Legal News: Facebook changes “Real Name” policy following social protest

By Jeremy Quittner, Inc.com

Bending to a popular uprising over its real name policy, Facebook announced Wednesday it is reversing course, allowing people to use pseudonyms for their accounts. 

The social network has been under attack in recent weeks for shutting down the accounts of people who use made-up names. While Facebook has had a well-established policy for using real names, its policy was called into question recently as hundreds of drag queens and transgender people have had their accounts suspended in response to the complaints of one Facebook user who remains unknown Facebook said Wednesday.

In an apology to users posted on his Facebook page yesterday, Chris Cox, the social network’s chief product officer, said:

In the two weeks since the real-name policy issues surfaced, we’ve had the chance to hear from many of you in these communities and understand the policy more clearly as you experience it. We’ve also come to understand how painful this has been. We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we’re going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were.

Cox did not go into specifics about how the policy would change, but said the spirit of its rule has always been to allow for people to use the “authentic name” they use in real life, not their legal name. He added that the policy had been in place to prevent bad actors from impersonating other people or abusing the rules of the community in some other way. Cox said Facebook would improve upon its current policy, and added customer service would change when it flagged accounts. Cox promised customer service would also be less abrupt and more thoughtful.

Competing social network Google Plus changed its real name policy this summer after complaints from political activists and others. Often activists, and many in the transgender community, choose pseudonyms to protect themselves in communities where they are threatened with imprisonment or physical violence. And for many in the drag community, their drag names are also their performance personas, which are effectively their money-making brands.

The controversy over Facebook’s real name policy has caused something of an exodus to the competing network Ello in recent days. Ello, which has no ads and does not require members to use real names, was created by entrepreneur Paul Budnitz and friends about a year ago, and it has been experiencing sign up rates of about 45,000 people an hour for the last couple of days.

Budnitz said Thursday he thought Facebook’s decision to change its real name policy was a “great” development:  “Facebook makes its money by reading your posts and tracking what you do, and selling that data to advertisers,” Budnitz told Inc. “The more they know about you, the more money they make, and if they know your real name, it’s more valuable to them.”

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