Facebook Rethinks 'Real Name' Policy

John Lister's picture

Facebook is testing a change to its policy requiring people to use their real name on the site. The idea is to keep the principle of accountability while dealing with some practical issues.

The site has always had a policy that users must operate with "the name their friends and family know them by." The idea is that it makes users accountable for what they say in posts and messages, and thus helps to stop people hiding behind anonymity.

The policy often causes criticism. Some people disagree with the idea of having to be identifiable on the site. Writing in a blog post this week, Facebook says those folks are out of luck because when it comes to the principle, "[Facebook is] firmly committed to [its] policy, and it is not changing." (Source: fb.com)

'Real' Name Can Be Gray Area

Other criticism centers around the way the policy is enforced. As a general rule, if Facebook has reason to believe somebody isn't using their real name on the site, it can demand proof in the form of a scan of an official identification document such as a driving license.

The problem comes with people for whom the name on their documentation is not the name by which they are known to friends and family. Examples include drag artists who use their "stage name" in their everyday lives as well; victims of domestic abuse who use a pseudonym in everyday life to avoid being found by a former partner; and Native Americans who use a tribal name rather than the legal name listed on their ID. (Source: mashable.com)

By Facebook's rules, these people all have the right to use the site under their 'everyday name', rather than legal name. Now the site concedes that the process of confirming cases such as this can be needlessly lengthy and complicated. It also believes some people in this situation may become the victim of harassment; in this case, other users may maliciously attempt to create controversy by forcing Facebook to investigate an 'everyday name' versus someone's given legal name.

Reports Harder, Explanations Easier

One of the new changes is to the way people can report somebody using a "fake" name. Previously, this was a simple one-click process. Now, users will have to answer questions and provide more detail to make the report more specific.

Another change is that the user who is the subject of such a report will receive a special option alongside certain portions of the site. The "I have a special circumstance" option will allow users to give an explanation of why their legal and everyday names don't match. Facebook staff will then handle the case personally, taking care to keep the user's legal name confidential if necessary.

The changes follow an earlier tweak to the review process. Before this tweak, Facebook automatically blocked the accounts of people suspected of using a bogus name and didn't unblock them until they had provided the relevant ID or explanation. Now users will have seven days to respond to an enquiry, meaning that for most people with a legitimate reason to use something other than their legal name, their Facebook service won't be interrupted.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think the new rules regarding real names are a good balance? Is it right to make these special exceptions to the "legal name" principle? Should Facebook users be allowed to use any name they choose on the site without restriction?

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Dennis Faas's picture

One good thing about Facebook (if you can call it that), is their real name policy. If they did not enforce this policy, then I strongly believe the site would very quickly deteriorate under malicious anonymous comments and posts. In short, I believe the real name policy helps to keep people honest. Besides that, using a real name is one of the reasons why it is easy to find friends - and friends of friends - through the site.

As for how to enforce that policy - I can only imagine how time consuming it must be for staff to manually verify users. I'm sure that the added questions they've recently introduced will help to prevent malicious 'inquiries' - whereas before it could be done with 1 click.

gbruce40_3626's picture

Facebook?.....Who's that?

Don Cook's picture

Real names for real people not fake names, as all this can be found on the net. Birth certificates & all.

Navy vet's picture

links please.