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Here's Why Having To Use "Real" Names On Facebook Is Putting Some People's Lives At Serious Risk

BuzzFeed News spoke to campaigners battling against the social media company's "real name" policy.

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On Monday morning, hundreds of drag and burlesque performers, LGBTQ people, Native Americans, and survivors of domestic violence demonstrated outside of Facebook's headquarters in California, calling for the company to change its "real name" policy.

The policy, which has been in place since 2006 in an attempt to curb fake and spam accounts, has come in for heavy criticism in recent years. The company requires users to use their "authentic" name; meanwhile, imitating someone, or something, isn't allowed. "Facebook is a community where people use their authentic identities," it states on its help page. "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."

However, many Facebook users who cannot use their legal name are being targeted, reported, and suspended every day because of the policy, which they deem discriminatory. Some users require pseudonyms to protect themselves from harassment and harm, while others – such as transgender youths – wish to use a preferred name but lack the resources to obtain the legal identification required by Facebook as proof of identity.

Last October, Facebook's chief product officer, Chris Cox, addressed the concern and said the company would make significant changes to the policy and its enforcement. "I want to apologise to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we've put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks," he said.

However, since Cox made the statement, little has been addressed – until this week. Justin Osofsky, vice president of global operations, and Monika Bickert, head of global product policy, told BuzzFeed News that the company is "committed" to the authentic policy but will be making "significant improvements" to improve the safety of its users. In a statement on Facebook, the company apologised for making it difficult for users to confirm their authentic identity, and said that with the guidance of "local and national members of the LGBTQ community and others", it is making the following changes:

– It won't be suspending accounts while users verify or update their name.

– It will be expanding the options of what documents people need to provide to verify their name to includes items such as a piece of mail or a library card.

– The language used on its site has been clarified to "make it clear" that the name required does not need to be a legal name.

Yet a campaign group called #MyNameIs is arguing these are "minor cosmetic changes" and not enough has been done to protect its many diverse and already marginalised communities, such as removing the "fake name" reporting option and providing a transparent appeals process.

"Facebook has yet to offer any real proof —from your own analytics or academic research—that this [updated] policy offers any true protection," drag queen and organiser of the #MyNameIs campaign, Lil Miss Hot Mess, said in a reply posted to Facebook's statement. "Many of us have experience reporting clearly non-consensual sexual, violent, or hateful content that Facebook's enforcement team oddly determines does not violate its standards."

She gave permission to BuzzFeed News to share several stories submitted to the #MyNameIs campaign from people who wish to remain anonymous explaining how the policy affects their lives:

I am a transgender person who has gone through a few periods of testing names out to see if they fit, and ultimately deciding on the nickname my mother gave me when I was a toddler and the last name I was born with.

I have relatives that I am not wanting to be in contact with for safety reasons, and Facebook has allowed these individuals, as well as individuals that I was domestically abused by, to contact me using names I no longer use in my daily life.

I have PTSD. As a child, I used to get beaten by my mother until I was afraid for my life. My name now is an attempt to break from the person I was then, as well as avoid my mother and other family members. When Facebook said the name I'm now known to the majority of people I know as wasn't authentic, I refused to re-activate my account under my old name, which cut me off from a lot of my friends/support.

I was raised by parents who were both addicts. I survived a childhood full of physical and sexual abuse and spent many years with them dragging me all over the country hiding. As a grown woman I created a community and new family based solely around the person I had become. I am a performer, a producer, a mother. In all aspects of my life, people know me because of what I do. I am proud of the life I have created and live everyday bettering my community by helping support local organizations. I am not an abuser, I am not using social media as a way to create chaos for anyone, and yet I was locked out of my account for nearly 2 months all because I do not associate with my legal name.

After years of creating a life that excludes my legal family because of abuse, my legal name was excluded as a way to protect myself, and my children, from them. To protect myself from having the man who sexually assaulted me as an adult from finding me, a way to protect my family from my biological family finding them, and a way for me to connect with an identity I am proud of.

Not who I was but who I am.

I was adopted when I was 9 years old against my wishes. My name was changed without my permission or input. I refuse to use the adoptive name given to me on any public forum or social media page due to the fact that I had an abusive step father and I do not want that man attached to my life.

Names are given but, we don't have to like them. The name I was given has zero meaning to me. For Facebook to force me to use my "real name" brings back awful memories of abuse. I cannot use my actual birth name nor the name that everyone knows me as. Social media should be where you can be yourself, not somewhere that you are forced to be someone you are not.

A guy using a fake name was harassing me via Facebook, private messaging nasty things to people on my friends list—including outing me as HIV positive and sending x-rated photos of me—and even targeting where I work on my company's official Facebook page. He threatened a "hashtag campaign" against my company, even changing his profile pic to one of our branded photos.

I sent it all to Facebook, screenshots and everything, showing that this was an obvious case of someone actually using a fake profile and using Facebook for their harassment campaign. I got two canned responses, then finally a real person. Then the message "we have determined that this does not violate FB policies & guidelines." Obviously Facebook did not look at anything I sent.

While this is going on, my Sisters friends and performers are being targeted for use of "fake names" while this person is allowed to do what he was doing. This person is still operating under the fake name, and until a few days ago was still using my work's branded image as his profile pic.

I've been a Facebook member since 2010 and am known to people as my writer's name. I was unmercifully hacked and bullied and stalked by a former husband. I tried the codes: the blocking, ignoring, and fighting back. One of the cyberbullies started posting my legal name and private business. I was publicly humiliated on the public forum. My account was deactivated, but I received it back with my sacred private name. I found out that most people communicate using Facebook. I was cut off the community. Humiliated. People don't use the phone like the old days. I lost connections and possible work. Not to mention the sadness—I was flagged and banished from a billion users? I had suffered three deaths: my father, my mom, and my real husband. Cut off and isolated.

I'm a therapist who works with young adults who have serious mental illness. Some of the youth that I work with are involved in local gangs and have violent histories. Some are just overly fascinated with the therapists and social workers that are involved in their lives. I work with hundreds of different youth every year and so obviously I cannot block every single one.

In addition, I have an abusive father who has spent my lifetime causing me fear. He has stalked my family and myself both physically and digitally. In the past he has harmed my pets. He has attempted to contact my friends through Facebook the one time I have used my birth name. Though I have moved hundreds of miles away from him and have blocked him, I simply do not want him to have access to my private information.

Using a chosen name helps me to retain my privacy while I connect with my friends. Of course I keep hidden, using the available privacy settings, everything I can. However, more than once these settings have shifted without notice causing me to be far more publicly exposed than is safe for me. A fake name allows me to have some protection while my information is exposed and I can figure out how to hide it all again.

My Facebook account was blocked a few weeks ago. I am a trans woman at the start of my transition. So I cannot do my legal name change right now (where I live, it may take a year).

I wrote to Facebook two times to tell them my story and giving them proof that except my name every information (and pictures) are real. My birth date, school studies, work. But they said that it will be blocked until I can show them that this is my "real" name.

As I said to them, I created a Facebook account to keep touch with my friends and family during my transition. The point is that to have one place to share the informations, pictures and so on. Also I wanted them to start using my new names and have the habit to seeing it. This is why I don't want to use my old names. This is unfortunate that this site (which is almost a monopoly of this kind) is so discriminatory against us.

I am the victim of kidnapping and sexual assault. My case has been caught in the judicial system for 10 years. My abuser has found me on Facebook and messaged me under fake accounts. Why should I be isolated from friends and family, and punished by Facebook because I am afraid of this man? I just want a normal life without the harassment of my abuser.

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