Facebook requires members to use their real names, a fact of which most folks are likely unaware due to the policy largely being unenforced, a decision quite possibly made due to the substantial blowback Google Plus received with their mandatory real name policy that they only recently rescinded. However, Facebook is now cracking down on their policy and the fallout is a disproportionate effect on LGBT individuals and drag performers in particular.
In a remarkably tone-deaf response in an interview with Business Insider, a Facebook representative said:
If people want to use an alternative name on Facebook, they have several different options available to them, including providing an alias under their name on their profile, or creating a Page specifically for that alternative persona.
As part of our overall standards, we ask that people who use Facebook provide their real name on their profile.
Fan Pages and Musician/Group categories are how stars like Lady Gaga, Madonna, RuPaul, and will.i.am keep their obvious stage names.
Sister Roma of the San Francisco chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is presently one of the more high-profile dissenters to the policy. When Roma, who now has to go by Michael Williams in order for his Facebook account to remain active, was told to create a Fan page he responded:
I use this site to keep up with friends and simply don't want employers or crazy stalker people to log on and search me . I want my friends to find me…I detest the idea of having a fan page. I'm not fucking Britney Spears. I have friends, not fans.
Bottom Line: I've been Sister Roma for 27 years. Ask anyone what my name is, in or out of drag, and they will tell you it's Roma. #MyNameIsRoma.
Which brings to the forefront something that Facebook may not be considering: safety. While no doubt some users adopt pseudonyms for the purposes of trolling or harassment, no small number adopt fake names to protect their privacy and safety, and when that privacy is broken it can lead to disastrous results as one particularly devastating incident on Google Plus revealed.
This mandatory outing could be especially destructive for LGBT youth who need the protection of anonymity to connect with friends and resources without subjecting themselves to the hatred of peers…or even their own family. Going to Sister Roma again, she posted a message she received from a friend when the name change went into effect:
Here is an example of the comments i have received regarding Facebook's legal name change policy:
"The name I was born with is the name of a victim, a lonely little boy who hated himself.
That is NOT who I am.
Adding to all of the chaos and shady business, Roma went to reply to a message from Sister Unity and found that the entire thread had been censored, along with other conversations that had discussed Facebook's name change policy.
Then there's the whole question of "How does Facebook enforce this?" Unlike Google Plus, users don't have to submit photographic proof of identity when they sign up, so it seems to be that enforcement his highly subjective and is going to target people with obvious stage names rather than people who are simply creating a fake profile with a real-sounding name. Enforcement is also very spotty; Roma and some Sisters have been forced to change their names, while other Sisters like Nancy Drew Blood and performers like Heklina have their drag names intact.
A Change.org petition has been started to demand that Facebook allow performers of all types be allowed to use their stage names and is seeking 2,800 signatures. As of right now, Facebook hasn't commented any further on the issue.