There was a time, not too long ago, when nicknames were the common way of identifying people on the internet, and anonymity was the norm. But thanks in part to Facebook and its "real name policy," where only real names are allowed, this is not the case anymore.
Now, a large coalition of digital rights organizations are asking Facebook to drop this policy and stop maintaining a "broken" system that "disregards the circumstances of users in non-western countries, exposes its users to danger, disrespects the identities of its users, and curtails free speech."
The group, which is aptly called the Nameless Coalition, sent an open letter to the social network on Monday. The group has also launched an online petition, open to anyone who wants to support the cause.
Facebook's policy has long been contested by digital rights advocates, who argue it discriminates against minorities such as the LGBTQ community and Native Americans. Many transgender users, as well as tribe members, have had their accounts suspended for not using what Facebook considers to be their real names.
"Facebook knows this policy enables discrimination and imposes blanket cultural norms without regard to local customs or individual identities," Peter Micek, Senior Policy Counsel at Access, one of the organizations that signed the letter, said in a statement. "As it welcomes the next billion people to its platform, Facebook shouldn't require them to conform with strict, senseless standards that are insecurely enforced."
The coalition is requesting Facebook accept pseudonyms and non-legal names in certain circumstances, and allow users to confirm their identities without having to submit their government-issued ID. And because some suspensions are caused by harassers who report Facebook users and accuse them of not using a real name, the coalition warned in the letter—abusing a system that allows for multiple reports without asking for evidence—Facebook is also being asked to create a "robust" appeal process in cases of account suspension.
"Facebook knows this policy enables discrimination and imposes blanket cultural norms."
To support its petition, the coalition sent a long list of examples where some Facebook users, such as transgender men and women, LGBT activists, and even journalists, have had their account suspended for not using the name that appears on their official IDs.
UPDATE, Oct. 5, 4:43 p.m.: A Facebook spokesperson told Motherboard in an email that the company has received the letter and is "reviewing the suggestions."
"As we've said in the past, people on Facebook use the names their friends and family know them by. This means people know who they're communicating with. While we know not everyone likes this approach, our policy against fake names helps make Facebook a safer place by enabling us to detect accounts created for malicious purposes," the spokesperson wrote in the statement. "It makes it harder, for example, for terrorist organizations to hide behind fake profiles, school bullies to anonymously smear the reputations of others, or anyone else to use an anonymous name to harass, scam or engage in criminal behavior."
He also added that Facebook has already introduced some changes over the last year, such as accepting forms of IDs that are not issued by a government, such as a library ID card or a magazine subscription, and that they will "continue to work with the community on improvements," such as other ways to confirm one's identity.