The drag community has been fighting with Facebook for weeks regarding the social network’s “real name” policy.
Facebook has been cracking down on the names people are using on the site, forcing them to use the names that are on their government-issued ID cards or risk getting their profile suspended, in an effort to “keep our community safe.”
The irony, however, is that sometimes people use pseudonyms on the site in order to feel safe.
And that includes San Francisco resident Mike Woolson, a local drag performer and cartoonist, whose wife is an aspiring member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The Sisters are an LGBT organisation focused on community service and drag performances. The group has been around since the late 1970s.
He knows many people who use pseudonyms on the site for many reasons, including “people who have been raped, assaulted, threatened, stalked,” he told Business Insider in an email.
He created an infographic, which he shared on Facebook. It uses the hashtag #MyNameIs, a campaign started by Sister Roma, another drag queen who has been affected by Facebook’s name policy.
In two days, the infographic got more than 20,000 shares, Woolson says.
But then Facebook suspended his account.
“This morning Facebook suspended my account, ostensibly for using a fake name (this in spite of their promise last week to give users till Oct. 2 to use their real names),” he said, referring to Facebook’s notice last week that it would give people two weeks to decide whether they want to use their legal names or set up fan pages for themselves.
“Ironically, I had always used my real name on Facebook until last month. My wife works in mental health and got her profile leaked to people who should not see it, and my name was exposed as part of that,” he said. “It is a potentially dangerous situation for us both. Ironically, my wife was already using a pseudonym because her estranged, abusive, stalker father found her real-name profile and started harassing her friends.”
He decided to use his legal name on the site so that people could still see the infographic he created.
“It is a frightening and effective tactic, and a reminder that I have put too many eggs in Mark Zuckerberg’s basket.”
In the book “The Facebook Effect,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “You have one identity… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
But Woolson argues that having two identities can also be about protection. “Facebook claims this is about protecting users from stalkers and abusers, but the users being targeted are ones with obvious fake names. Zuckerberg says it’s about integrity but he is endangering many users.”
In another ironic twist, it seems that someone was anonymously targeting the drag queens to begin with.
Sister Roma wrote in a Facebook post last week after meeting at Facebook’s headquarters, “[Facebook] acknowledged that the current rash of suspended and deleted profiles have been under attack by users of the Facebook community who report the profiles for using ‘fake’ names.”
In order for an account to be flagged as having a fake name, someone has to report it. A person on the anonymous app Secret is taking responsibility for flagging these accounts.
Still, Facebook is not backing down from forcing people to use their legal names.
In a statement to Business Insider when we first reported this story, Facebook said, “If people want to use an alternative name on Facebook, they have several different options available to them, including providing an alias under their name on their profile, or creating a Page specifically for that alternative persona. As part of our overall standards, we ask that people who use Facebook provide their real name on their profile.”
Woolson suggests that Facebook allow people to use pseudonyms, but include asterisks next to the names to let people know that they are, indeed, not real names.
“Facebook could allow users to use pseudonyms but require that they acknowledge them as such,” he said. “The people who are hiding behind pseudonyms, the stalkers and molesters and cyberbullies Facebook says it is trying to stop, they are the ones pretending their fake names are real. And they are using commonplace names that don’t get flagged the way drag names do.”
But in the meantime, Woolson said he’s still debating whether he will keep his Facebook profile using his legal name. And it looks like other members of the LGBT community are already making the move to other social networks, including a new one, called Ello.
“In the five-odd years I’ve been on Facebook, it has replaced many of the ways I used to communicate — email, phone, my own web site, photo sharing sites, blogs — so whatever happens I will be diversifying that and moving my personal content like photos to other services. Like Flickr and Ello and maybe even Google+,” he said. “When I got on Facebook it was different from what it is now, it was user support that helped it evolve. So my plan is to put my energy into alternate services and help them evolve, and to be more vigilant about keeping control over my online life.”