any details about the company's planned improvements.

Mark Snyder, communications director at Transgender Law Center, told BuzzFeed that Facebook's announcement is a huge step forward for the LGBT community. “I think that Facebook is going to make sure everyone in our community is able to be their authentic self online,” Snyder said.

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