Facebook Real Name Policy: A Front Line Battle Report
21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene…
Burlesque performer Dottie Lux attended a meeting with Facebook last week to discuss the Facebook Real Name Policy affecting performers, the GLBTQ community, and other individuals across the world. The issue and the outcome of that meeting have received global press attention, and Dottie has produced an in-depth report for 21st Century Burlesque Magazine describing the discussion and the reasons for challenging this rigid policy.
Editor’s Note: Images of the press conference were originally secured via a private Facebook conversation with a photographer who covered the event. His response – in a private conversation – was ‘flagged’, and his photographs and entire presence on Facebook have been removed without a trace. I am trying to find out what has happened, but it could be yet another troubling attempt to block coverage of this issue.
The very first thing I learned as a burlesque performer was to introduce myself by the name I had given myself. It does two things: helps keep me in character and keeps me safe. Ducky Doolittle was my teacher and she explained that by using a name that wasn’t the one on her ID she created a safe place for her to work and be herself. I learned this lesson over ten years ago but find myself getting refreshers all the time. We often travel alone and with a lot of stuff, many of us have careers outside of burlesque, and we may not be out to our family or simply may want to shelter our younger family members. This ‘real name’ policy is embarrassing at best and dangerous at worst. I’ve gone by Dottie since 2002; my parents call me this name and everyone knows this to be my name.
“The name on my ID … has endured trauma and had police reports filed. She is scared, meek, boring and insecure. She is not who I am. I am not alone in this feeling.”
Additionally, Dottie is powerful. She is confident and smart. She is brave and she is beautiful. The name on my ID brings me to a place of distance; she has endured trauma and had police reports filed. She is scared, meek, boring and insecure. She is not who I am. I am not alone in this feeling. In fact, almost every person I am friends with goes by some version of their name that is not on their ID. Yes, some of us have names that may be obviously chosen -World Famous *BOB* or Alotta Boutte – but I am also friends with Michael who goes by Mike and Jessica who goes by Jess. I know people with female sounding names on their ID that go by a chosen male name and I know the inverse. I know people who change their names so they sound less ethnic. I know people who go by completely different names because they are survivors of domestic violence and want to put that behind them and feel safe. This is really not something specific to performers. The ability to choose your own identity is important to all people, but especially women and those in marginalised groups. Please read this article to learn just how many groups are affected and how dangerous it can be.
As technology and social media become pervasive in our lives, this same sentiment is reflected. We have the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the world the way we want to. Do you remember picking your first email address or your LiveJournal handle? It feels powerful and authentic. I always thought that’s what social media was about: having the ability to share the self you want with the world. Even though Google+ reversed its ‘Real name policy’ after three years of fight, Facebook has recently been cracking down on their long-time policy that only government issued names can be used on profile pages. In their words: ‘The name you use should be your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver’s license or student ID’. You can read the entire policy here, but what the heck does ‘should’ mean?
“You have one identity… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” Mark Zuckerberg
If you are looking to Facebook for sympathy or understanding, you are misguided. They do not care. They are founded by an entitled white man who was a billionaire before he was 30. CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it clear years ago that he is extremely out of touch with the world. He said in an interview that was published in the 2010 book The Facebook Effect, ‘You have one identity… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.’ Zuckerberg went further to say, ‘The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.’ Here is Michael Zimmer’s blog from four years ago on Mark Zuckerberg’s thoughts on this subject.
Speaking to Zuckerberg’s ignorance is my friend Honey Lawless. She says, ‘There are very personal questions on Facebook, such as political affiliations, religion, even where we come from. There are many individuals who do not want to share this information with their employers. In fact, many professionals choose to have dummy Facebook accounts with very whitewashed information so when potential employers do look for social media presence there is nothing that could potentially impact employment prospects or impact current employment. There are professionals that work as police officers, therapists, doctors, etc., that also choose to use pseudonyms due to safety as well as violations of their own employment for oversharing their own personal lives.’ She goes on to say, ‘There is also the lens that we are discussing, which is very First World. We aren’t discussing the impact real names policy has on those that live in hiding due to their governments. The impacts of their real name could quite literally be life ending.’
