Facebook is in a lot of hot water due to its controversial name policy, which requires all users to use the “real names” that appear on birth certificates, credits cards, passports, and driver’s licenses. The controversy began when well-known drag queens, like Little Miss Hot Mess and Sister Roma, received notifications of policy violations and subsequently had their accounts suspended. This debacle led to a September 17th meeting, during which Facebook representatives, drag queens, and other queer activists discussed the policy. The end result was disappointing: the Facebook representatives decided to uphold the policy, but would give the suspended users a two week grace period, during which they would have to change their profile names to their “real names,” or face the deletion of their accounts.
Monika Bickert, the head of Facebook’s global policy management, emailed the New York Times in defense of Facebook’s unrelenting stance: “Having people use their real names on Facebook makes them more accountable, and also helps us root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation and hate speech.” Though she presents a reasonable argument, her words also align queer Facebook users with these “accounts created for malicious purposes.”
Facebook’s reputation took another blow when bloggers and Facebook users resurfaced a four-year-old quote from Mark Zuckerberg, which appeared in David Kirkpatrick’s 2010 book The Facebook Effect. Zuckerberg says, “You have one identity…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 quickly…Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” Zuckerberg may be speaking in a different time/context, but his generalizations make no exceptions for drag queens or transgender individuals. It is a reductive statement that defines integrity according to how well a person conforms to heteronormative standards.
The name policy does not account for sexual difference, and begets a heteronormative rhetoric that has plagued the LGBTQ community for years. Just because a person does not identify according to the name he/she/them was assigned on a birth certificate does not mean that he/she/them has “a lack of integrity”/”malicious purposes.” It creates a double standard because I have yet to hear of any heterosexual celebrities being asked to change their names (and many had to change/alter their names just to get a SAG card and/or survive in the industry).
Another meeting will be held on October 2nd between Facebook reps and queer activists. Should the meeting prove fruitless, a mass De-Activation protest is being held on October 8th for those who are standing in solidarity against the name policy. I applaud these users for taking such a brave stance, especially when it means cutting off an integral source of publicity (many drag queens and queer artists use Facebook as a means of promoting their appearances at clubs and bars). This solidarity shows that these activists are filled with “integrity” because they are unwilling to keel over and conform to a problematic policy. We shall see the ramifications of Facebook’s stance, and whether or not this policy will alienate thousands of users.