“Nameless Coalition” Demands Changes to Facebook’s Real Name Policy, Abuse-Reporting System

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Facebook’s Real Name Policy has long been controversial for the harm it causes trans users, users in hiding from an abuser, or anyone else using a name they weren’t assigned at birth or one that doesn’t pass the arbitrary and often whitewashed standards for what constitutes a “real name.”

Although the policy has been updated several times to reflect members’ concerns (in June, Facebook amended the rules so that an addressed piece of mail would hypothetically be sufficient verification), many users still have concerns about the policy.

In an an open letter to Facebook, “The Nameless Coalition”–composed of organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, Indian and Pakistani human rights groups, and LGBTQ+ groups like the Human Rights Watch and the Transgender Law Center–explain why the Policy as it stands still harms many marginalized users:

We are a coalition of people and organizations who work to protect the rights of women, indigenous and ethnic minority communities, LGBTQ people, and Internet users who have found Facebook’s name policies to be culturally biased and technically flawed. We represent:

  • Transgender and gender variant people whose legal names don’t accord with their gender identity
  • People who use a pseudonym or name modification in order to protect themselves from physical violence, legal threats from repressive governments, or harassment on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion, or political activities
  • People who have been silenced by attackers abusing Facebook’s “Fake Name” reporting option
  • People whose legal names don’t fit the arbitrary standards of “real names” developed by Facebook, such as Native Americans, other ethnic minorities, and members of the clergy.

Despite commitments to reform these policies, Facebook maintains a system that disregards the circumstances of users in non-western countries, exposes its users to danger, disrespects the identities of its users, and curtails free speech.

The letter also explains how Facebook’s “Report” button has been used to silence critical political thought and LGBTQ+ users:

Any user can easily file reports with Facebook claiming that a fellow user is violating this policy, and has no obligation to submit evidence supporting their claim. Any user can file as many reports as they wish, as quickly as they wish, allowing targeted reporting sprees. This has led to unfair application of the policy, and provides people who wish harm upon communities like ours with a dangerous and effective tool. One abuse report can silence a user indefinitely.

Facebook users in the global LGBTQ community, South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East report that groups have deliberately organized (sometimes even coordinating via Facebook) to silence their targets using the “Report Abuse” button.

The Coalition calls for a response from Facebook by October 31st. A Facebook representative confirmed to The Verge that the letter had been received, and explained:

While we know not everyone likes this approach, our policy against fake names helps make Facebook a safer place by enabling us to detect accounts created for malicious purposes,” the representative said. “It makes it harder, for example, for terrorist organizations to hide behind fake profiles, school bullies to anonymously smear the reputations of others, or anyone else to use an anonymous name to harass, scam or engage in criminal behavior.” Nonetheless, the representative said the company has been working on improvements to the policy and related tools for months, based on direct feedback from Facebook users.

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