The Meeting with Facebook
Last week I was invited to attend a meeting on the subject of ‘real names’ at Facebook HQ. It is a huge compound located at 1 Hacker Way in Menlo Park, California, a suburb of San Francisco. With nearly two dozen numbered buildings, it was a huge maze to navigate. We were to meet at building 14 and the traffic was unbearable getting there. We were greeted by Susan Gonzales, a public liaison, and then joined via Skype with Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management at Facebook. They also included a few members of their GLBTQ alliance. From our contingent we had City Supervisor David Campos, Sister Roma, Drag-Superstar Heklina, BeBe Sweetbriar, Tom Temprano, 3, Carmen, Nadia Kayyali from Electronic Frontier Foundation, Trisha Fogleman, Matt Cagle, Gabriel Haaland, Lil Miss Hot Mess, Alex U Inn, and Adam, a representative from Scott Wiener’s office.
“Going into this meeting I felt hopeful and motivated … That all changed when I left the campus.”
We were a smart, well spoken and respectful group. Going into this meeting I felt hopeful and motivated. I hadn’t read the articles I posted above; I didn’t see the movie and it wasn’t that deep for me. I was there to help performers and members of the trans community get their identities back. It was about reaching an agreement and continuing to use their product.
That all changed when I left the campus. I will continue this article to recap what happened, but please know the only stance I can take in good conscience is to LEAVE Facebook. This is a party we all attend by choice. They get to make the rules and we can decide to adhere or not, but I think we can all agree that a party where we are required to wear copies of our state issued driver’s license around our neck is a party we would never attend. So why are we grasping on to this platform and wanting it to change, instead of leaving? It’s simple. Facebook has been awesome for us as people and also people in showbiz. Through Facebook we have been able to book international tours, draw an audience to our shows, share our journeys and also connect in groups and forums to improve our entire experience as performers and producers. We have been able to link up with our fans and hear their stories. It’s been motivating, moving, fun, silly and absolutely addicting. It blew my mind and made me feel amazing that 1.3k people liked the last post I wrote for 21st Century Burlesque Magazine and it does great things for my ego to have a photo reach over the 500 like mark. Maybe that’s shallow or vain, but it’s a chemical like gambling. Our brains love the flashing lights and the upturning ticker.
Besides the functionality as a producer and performer, Facebook has impacted my non-work life. I have been able to find people I hadn’t connected with for over a decade and rekindle friendships. I have been able to offer support to friends going through hardship, physical injury or illness, the loss of a friend or family member and celebrate the momentous occasions in friends’ lives like rising careers, births, marriages and amazing world travels. I know it’s hard to imagine giving all of this up. Even with all the other social media systems that exist, only Facebook has the functionality of all of it: chat, page, photo, video, feed, events, groups, and the universal appeal. We can all name 2-5 people who aren’t on Facebook while everyone else is.
“It was explained to us that Facebook reviewers are sent profiles for evaluation after they are flagged by users. This was a fantastic way to deflect responsibility. This is to say ‘it’s not our fault, it’s our users fault’. “
Attending this meeting it was easy to see just how important Facebook has become. I am still a bit divided from the group that attended this meeting in that I am not interested in giving this company any more free advice or a moment more of my time. They have more faith than I do that change will happen and we’ll all click the ‘like’ button on FB once again. (I acknowledge my complete hypocrisy as I took the app off my phone, but it’s the first thing I pull up on my laptop when I get home. I click back to the screen several times an hour and I’m normal. Ashamed, but normal.)
Monika (the only person with any sort of power) left after less than an hour. She explained the importance of the Facebook Real Names Policy as a safety issue and keeping our children from paedophiles and internet bullying. I found this to be some of the most contradictory parts of the morning. How are we being kept safe by being outed and putting us in danger?
We begged why? Why was this happening to performers, and what could they do to stop it? It was explained to us that Facebook reviewers are sent profiles for evaluation after they are flagged by users. This was a fantastic way to deflect responsibility. This is to say ‘it’s not our fault, it’s our users fault’. And as investigation happens we see that this is the stance that many users are taking. There have been Twitter accounts set up with handles that appear to be speaking as an official representative of Facebook, encouraging the cleansing of the drag/performer community from Facebook. There are a few places from which this could be coming – maybe from those that oppose individuals for their political stance, sexual identity, or gender identify, etc., or from other artists who are jealous or just noticing their ability to have impact on each other’s lives. Power corrupts even a small amount. It’s not unlike a drag queen to do this and it’s not unlike a religious zealot. If the policy is being abused, then the policy no longer feels safe. And now we are angry at the person/people doing the flagging and want them to stop targeting us!
I believe that this is not the issue. This anger is misplaced and distracting. Being mad at the hall monitor for asking for your hall pass is not the real issue. You are breaking the rules if you don’t have one. The issue is the hurtful and counter-intuitive policy. We are all in the wrong according to the policy and if we don’t like that, we can leave.
