The fervour over the US Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision is starting to wane across social media, and the rainbow avatars are starting to fade. As such, it’s easy to forget about Facebook’s problem with how it treats some LGBT users. Today, Mark Zuckerberg made his first public statement on the issue, but he didn’t really provide a good answer.
The problem is very straightforward: Facebook won’t let anyone use adopted names. This puts certain LGBT users at risk of harassment or violence, especially drag queens. Native Americans and survivors of domestic violence have also spoken out against Facebook’s real name policy.
In a Q&A today, Ad Age reporter Alex Kantrowitz asked Mark Zuckerberg about the controversy over Facebook’s real name policy. Zuck proceeded to explain how important it was, and then explained how everyone else was tripping over “confusion about what [Facebook’s] policy really was.” I’ll quote the Facebook founder at length for clarity:
Real name does not mean your legal name. Your real name is whatever you go by and what your friends call you. If your friends all call you by a nickname and you want to use that name on Facebook, you should be able to do that. In this way, we should be able to support everyone using their own real names, including everyone in the transgender community. We are working on better and more ways for people to show us what their real name is so we can both keep this policy which protects so many people in our community while also serving the transgender community.
So a nickname is kind of the same as a real name and you should be able to use that but you also have to “show” Facebook what your real name is?
The policy is so confusing that even Zuck’s own coworkers are speaking out about the issue. Just a few days ago, Facebook employee Zip Cat wrote in a blog post:
It’s an insult that Facebook is sponsoring Pride in SF, marching and flying the rainbow flag and helping everyone change their profile picture, when they cannot fix this simple thing.
Facebook needs to do better than this.
Seems like it. As the social network hosted celebrations for civil rights around the world, some groups protested Facebook’s sponsoring San Francisco’s Pride festival while refusing to change the real name policy. One of the protest’s organiser explained very clearly, “This policy directly harms LGBTQ people, especially transgender and queer people around the world who face daily discrimination, and use social media like Facebook to find support, build community, and express their authentic selves.”
Yet, Facebook would rather dwell on other things or pretend like its not a problem. Millions of users turned their profile pictures into rainbows with the Pride flag tool — despite the fact that Facebook was probably tracking them. And when asked about the real name policy earlier today, a Facebook spokesperson eschewed a real answer and simply said that the company “is proud of [its] commitment to diversity and our support of the LGBTQ community as a company and an employer.” (Side note: Having hired only seven black people last year, Facebook doesn’t seem that great about diversity.)
We’ve reached out to Facebook for a more concrete reply to the ongoing backlash to its real name policy and will update this post if we hear back. In the meantime, be wary. Just because a giant corporation acts like it loves civil rights, doesn’t always mean it respects them.