Facebook humanizes its names policy

Facebook will begin testing new steps for users to report someone violating the firm’s name policy, the company said in a blog post Tuesday.

Now, both those who report people using false names and those who are contacted for allegedly using names other than their real ones will go through extra steps that will essentially slow down the process.

Facebook’s longstanding “Real Names” policy requiring users go by the names they are known as came under fire last year. The company had either shut out or changed the names of a large number of people who had been flagged.

Since, Facebook executives have met with gay, lesbian, transgender groups and have implemented some changes.

But the policy continued to be the focal point of protests and boycotts over whether the social networking giant was doing enough to help those who face discrimination or are marginalized in some way who would be affected by the policy.

In October, a coalition of international human rights and civil liberties groups called on Facebook to do more and “fix its broken” policy, as I wrote then.

Facebook’s name policy has most recently been in the news with reports that one of the attackers in San Bernardino posted her allegiance to the Islamic State on Facebook using a pseudonym, as the Wall Street Journal reported.

Justin Osofsky, vice president of global operations at the social media firm, and Todd Gage, a Facebook product manager, said the goal of the the new tools tested is two-fold:

First, we want to reduce the number of people who are asked to verify their name on Facebook when they are already using the name people know them by. Second, we want to make it easier for people to confirm their name if necessary.

Among the changes:

  • The reporting process. People who report what they think are fake names have to go through more steps as they make their report. In the past, users could just report a fake name.
  • The verification process. Facebook offers people in special circumstances a variety of ways to talk about why they use the name they use. One screen asks the user if they are affected by abuse, stalked or an ethnic minority, all of which may inform why they use the name they do.

These changes follow others made by Facebook, such as expanding the kinds of documents a user can produce to validate a name as well as giving people access to their account for seven days while they verify or update their name.

As Facebook grows, it’s becoming more important to people’s lives. We’ll see if these changes satisfy the many groups who have raised concerns.

Jay Brown, director of research and public education at the Human Rights Campaign, who was given a preview of the changes, said:

This is a solid step toward greater inclusion for Facebook users who are transgender and targeted online. It’s also a positive sign that Facebook has committed to doing more. Ultimately, we must work to ensure each user can be themselves authentically on Facebook, even when access to documents reflecting that identity is limited or impossible.

Above: Screenshot of Facebook’s menu as it walks users through options related to reporting someone using a fake name (Courtesy Facebook)


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