Facebook’s Identity Ignorance
Facebook’s Identity Ignorance
When scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, it is not uncommon for me to come across a friend with a name that I don’t immediately recognise. This is not because I’m a Facebook friend hoarder, but because the vast majority of my contacts on social media are reaching the end of their degree courses and are looking to find jobs, so they alter their names in order to make themselves apparently unsearchable to employers. These aren’t major discrepancies; maybe an extra vowel here and there, the substitution of their surname with their middle name, or, most confusingly, a list of capitalised consonants separated by space marks.
Other friends that change their names use their accepted nicknames like Alex, Ellie or Will. This is fine right? Perfectly acceptable and is not against Facebook policy? And if it is, it’s fine for Facebook to tell you that the name which you would like to be known by on social media is unacceptable and if you don’t change it then you’ll be banned.
This is exactly what Facebook is doing, not against Mary Smith who is now searchable as Maary Smiith, Mary Charlotte or M R Y S M T H, but against people who are using their own names; their own registered, legal names. The people affected are those with Native American names.
Facebook has banned a number of Native American users as staff thought that their traditional names were made up, such as Kills the Enemy and Creeping Bear. Indeed, these names are unusual and to someone who is not familiar with Native American culture they may seem humorous and absurd. However, as a global community with over a billion active users, Facebook should not make this mistake. They should have the resources in place to educate their staff so that errors like this, which undermine and mock Native American culture, do not occur, as without the people, Facebook would not exist. As a community which boasts about its inclusivity and accessibility for all, Facebook should provide a platform on which anyone can be identified by the name which they would like to be known by.
It’s not just Native American people’s identity that Facebook is eroding. Last year, the Drag Queen community filed a petition for Facebook to let them use their stage names. Although these are not their legal names, unlike the problem of the Native Americans, they are the names which that community wishes to be recognised by and therefore that should be respected. Facebook recently told a personal friend of mine that her surname was false and that she needed to prove her identity. They were unsatisfied with her response and so she has had to chop off the second part of her double barrelled surname because Facebook didn’t like it.
The importance of authenticity is vital to the work of Facebook; it works as a place where you can interact with friends on the internet as you would in real life. This is the reason for Facebook’s name policy, they want you to know exactly who you are connecting with. However, more work clearly has to be done on this front as in 2012, Facebook estimated that 83 million accounts were under false names.
This inability to be sensitive to Native American culture is important. This is a culture in decline and all that remains of it should be protected. I find it outrageous that Facebook would question the authenticity of someone’s identity so much that in order to retain your membership to the site you have to send the company copies of any legal identification that you possess. Not only does this mock identity it also undermines a basic freedom, the freedom of expression. As far as I’m concerned, as long as no one is pretending to be someone else, in other words stealing identity, then they can go by whatever name pleases them on social media. It’s not like this would see people changing their names every other week as Facebook also has a cap on how many times you can change your name (as another friend found out when her account was changed to a name which mocked and punned on her legal surname. She’s now stuck with an innuendo for a surname for two months).
This whole issue of authentic names doesn’t fit into real life. People use a variety of different names and are often known by names which have nothing to do with the legal name given to them at birth. It is difficult to be compassionate and to filter the pseudonyms from the real names, but it is something that must be done if Facebook wishes to continue to police the names of users.
However, I am calling for an end to this. Users should be allowed to call themselves what they want online, as long as not committing fraud, and Facebook should invest more of their energy into activities which do not marginalise people; such as the eradication of online bullying, cyberscams and CandyCrush invitations.
Madeleine is a final year student at the University of Exeter studying BA English with proficiency in French who has developed her writing and editing through her involvement with Her Campus Exeter. In her free time, Madeleine loves discovering new music in preparation for the UK festival season and searching for opportunities which can broaden her horizons, most recently this was volunteering as a teacher in Beijing, China, where she was immersed in Chinese culture and tradition. There are few things in this world that bring Madeleine more joy than glitter, velvet and sequins and her ideal dinner party guests would be Queen Elizabeth I, George Orwell and Taylor Swift. Currently, with graduation looming, Madeleine is exploring the idea of taking time out to travel the world on a shoe string before embarking upon a career in international humanitarian aid.