Facebook’s Pride Rainbows Don’t Extend to Trans People’s Names
Facebook in Pride Month is a paradise of rainbow symbols. But some users are angry with the company’s policy of deleting the accounts of trans people using their chosen names.
On June 9, the official [email protected] page announced that any user who liked the page would gain access to a special rainbow flag Pride reaction to supplement the usual array of hearts and emojis. Then, on June 11, Facebook released its official Pride profile picture frame: a rainbow ribbon tied in the shape of a heart for good measure.
The Pride reaction in particular has become an internet sensation, with Facebook users indiscriminately slapping it onto every post they can—especially posts by anti-LGBT public figures, like Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
But not everyone in the LGBT community has reacted to Facebook’s new rainbow regalia with, well, rainbows. Judging from the comments on [email protected] page, it’s clear that discontent with the social media website’s names policy hasn’t entirely faded away—indeed, some transgender users still feel targeted by reporting tools that can require them to undergo an “ID verification experience” to use their chosen names.
“Hey, why don’t you really show support and stop deleting accounts of trans people that are using their chosen names?” wrote one user.
“Pride is more than celebrating,” added another. “How about keeping trans people safe and changing your FB profile name policy to allow trans folk to use whatever name they see fit?”
“Celebrate Pride by not suspending trans peoples’ accounts when they change their name on Facebook before they decide if they even want to update legal documents,” insisted another user, whose comment elicited several hundred sympathetic reactions.
More outrage followed along this same vein. [email protected] responded to these users with a link to a December 2015 post about two new tools that were designed to “reduce the number of people who are asked to verify their name on Facebook when they are already using the name people know them by.”
That December 2015 post came after months of pressure from drag queens, Native Americans, and domestic violence survivors for Facebook to adjust the controversial “real-name policy” under which some accounts were being deleted in the absence of proper identification.
The first of the new tools implemented in 2015 requires users who flag “fake names” to give a more detailed reason for their report—presumably to curb malicious reporting motivated solely by homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry.
The second tool allows users who have had their name flagged by Facebook to privately provide more information about their case, either in an open text field or by checking off a box like “Ethnic minority” or “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.” According to the December 2015 post, this tool allows affected users to receive “more personalized support” while Facebook verifies their names.
But some users may still be asked to submit photo identification proving that they use the same names on Facebook as they do in real life. According to a Facebook help page, these users can either submit one government document like a birth certificate from a list called “Group One” or two forms of documentation like a school ID card or a magazine subscription stub on the “Group Two” list.
The intention is for Facebook users to go by “the name you’re known by”—the one you “use in everyday life.”
The potential problem for transgender users is that there can be delays between choosing a new name and acquiring matching documentation. The names transgender people want to be known by are not always the names they are known by.
Obtaining new “Group One” documents like passports and driver’s licenses can be costly and time-consuming, on top of the court fees for a legal name change.
In fact, 68 percent of respondents to the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey said that none of their documents showed their preferred name and gender, with many of them citing the cost of a name change as a significant barrier.
Although the list of documents on “Group Two” is expansive, some—like bank statements and credit cards—could effectively require transgender people to obtain new “Group One” documents anyway.
Complicating matters even further, “Group Two” documents that would be easier to obtain, like magazine subscription stubs, could out transgender people to others in their household.
In the December 2015 Facebook post, representatives for the company promised “to make improvements until everyone can use the name that their friends and family know them by.”
But what if transgender people want to interact with online friends without coming out to an unaccepting family? In a digital age, social media can be an important part of a gender transition, allowing users to select a new gender or try out a new name without immediately facing real-world discrimination or familial rejection. Being asked to provide identification in the middle of that process can prove especially complicated for transgender people in particularly precarious positions.
As the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted in response to Facebook’s December 2015 post: “No amount of tweaking will address the fact that it leaves the most vulnerable—those who cannot be open with friends and family due to real-life threats—out to dry.”
In response to a request for comment on the complaints about the name policy currently being aired on the rainbow-laden [email protected] page, a company spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the current name policy is an important part of Facebook’s efforts to reduce harassment and bullying on the platform—and that the December 2015 changes have had their intended effect.
“We want to make sure people can use the names they’re known by, whether that’s their legal name or not,” the spokesperson added in a statement. “In 2015, we made improvements to how we enforce our names policy based on feedback from our community. As a result, we’ve reduced the number of inaccurate fake-name reports and made it easier for people to confirm their name if necessary. We continue this work because is important that this policy works for everyone, especially for communities who are marginalized or face discrimination.”