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Meta Verified is under fire in sex work circles for revealing users’ legal names

“For $15, it’s doxxing you.”

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distorted meta logo and other brands including facebook, instagram, whatsapp, oculus, and messenger
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

With Meta Verified, users can pay for an enviable blue check next to their name. But the feature also requires users to use their legal name as their profile display name without the option to change it, raising concerns among sex workers, trans creators and other privacy advocates. 

“For $15, it’s doxxing you,” Pomma, a sex worker educator and adult content creator also known as Blair Bishop said. “Obviously with the current politics going on within the country, with the war on porn and the war on trans people, this is just so unsafe.” 

Meta Verified, which launched last month to all U.S. users, includes other perks in addition to the verification badge. For $14.99 a month on mobile (or $11.99 on the web for Facebook-only access), subscribers are granted direct account support from Meta, proactive impersonation protection and exclusive stickers for Facebook and Instagram. To confirm their identity for verification, users have to provide a selfie video and their government-issued photo ID.

But Meta Verified also requires subscribers’ display names to match the name on their ID, causing confusion among users. When applying for verification, users are prompted to enter their first and last name as it appears on their ID. They also have the option to use middle names, initials and “common abbreviations” like “Ben” instead of Benjamin, according to a Meta spokesperson. The application states that verified users can only change their name or profile photo if they cancel their subscription, make changes and subscribe again.

Users can review their verification application before submitting it, where they’re told that any changes to their profile will be publicly visible. The page shows a preview of their Instagram handle, profile picture and name, but it doesn’t explicitly state that the name the user submitted will be their profile display name. 

Meta says that anyone signing up for the premium service will receive a response within 48 hours — using the middle name on my ID, I was verified in about 20 minutes. 

First screenshot:Confirm your profile information. Please submit your profile information within 3 days or your subscription may be canceled. Once you're Meta Verified, you can only make changes to your name or profile photo if you cancel your subscription and resubscribe with your updated information. Second screenshot: First and last name To subscribe to Meta Verified, your name must match your ID. Common abbreviations, spelling variants, nicknames, and initials are okay. Make sure everything is correct. Once you're Meta Verified, you can't make changes to your name or profile photo. Third screenshot: Review change Make sure everything is correct. Changes you make will be immediately visible on your profile to everyone.
Meta Verified requires subscribers to match their public display name to the name on their government-issued ID. Image Credits: Meta

As Meta rolled out the new features, creators took to Twitter to warn each other of the legal name requirements. 

OnlyFans creator Abigail Mac said she tried to apply for verification under her stage name, but was denied. She then tried to apply for verification using just the initials of her legal name, but was denied again. She was immediately approved for verification when she applied using her full legal name, but was unable to change her display name back to her stage name once she was verified. 

“Putting your name out there, fans can now go on the internet and search, ‘Where did this person grow up? Where do they live now?’ Can we look up house records?’” Abigail Mac said. “And this is how people find celebrities. A lot of things are public record when it comes to buying a home with your real name.” 

In an email, a Meta Support representative told Abigail Mac that a user’s Instagram profile “must match the name on their Government ID” to deter impersonation.

The backlash against Meta Verified’s ID requirements echoes that of Facebook’s infamous real name policy, which the platform implemented in 2014. An individual user reported hundreds of accounts belonging to drag performers, trans users and others in the LGBTQ community as fake. To keep their accounts, flagged users had to verify that they were using their real names by submitting their ID — which didn’t necessarily reflect the users’ chosen name. 

Facebook publicly apologized, and although it didn’t lift its real name policy, the company now allows flagged users to explain their situation before they’re suspended. Facebook eventually allowed flagged users whose names don’t match their government-issued ID to use non-government documents like library cards and diplomas to prove their identity.

Sex workers have questioned why Meta Verified’s identity verification options are so limited. 