“…they wanted us to see them as an ally. They wanted us to know that they were listening and were looking for ways to improve … and yet they had no interest in admitting their policy was flawed or insinuating in any way that they would change it.”
The Facebook reps tried to persuade us all to use ‘Pages’ for our ‘personas’ (which doesn’t address the myriad of other reasons to have a different name) and we explained that we need to pay for reach and the functionality did not allow us to interact with our friends and fans only other business pages. They clearly had not thought about this, which begs the question: what do they do all day?
Monika focused her argument entirely as a Drag/Performer issue when the rest of us tried to impress the universal nature. United they wanted us to see them as an ally. They wanted us to know that they were listening and were looking for ways to improve. All of this, and yet they had no interest in admitting their policy was flawed or insinuating in any way that they would change it. They would concede that there were issues about how the policy is being enforced. We all explained the hurt and ridiculousness of all of it. As an example of the backwards nature of this policy, I told the group I was flagged for my last name and was forced to change it, but that Lux is the part on my ID, not Dottie. Everyone laughed, it wasn’t a joke.
We reached no conclusion other than that we would meet again, and we left the premises for City Hall. We gathered in David Campos’ office and prepared for a press conference. As we went through talking points we received an email. Sister Roma read the first sentence ‘We’ve decided to temporarily reactivate the profiles of several hundred members of the LGBT community whose profiles were recently deactivated…’ We cheered, high-fived and felt like it was a total start. Just as Roma lead us in a beautiful moment of celebration, Hecklina pointed out that there was more and continued, “…this will give them a chance to decide how they’d like to represent themselves on Facebook. Over the next two weeks, we hope that they will decide to confirm their real name, change their name to their real name, or convert their profile to a Page.’ We sank and were insulted. They missed the mark completely and it was just the push we needed to have a heartfelt moment with the press.
The Next Step…
Since then there has been an uproar and every news forum is covering this topic. I have been distancing myself from Facebook and trying to live as much IRL as I can. What’s hard is that I have friends that work for this company and I get to know a tiny bit about the uproar that is happening internally. We have allies and they are people I respect who are there to do the right thing. It has been explained to me that unlike many other large companies Facebook works from the bottom up. The executives rely on the staff to come up with ideas and reflect the user market. The people that I talk to are hopeful and truly feel like they can make a change. I have no idea if this is true, but I encourage my friends to be safe and not lose their jobs. In case you aren’t aware, Facebook provides their workers with just about everything they would need in a work day: an endless supply and variety of food, drink, exercise, art supplies, entertainment and even health practitioners. They are very well paid and I am so happy for my friends that work there, but none of them want it to be at the expense of their morals. They are asking me to be patient in waiting for this to get figured out and I want to; however, there has been a huge breech of my trust and I’m ready to figure something else out.
The group that visited Facebook last week is still meeting and mobilising, and I agree that in order for me to consider continuing on the site we will need:
1. Acknowledgement that the Facebook Real Names Policy is intended to enable people to be their authentic selves by using the name that is most real and safe for them. Facebook should acknowledge that many people use a name — whether a performer name, nickname, pseudonym, or protective name — that differs from the one on their birth certificate or other forms of ID, in order to more honestly reflect who they are and keep themselves safe. Basically, let Facebook keep their vague policy, but have them say that they are not in the business of defining who is real or not.
2. An enforcement system that is sensitive to performers/artists, queer and trans people, survivors of violence, and all the other communities included in the above link. The policy should be broad enough that enforcement employees will understand the dozens of reasons a name may not match a name on an ID.
My advice is:
1. Fluff up your Google+ account. Add friends, photos and spend your otherwise Facebook time on Google+. The more traffic they see the more effort they will put into building their site.
2. Flex your other communication muscles. There was a time before we were ALL on Facebook. I joined in 2008 and know I used email, text and Gchat a lot more. I am going to put in more of an effort here.
3. Remove Facebook from your phone. If we can’t be gone from the site altogether we can at least remove it from our constant view. The less we are on it the more we can support each other in #2.
4. Download your Facebook Data. Go to your general settings and click on ‘Download a Copy of your Facebook Data’. Don’t lose all your work (because your updates and photo archives are art work – we are artists).
5. Create. How does this make you feel about your identity? Is there something you can say about it onstage? While it’s relevant and you’re fired up, call on the muse and make something. A wise man, Scotty the Blue Bunny, once said: ‘Make art, not Facebook posts.’
21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.