Facebook Real Name Policy Hurts Transgender People
I’m in a situation that’s not very unique or a one-off use case: I’m a transgender woman who is not out to everyone I know on Facebook yet. Before realizing I was trans, I built a Facebook profile full of memories, friends, photos, and status updates as a cis man. As I came out to myself and others, I’ve started changing my chat “nickname” to Zöe, but I dare not post any photos of myself in girl mode for fear of fucking up the privacy settings and outing myself to everyone all at once.
Now, I’m out to almost everyone except a few very conservative long-time friends and my biological mother and step father. I thought maybe I could skirt having to out myself to use Facebook with reckless abandon by creating a NEW account. Should be easy, right? NOPE.
Facebook’s Real Name Policy Sucks
There are several use cases in which Facebook’s real name policy is just absolutely broken. When the service first started, way back in the only accessible to colleges and universities days, you’d have any old internet ass clown with Juggalo Bin Laden as his name, and a bottle of Fanta as his profile pic. Now, however, Facebook requires that you use your legal name and photos featuring yourself as a profile picture. I know for a fact that neither is unilaterally enforced, and typically only enforced when someone is reported. BUT – there’s more to it then that.
Facebook’s servers use algorithms involving facial recognition, word banks, and your detected IP address to tell if you have a spam / fraudulent / suspicious account. If you try to create a new Facebook account from your home network and your profile pic has your face in it and you pick a name like Lazarus Thundercunt, you’re going to see your account immediately disabled and they’ll ask you to send in a photo ID to prove that’s your real name.
The reason that’s problematic for legitimate users like me is that I have not legally changed my name to my preferred name. It’s still my dead name. For abuse survivors, they may not have legally changed their names, but may need to use a pseudonym for safety purposes.
Suggested Friends May Out You
Another problem with Facebook for trans people is that there is literally no option to disable suggesting you as a friend to people you may know. Case in point: When I created my account I adjusted every privacy setting they have and blocked every single person I explicitly didn’t want to know I was trans, but left everyone else unblocked. If I had not taken these steps, Facebook would have automatically outed me to everyone. I wasn’t using my dead name or my last name, but my profile picture was enough that a middle school friend of mine added my new account. He was cool, so I didn’t mind. But it could’ve been so much worse.
How did he find me? We’re mutual Facebook Friends with my wife and there was no way I was unfriending her on my new account.
In reaction, I changed my profile pic thinking anyone who doesn’t know my new name wouldn’t be able to tell it was me. But then the next day Facebook disabled my account and asked for me to send a photo ID. Facebook needs to fix this shit.
A Few Possible Solutions
If this has happened to you, or you’re just intent on making sure your new Facebook account doesn’t get auto-banned, here’s a few things you can try to establish an entirely separate account:
- Connect to a VPN service like Private Internet Access or TunnelBear (or a free service, if you like) and that will disguise your source IP address so it doesn’t seem like you’re connecting from your home.
- Sign up with a complete and legitimate sounding name typical of your locale.
- Use a profile pic with a human face, but not yours and not someone famous. Free stock photos are easy to find on the internet.
- Be weary of who you add and who they are friends with, as friend suggestions may try to connect you with someone who doesn’t need to find you.
- Be weary of which posts you comment on and like, lest those mutual friends also come to your profile to see who you are.
- Set every privacy setting to as private as you can while still letting friends view content.
- I don’t condone fraud, but if forced to send a copy of your photo ID to Facebook, they’ve been reportedly known to not glance twice at cleanly photoshopped driver’s licenses and passports.
- BONUS TIP: It’s also been reported that sending a message through your original Facebook account to Facebook Help explaining your situation could get you a resolution / exclusion to the real name policy.
Facebook, fix your shit. And every other website where there’s not a preferred / display name option. It’s just fields in a database. Add an extra column and let folks put what they want their names to show as. You have a space for married women to show their maiden names, but it still shows their legal names. Transgender folks need to be able to use their chosen names even before legally changing them. Name changes cost money and time in legal red tape, which is prohibitive to people without means. In some cases, it can put those people at risk for their personal safety.