Abigail Mac’s Instagram account is already monetized via paid subscriptions and Instagram shop purchases, and she receives regular payouts from Meta. She said she already had to submit her government-issued photo ID and other tax documents to monetize her account, and questioned why her legal name had to be public for her to be verified. London River, another adult performer, decried Meta’s display name requirement as “preposterous.” 

“In other words, yes, you must dox yourself to be verified,” London River said in response to a screenshot of the Meta Support email that Abigail Mac tweeted. “We all have plenty of documentation to link our real names with our performer names, business documents, trademarks, test results, etc… but no. None of that matters.” 

Verification is a “double-edged sword,” Abigail Mac said. Although revealing her legal name is risky, being verified has allowed her to take down impersonators and catfish accounts. Before she was verified, Abigail Mac said she spent years trying to report copycat accounts, and that she has spoken to fans who were scammed by accounts impersonating her own. 

Stripper Web, a 20-year-old forum for sex workers, is shutting down. No one knows why.

Her engagement on Instagram has skyrocketed since she was verified — within a week of verification, her account overview showed a 131% increase in accounts reached, and a nearly 60% increase in engagement. Before she was verified, her Instagram Lives would average around 100 viewers. Her most recent Instagram Live had 600, and within 10 minutes, she made $11 “just sitting there and talking.”

The Meta Verified subscription in New Zealand and Australia includes increased account visibility and reach, but that feature hasn’t been rolled out in the U.S. yet. The Meta spokesperson said that Abigail Mac’s spike in engagement isn’t necessarily a direct correlation to her Meta Verified subscription. 

For now, Abigail Mac plans to keep her Meta Verified subscription, even though she puts herself at risk by revealing her legal name. She said she’s “already been doxxed before,” and wants to see if her increased engagement can be monetized. 

“My account is growing, and that’s just a silly little number,” Abigail Mac said. “But is that actually translating to subscribers? So I’ll probably know that in a month to three months, I’ll really know if it makes a difference.”  

But for others, like Pomma, the internet is unsafe as it is. 

“For us, for trans people, for sex workers, this just creates such a hostile environment for the most marginalized just trying to exist online,” they said. “You get direct chat support with a real person, it’s easier to take down catfish accounts. So I just wonder how this will be used against people who don’t verify or can’t verify.”  

The concerns over Meta’s verification requirements dovetails with broader debate among sex work circles over age verification requirements for adult sites. This year, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia and Utah passed laws requiring users to submit a government-issued ID in order to view porn sites. Eleven more states have proposed similar laws. 

Ashley, a sex worker peer organizer who works on tech platform issues, pointed out Meta’s verification requirements should raise red flags for all users, not just adult content creators. 

“If you do want to give people the option of proving it with ID, then it has to be very safely done. Ideally, the data is not stored anywhere. When you get ID’d at a bar or at a sex party, they don’t store a record of it along with the biometric face scan,” she said. “It’s not surveillance.”

Sex workers have been leading the charge against online censorship and mass surveillance since SESTA/FOSTA was signed into law, which drastically censored online sex work in an attempt to stop sex trafficking. Many, like Pomma, are wary of online ID checks in wake of increasingly hostile legislation that further criminalizes sex work. 

“Forcing people to submit IDs online, with the way our legislators and our environments are right now, just seems a little like a slippery slope to me,” Pomma said. 

A Meta spokesperson said that the company is launching with a high security standard. The company may eventually ease the requirements, the spokesperson said, and may work on a “secure solution” for identity verification that doesn’t require users to match their profile names to their government ID. Meta did not specify a timeline for relaxing the ID requirements, and could not guarantee that Meta Verified subscribers would be allowed to change their display names. 

Though some creators may feel like Meta Verified isn’t for them, the spokesperson said the company is “continuing to invest” in its creator community through both its free and paid tools. 

Meta could at least allow verified users to keep their legal names private, Ashley said. 

“The verification process should not impact the display name,” she continued. “It’s a very simple change that would make things safer for everyone, not just sex workers and trans people, because many people use a pen name online in order to have some separation between their public and private life.”

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