THE BLOG

Wake Up, Facebook! You Are Not a Community of 'Authentic Identities.'

03/16/2015 08:34 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
mattjeacock via Getty Images

Philadelphia drag queens have been raptured. Last week, one by one, queens disappeared without notice, without a trace. They disappeared from Facebook, that is.

In San Francisco last October, similar deactivations of drag queens' Facebook accounts occurred because of violations of Facebook's real name policy. Following an outcry from the LGBT community there, the social media giant issued an apology and a promise to update the policy.

Less than six months later, the policy continues to target drag queens. I know because I am one of those queens. My Facebook profile for "Summer Clearance" was frozen with no explanation. I could not log on. All tags in photos were removed. Private correspondence was redacted. A few Philly queens were given an option to make a change from fictional drag names to their legal names. Summer was not given that choice. Facebook allows "professional personas" in place of personal profiles, but Summer was not given that option either. Instead, she was unceremoniously erased.

What is in a name? Authenticity, according to Facebook's name policy: "Facebook is a community where people use their authentic identities. We require people to provide the name they use in real life; that way, you always know who you're connecting with. This helps keep our community safe."

Poppycock. Facebook is filled with fake names. But because most of these names sound authentic, the profiles are not flagged. If you are an online predator, use "Bob Smith" as your name. Facebook will most likely ignore you. If this is how Facebook is keeping "our community safe," we are all in trouble.

Facebook's policy says, "Pretending to be anything or anyone isn't allowed." I have a Facebook friend that is a sock puppet. Several other friends are dogs.

Facebook requires you to refrain from using "words, phrases or nicknames in place of a middle name." One of my friends lists his middle name as "GoEagles." Although Philly has its share of die-hard sports fans, I highly doubt that my friend's parents put "GoEagles" on his birth certificate. Another friend's middle name is "Icantbreathe." Political statement? Yes. Authentic name? No.

The rules state that the "name you use should be your authentic identity; as your friends call you in real life and as our acceptable identification forms would show." "Acceptable" means government-issued IDs such as a driver's licenses, passports, or marriage certificates. My transgender friends' Facebook accounts bear names that do not match the names on their IDs. These are authentic people. It is insulting to suggest otherwise.

Facebook says, "Nicknames can be used as a first or middle name if they're a variation of your authentic name (like Bob instead of Robert)." Skippy and Lefty are out of luck.

I maintain two Facebook accounts: one for Domenick and one for Summer. Each of these is authentic. I share certain things on one account that I do not on the other. For instance, Summer's Facebook friends do not see pictures of my four dogs. They see fabulous gowns and wigs. Domenick's friends hopefully enjoy the dog pics. These friends -- including my high school friends, my nieces and nephews, my students, and my 81-year-old aunt -- do not need to see photos of me in high heels and make-up.

Any persona placed on social media is crafted. We show what we want others to see. No one is truly "authentic" on a social media site. If I want to show two sides of myself to two different groups of people, that is my business, not Facebook's.

There are valid reasons to create Facebook identities without authentic names. For instance, students do not use their full, real names on social media in order to prevent obstacles to future employment. Educators who are gay use pseudonyms because they are not out at work. A victim of domestic abuse may use a fictional name for safety reasons. If Facebook removes her, they may be cutting off a vital support network when she needs it most.

When Summer's account was deactivated, private messages from her were replaced with the following: "This message is no longer available because it was identified as abusive or marked as spam." Since the private messages were not spam, the implication is that Summer is "abusive." Summer is not the least bit harmful, but Facebook is telling her friends that she is abusive and inauthentic. This is hurtful and degrading to that part of me that is Summer.

(With apologies to Shakespeare:) Hath not a drag queen eyes? Hath not a drag queen hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer (clearance)?

Contacting Facebook for an explanation is impossible. Once they remove you, you do not exist to them. Summer sent an email to info@facebook.com and received a response from noreply@support.facebook.com that states, "You've reached us at a channel that we don't support." Huh? They recommend filling out a form on their Help Center site, but you can only submit a form if your Facebook account is activated.

Forcing people to use real names does not make their online personae authentic. The Facebook team cannot be so stupid that they do not know this. I suspect that the strict name policy has more to do with Facebook's finances than online security. Facebook's policy discriminates. Although it may be unintentional, the policy continues to disproportionately affect the LGBT community.

It is time for a real change in Facebook's name policy, not an inauthentic one.