This week, the relationship between Facebook and many of its users went from “like” to “it’s complicated”. Although the policy has been in place for some time, the social network has declared that it will now be clamping down on those who it suspects are not using their “real name”.
In less than two weeks, those who Facebook decides are not using a name consistent with one on their credit card, driver’s license or student ID will have their account deactivated. Other names can be used as a first or middle name but only “if they’re a variation of the real first or last name (like Bob instead of Robert)”. Those unwilling to change their name are (ill-)advised by the website to set up a Facebook Page. This sudden move has disproportionally affected the LGBTQIA community – thousands of whom are not willing or ready to come out to those around them or feel comfortable with their birth names – and cabaret performers, most of whom use pseudonyms.
If carried through, this re-naming could be catastrophic for the variety scene providing challenges for those both on and off stage. Since Time Out London abandoned its coverage in December 2013, Facebook has been the hands down best place to find, share and comment on information about cabaret productions and performers. The London Cabaret Festival was founded there and it is usually where shows are first announced. Stage acts can keep their dual identities and their distance and still directly communicate with fans and colleagues in safety and with a depth of discourse not afforded by Twitter’s 140 character limit. Moreover, for many acts, their name is their brand. Who would think of looking up Heather Sweet when they really want to connect with Dita Von Teese?
This could be Facebook’s latest experiment but, if so, it has seriously backfired. Sister Roma and her Bay Area drag queen colleagues in The Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence are leading a global wave of disapproval and taking it to the San Francisco-based company’s front door and beyond. Under the hashtag #MyNameIs, supporters around the world inside and outside the performing community have demonstrated solidarity. Bianca del Rio, winner of Ru Paul’s Drag Race Season 6, posted on Facebook her own reaction.
It should be noted that this “real names” wild-goose chase is neither new nor likely to succeed. Blizzard (the creators of the wildly popular World of Warcraft) tried it on with millions of gamers in 2010. They lost. Google+ wanted everyone to abandon fake monikers in 2011. They gave up in July 2014. The United States Department of Justice asked three years ago for powers to prosecute people who provide false information to websites. They’re still waiting. In a rare burst of common sense, the UK government has advised internet users to give fake names. Given the recent history, Facebook will be fortunate to win this latest round of what have been named the Nymwars.
Every reaction, though, has an equal and opposite reaction. Some internet users are taking it upon themselves to give the Facebook police a helping hand in their misguided actions. On Twitter, @RealNamePolice is busy “supplying you with the Facebook accounts to report with fake names” and asking followers to “report all #MyNameIs violators of Facebook’s Real Name policy.” Over on the website secret.ly another anonymous scrote has announced their own crusade saying “I’m the one reporting all the drag queens to Facebook” and making some disturbing comments:
They broke the rulez. Fuck’em
It isn’t their “right” to use their chosen name on a Facebook. Stop using the word “right.” Facebook is a service and if you don’t follow their rules, it is their right to kick you off. No where is it your right to break the TOS you agreed to. By myself and others reporting you, we are simply trying to make Facebook a safer place from bullying and harassment and Facebook feels that if everyone on there uses their real name that the goal of a safe space is achieved. So I’m not bullying you, I’m trying to make Facebook better and a safe space.
It is so easy to find more fake names. Just look through the comments and likes on these performers accounts and you can find hundreds to report. Bye bye fakers.
Yes! Facebook is not backing down. Now to report all you Queens who put your drag name as your middle name, which is also against the Real Name policy.
Oh no I’m very serious. Spent most of my time at work past 3 days reporting Queens.
Every [drag queen] I can find. Facebook is enforcing their Real Name policy. No stage names for profiles and these bitches are finally being put in their place and forced to setup a fan page.
His name is Michael Williams. Sister Roma is a character he performs. Sister Roma gets paid for gigs and as such is a business and needs a business / fan page.
Fuck the sisters. If they use fake names, they are violating the policy and get reported. If you don’t like the rules, get off the network.
More as we get it. Meanwhile, a petition entitled “Allow performers to use their stage names on their Facebook accounts!” has been set up on change.org which so far has over 28,000 supporters.