Facebook nymwars: Disproportionately outing LGBT performers, users furious

Facebook is enforcing its "real names" policy, insidiously outing a disproportionate number of gay, trans and adult performers -- placing them at risk for attacks, stalking, privacy violations and more.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

Facebook is enforcing its "real names" policy, insidiously outing a disproportionate number of gay, trans and adult performers -- placing them at risk for attacks, stalking, privacy violations and more.

Facebook is strong-arming LGBT and adult performers to use their legal names, telling these at-risk populations that it is to "keep our community safe."

For the populations being hit the hardest by Facebook's new nymwars, this policy is anything but safe.

Some are calling Facebook's LGBT outing spree discriminatory.

Yet considering the company had hundreds represent Facebook's SF LGBT Pride Parade contingent, the "real names" campaign looks more to be a stunning display of Facebook's acute cluelessness about user safety.

The situation developed early this week when a large number of drag queen and transgender performers in cities including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles were targeted for account deletion unless they immedately presented their legal names on their Facebook profiles.

Brad Gilligan wrote in Seattle Gay Scene,

The problem here is that Facebook is strong arming many performers to switch their pages over to Fan Pages/Like Pages, which for all intents and purposes, are the most useless thing on Facebook.

Unless you have thousands of dollars to shell out for ads to get your page boosted for views, Like Page posts get lost among a sea of InstaGrams and viral trends.

It's easy to see how this hurts community-focused performers.

The enforcement is hitting people outside the sexual fringes -- but so far, noticeably, not many.

Well-known Bay Area LGBT activist and community fundraiser personality Sister Roma, who has been using Facebook since 2008, was locked out of her profile Wednesday.

Roma said Facebook told her it was suspended until Roma changed it to her "legal name, like the one that appears on your driver's license or credit card".

After Facebook effectively "disappeared" the Bay Area resident from family, friends, job, her nonprofit volunteer work and community, Roma gave in to Facebook's orders simply to restore access to the account.

Olivia LaGarce, another prominent LGBT activist, said:

And, unfortunately, for those who choose not to use their legal names for reasons of privacy, safety, or preference, there is no way to access their account to download and preserve all their photos and information that they have built up on Facebook over the years without bypassing the name change requirement.

Sister Roma, now posting as Michael Williams, said Thursday that her account's Facebook message conversations about the "real names" policy had been marked as spam or "abusive."

Roma posted, "I went to respond to a message from my Sister Unity and this is what I found. You'll notice that all threads from previous messages plus current ones about the Name Change on Facebook were deleted."

Loa Angeles based performer and drag personality Unity Divine is now in the same situation, posting as Bennett Schneider to say,

Hundreds of artists, writers, and performers are being blocked right NOW! FB does not understand what we do and who we are.

I bet it's programmers making a (bad) judgement call with no understanding.

Seattle's Olivia LaGarce started a Change.org petition specifically addressing the impact of Facebook's move on LGBT performers, who are historically unsafe to have their legal names linked to their drag personas. LaGarce continued:

Although our names might not be our "legal" birth names, they are still an integral part of our identities, both personally and to our communities.

(…) By forcing us to use our "real" names, it opens the door to harassment, abuse, and violence. Facebook claims that the restriction on using "real" names "helps keep our community safe", but in fact this restriction enables our communities to be attacked and degraded, both online and off.

Facebook's campaign to out public personalities on the sexual fringes looks like it's only escalating. 

Just over a month ago, Facebook put adult performer and director Julie Simone through a "real names" nightmare when it changed her performer account to show her legal name -- and locked her out of it for 30 days (link NSFW).

Facebook nymwars porn

A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider Thursday,

If people want to use an alternative name on Facebook, they have several different options available to them, including providing an alias under their name on their profile, or creating a Page specifically for that alternative persona.

As part of our overall standards, we ask that people who use Facebook provide their real name on their profile.

Sound familiar?

Facebook nymwars: Poised to do more damage than Google

Both Google and Facebook have wanted to force users to use legal names, and both have claimed it was for a safer "community" experience.

Google began its "real name" enforcement with mass Google+ account suspensions and deletions shortly after Google+ launched in July 2011. The whole mess is called Nymwars.

Google's nymwars targeted everyone and placed at-risk communities in harm; transgender and LGBT users were outed and the consequences were awful.

Facebook's nymwars appears to be disproportionately targeting at-risk communities; the policy has always been in place but not enforced -- and is now being enforced on populations who have safely used Facebook since as far back as 2008.

Google's nymwars gave the company a black eye with user trust; arguably, the company hasn't been able to recover its fan base.

Facebook's nymwars has been part of the hated company's fabric, making it more insidious because it's applied despite what the community actually wants.

Yes, of course these are Facebook and Google's Terms, Google and Facebook are free, use is somewhat voluntary (most people's jobs are somehow tied to Google or Facebook use), and we've all heard the "you're the product" rhetoric.

And hey, it's just a bunch of drag queens, trans people, sex workers and queers, right?

As we can see from this article six months before Google dumped its "real names" policy -- astonishingly -- all we need to do is change "Google" to "Facebook":

I don't want to think that controlling our own identities doesn't matter to Google; or it's as if to Google we are the faulty parts of its machine.

Or we are Google Plus with a body vaguely attached.

Or to Google, the problems are our own faults, and any calls for respect or privacy in a painful world are just annoying to Google, which has better things to do, like terrify us with the privacy nightmare of Google Glass and making bulk data consolidators' jobs of cataloging our personally identifying information easier.

The appalling, inhuman detachment of Facebook as it peddles its empty advertising gestures could come with a terrible price tag -- at great cost to the very people who can afford it the least.

See also: 

ZDNet has reached out to Facebook for comment and will update this article accordingly.

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