Facebook clarified its “real names only” policy Wednesday and issued an apology to those who may have been adversely affected by its scope. “I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbours, 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,” chief product officer Chris Cox said in a post.
The conflict arose in September, after drag queens protested that their Facebook accounts had been flagged and could only be reopened by using their legal names. San Francisco–based performer Sister Roma called the policy “unfair, hurtful, discriminatory and an invasion of privacy.” Of course, the issue could be even more severe for transgender individuals, for whom using their legal names could be an issue of safety.
Facebook says a single user had flagged hundreds of drag-queen profiles, but this anomalous behavior wasn’t caught amid all the identity flaggings it receives. The site’s name policy then stated that it “should be your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver’s license or student ID.” (It has softened now, but still warns that the name should be verifiable with forms of ID.)
The change of tune almost makes it sound like Facebook didn’t even consider its newest rival, Ello, in making the change. The new, pro-privacy social network was gaining steam just as the scandal broke, and assured users that it would have no such “real name” rules in its networks. Unfortunately for drag queens, fan followings don’t move networks with the click of a mouse.
Cox further clarified that the policy has never been meant to force people to use their legal names, just the ones they are known by, to avoid the anonymous trolling happening in other corners of the internet. “The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life,” he wrote. “For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess.”
In response, those affected said that Thursday’s planned protest would become a celebration.