[Updated] Facebook Has Apologized for Unfair Treatment of Transgender Users Under Their “Real Name” Rule

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Earlier this month, users who weren’t registered under their “real” names on Facebook received flagged and suspended accounts. The problem with that is assuming someone’s “real” name is automatically synonymous with their given legal name, and transgender users, drag queens, and drag kings were suspended for using the names they had chosen for themselves. Finally, Facebook has apologized.

After public outcry, a Change.org petition, and a meeting of Facebook with the Transgender Law Center, Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox issued an apology and assurance that they intended to fix the problem and restore users’ abilities to use the names they identify with as their “real” names.

Update: The Transgender Law Center told us via email that they were pleased with the outcome of the meeting:

We had a very productive meeting with Facebook today in which they apologized for the way this situation has been handled, and they committed to making changes to the way they enforce their ‘real names’ policy to ensure that folks who need to use chosen names that reflect their authentic selves online are able to do so.

We are 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 value of making sure everyone is able to safely be their authentic self online.

We applaud the many staff at Facebook who advocated tirelessly for this progress.

Cox wrote in his public apology:

I want to apologize 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.

In the two weeks since the real-name policy issues surfaced, we’ve had the chance to hear from many of you in these communities and understand the policy more clearly as you experience it. We’ve also come to understand how painful this has been. We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we’re going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were.

To Facebook’s credit, Cox went on to say the suspended accounts weren’t part of a targeted policy enforcement by Facebook but the result of a Facebook user purposefully reporting “several hundred accounts.” Looks like some Internet troll somewhere should find a better use of their time, and Facebook is going to make sure they’ll have to. The company is now working to improve their reporting mechanisms which exist to prevent bullying and trolling under fake names—not to provide a new avenue for bullying and transphobia.

Facebook’s global head of diversity, Maxine Williams, added in a comment:

Managing difference (in who we are, the perspectives we hold, what we want, how we live, where we wish to go, how we use products etc) is the central challenge of diversity. It’s tricky, it’s messy and at the same time, it spurs innovation, improvement and productive, dynamic collaboration. I’m grateful to all out internal and external champions for working together through this process in pursuit of better service for all.

And she’s right. There will always be mistakes and oversights—especially where there are openings for trolls to abuse the system—and the important thing is to learn from them, which it looks like Facebook is doing. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not their solution prevents this from happening in the future.

(via Re/code, image via Facebook)

Previously in Facebook problems

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Dan Van Winkle
Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.