A Facebook spokesman has confirmed that the company's controversial policy requiring users to give their real names applies even in countries where police are known to be monitoring the network to enforce laws against homosexuality.
The real-name policy is "a policy for everyone that uses Facebook," spokesman Andrew Souvall told BuzzFeed News.
Though officials in countries like Egypt are known to be monitoring the network partly to enforce anti-LGBT laws, Souvall said, Facebook believes the policy is important to keeping users safe. "Having people use the names they use in their everyday life on Facebook makes them more accountable, and also helps us root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation and hate speech."
Facebook has long had a policy requiring users to put their real names on their profiles, but it has come under fire in recent weeks because it reportedly informed a number of users that they either must put their real names on their profiles or have them shut down. This enforcement drew strong objections from American LGBT activists — especially in the San Francisco Bay Area — because a number of those who said they had been given this ultimatum were drag queens, and there was concern it could lead to the outing of other LGBT users.
As controversy over the real-name policy has grown in the U.S., Egyptian officials are stepping up efforts to monitor Facebook and other social media, in part to target LGBT people. This includes contracting with the firm See Egypt, a sister company of the American firm Blue Coat, to monitor social networks, which an Interior Ministry official told BuzzFeed News earlier this month would be on the lookout for "debauchery" as well as for potential Islamist activists.
On Thursday, Egyptian media reported six men had been sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor after allegedly posting to Facebook that they would rent their apartment to men seeking to have sex with each other for $200 per night. Egyptian authorities have been broadening their crackdown on LGBT people since October in an apparent bid to bolster the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted a Muslim Brotherhood leader from power earlier this year with help from the army.
Last week the gay hookup app Grindr began broadcasting a message to its users in Egypt warning them that police may be "posing as LGBT on social media to entrap you." But although rumors have circulated that police were busting gay people through hookup apps, the only confirmed reports of arrests due to online activity have involved Facebook.
Blue Coat has denied its connection with See Egypt since it was first reported by BuzzFeed News, and issued this statement in response to this story:
"Blue Coat has not responded, and does not intend to respond, to any tender for a social network monitoring operation in Egypt. See Egypt is a Blue Coat reseller, but is not otherwise affiliated with Blue Coat. See Egypt has assured us that they have not bid or resold Blue Coat products to the Egyptian government for any social network monitoring operation."
"Blue Coat supports internationally recognized rights to privacy and freedom of expression. We do not condone any government's use of our products to abuse the Internet privacy or freedom of expression of its citizens. We conduct due diligence in our sales process to minimize the risk of our technology falling into the wrong hands or being misused in violation of our corporate policies, including our Public Internet Access Policy."
"Blue Coat sells its products to end users through more than 2,000 resellers worldwide. We require our resellers to adhere to the same legal requirements and ethical standards to which we hold ourselves."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Facebook spokesperson. His name is Andrew Souvall.
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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