Facebook apologizes to SF drag queens for name policy

ERIC RISBERG/APSupervisor David Campos

ERIC RISBERG/APSupervisor David Campos

Facebook has apologized to drag queens and the transgender community for deleting accounts in which people used alternative names such as Lil Miss Hot Mess rather than their legal names.

The world's biggest online social network caught heat recently when it deleted several hundred accounts belonging to self-described drag queens, other performers and members of the LGBT community. Facebook has long required its users to go by their “real names” on the site for security purposes, to stand out from other social networks and so it can better target advertising to people. Now, the company says the spirit of its policy doesn't mean a person's legal name but “the authentic name they use in real life.”

Though the real-names policy isn't changing, the way Facebook enforces it might.

Supervisor David Campos said he had a “very productive” meeting Wednesday with company representatives and members of the LGBT community, where Facebook acknowledged it made a mistake and that the name policy has been harmful to some people.

“They made a commitment to take steps to right this wrong,” said Campos, who held prior discussions on the issue with Facebook and some drag queens.

Last month, the company suggested that performers such as drag queens have other ways of maintaining their stage identities on the site, such as creating pages that are meant for businesses and public figures. But a fan page is not the same as a regular Facebook account, and users were not happy with the suggestion.

While standing by the real-names policy Wednesday, Chris Cox, Facebook's vice president of product, said, “We see through this event that there's lots of room for improvement in the reporting and enforcement mechanisms, tools for understanding who's real and who's not, and the customer service for anyone who's affected.”

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano applauded the tech giant for “having the courage to apologize and do the right thing.” “I’m glad they came to understand that this issue was not just a question of creating a persona for drag performers,” he said.

The Transgender Law Center, a San Francisco based transgender rights advocacy group that met with Facebook over the issue on Wednesday, said it is “excited to work in good faith with Facebook to address all the concerns raised in today's meeting.”

“What was made clear today is that Facebook is ready to collaborate with our communities and shares our values of making sure everyone is able to safely be their authentic self online,” the group said in an e-mailed statement.

Cox also shed some light on why so many accounts with drag names and other stage names suddenly started getting deleted.

“An individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these accounts as fake,” he wrote. “These reports were among the several hundred thousand fake name reports we process every single week, 99 percent of which are bad actors doing bad things: impersonation, bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams, hate speech, and more — so we didn't notice the pattern.”

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