Drag queens kicked up their heels in celebration of a victory over Facebook’s real-name policy at San Francisco city hall today. The social network promised to adjust protocol after a meeting with LGBT activists yesterday.
Facebook has been under fire for weeks over its real-name policy, which allows users to report accounts for displaying false identities. Members of the LGBT community felt targeted when many were reported for not listing their legal names in early September.
“I want to start by apologizing to everybody who had their accounts messed with over the past few weeks. We’re going to fix it,” Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox said at city hall. “I think we should have acted a lot more quickly and there is a lot of things we need to fix about the way we deal with knowing who’s real and who’s not on Facebook.”
Last month, numerous users received suspension notices because they were not using “real” names. This move barred policy violators from their photos, messages and posts. Users could only reactivate their profiles if they listed their legal names.
“I pretty quickly started noticing some of my friends—many of whom I’ve known for years—disappearing from Facebook,” SF State alumnus and Harvey Milk LGBT President Tom Temprano said. “Mostly it was a lot of drag queens, performers and DJ’s.”
Prominent drag queens lead by Sister Roma, a well-known personality in the drag queen community, began campaigning against the policy online and many joined in the effort. According to activist Lil Miss Hot Mess, members of the group included domestic violence survivors, transgendered teens and people with stalkers.
“I think privacy and safety go hand in hand for many of the people we worked with, but for everyone it’s really about having choice in who one interacts with and on what terms,” Lil Miss Hot Mess said.
The disgruntled drag queens called on the community to stage a demonstration at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, but a meeting between community members and Facebook officials Sept. 17 postponed the protest.Temprano, along with Supervisor David Campos and other activists addressed their concerns at the meeting.
“The first meeting we had with them was not the most productive for a number of reasons. I don’t think they came in ready to make changes—they came in to talk about their policy and tell us why its there,” Temprano said.
Facebook officials granted suspended accounts two weeks to comply. Many changed their profile pictures to an image that read “#mynameis” to garner attention and continued to criticize the policy on social media for denying people the right to self-identify.
The mass of displeased users grabbed Facebook’s attention, leading the company to reevaluate the policy. They met with activists for a second time Wednesday morning and vowed to reformat the reporting process.
“There are still definitely kinks to be worked out as the technical side of our discussions are explored, and I’m not holding my breath until I see some of these agreements actually implemented, but I do think there is a sincere interest in making this better for everyone, and not just drag queens,”said Lil Miss Hot Mess.
The policy is meant to block users from using false identities for bullying, scamming, and impersonation, according to Cox. His speech outlined ways Facebook will try and differentiate between authentic identities and what he calls “bad actors.” Users will have a much harder time mass reporting profiles and those reported will have more time and help to fix any issues.
“I trust in Facebook, I believe that they are genuinely committed to working with this community to make sure that the changes that need to be made are made,” Campos said. “What I appreciate about this resolution is not just that Facebook is saying ‘we’re going to do it’, but ‘we’re going to do it working with you’.”