Facebook will not be changing its real-name policy for the drag queen community. San Francisco drag queens met with representatives from the company yesterday afternoon to talk through a recent mass deletion of their personal profile pages. Facebook started deleting accounts of hundreds of members of the drag community last week after deciding these profiles were in violation of the policy.
Facebook warned account holders that they must change their drag names to their birth names or get shut down. Members of the drag community believes their stage names are their real names and that they should not be forced to go by their birth names on Facebook. The queens were hopeful that meeting with Facebook yesterday afternoon would possibly mean the company would create an exception to the policy and allow them to keep the names they go by. However, that meeting did not go as they had hoped.
The drag queen community had scheduled a protest for Wednesday at Facebook headquarters meant to show their frustration over having to change their names. However, protest organizer LilMiss HotMess (Harris David) postponed the protest after Facebook agreed to meet with the drag community and other city officials yesterday. Facebook did decide to temporarily reactivate the profiles of several hundred members of the drag queen community whose profiles were recently deactivated; however, it stood by its real-names policy.
“This will give [the drag queens] a chance to decide how they’d like to represent themselves on Facebook,” said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement to TechCrunch. “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.”
Heklina, a drag queen whose profile had been previously deleted, tells me she still has some hope. “Well, it wasn’t really just lip service but we’re going to try to meet with them one more time before we decide to mobilize for a protest,” she says.
The drag community has now started a petition on Change.org to get support behind changing Facebook policy to allow them to keep their names. They are pretty near their goal of 25,000 signatures in support of them keeping their drag names, too. Here is an excerpt from the petition:
We cannot emphasize enough that Facebook is a poor arbiter of what is or isn’t a real name. Performers with legitimate-appearing names get locked out of their accounts while people with account names like “Jane ICanBeBadAllByMyself Doe” go without scrutiny. 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.
Facebook has provided a statement from Chris Wolf, national chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s Civil Rights Committee regarding the real-name policy. Wolf sides with Facebook’s intent to provide real names as a safety measure. “As someone who has studied online hate for 20 years, I know that a real-name policy works to prevent hate speech and harassment. Simply put, anonymity allows people to engage in harassment and bullying,” he says.
The irony in all of this is that it may have been an anonymous person who targeted the drag queens in the first place by turning in their profile pages to Facebook. The social media site relies on human beings to alert them to a violation of policy. Whether real or not, someone posted anonymously on Secret that they were the person who turned the drag queens in.
“There’s a difference between anonymous profiles and those with a different name. We have an identity. Theres no way these people are going to go out and bully people. We have to stand by our names,” points out Sister Roma, a drag performer and 20-year member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
It should be noted that Facebook does make certain exceptions to its real-names policy for celebrities. The New York Times reported back in 2012 that Lady Gaga was allowed to use her stage name on her own profile page. We weren’t sure exactly which page the New York Times may be referring to. However, a quick profile page search revealed quite a few Stefani Germanottas (aka Lady Gaga). It’s doubtful these profiles are operating under their own real names. I myself created a fake Justin Bieber account as a gag a few years back. That account appears to be gone now. However, what’s to stop people from creating any number of fake accounts with real-sounding names versus drag queens who have real accounts, with real people behind them but choose to use their stage names?
What’s also unclear is how Facebook plans to enforce the policy beyond U.S. borders. It has been pointed out that there are Burmese Facebook accounts with names of feudal-era Burmese kings, princesses and poets who are, well, no longer alive.
For now, it seems, Facebook is sticking to the policy as-is and encouraging the now-reactivated account holders to change their names within the next two weeks.
“We look forward to continuing the conversation with the LGBT community, so that we can work to ensure they can continue to connect and engage on Facebook,” says a Facebook spokesperson.
Sister Roma, Heklina and others hope to get a date to meet with Facebook again soon. “We hope to meet with real decision makers and make progress on this issue,” says Sister Roma.