Facebook to alter controversial ‘real name’ policy

Social network promises improvements to how names are verified – but defends policy on safety grounds

Facebook has promised to tweak its policy that demands members use their real or “authentic” names on profiles, following a backlash from advocacy groups.

The social network’s “real names” policy, which Facebook says requires users to use the names that friends and family know them by, is strictly enforced, with the company saying it helps to root out online bullying and makes users more accountable.

However, the policy has seen many users suspended from Facebook despite using authentic names, with online trolls taking advantage of it to report sections of users. Transgender individuals who have chosen a new name to match the gender they identify with say they have been affected by the policy, as have drag queens and Native Americans.

In response to criticism from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union, Facebook’s Alex Schultz said the company would add new tools that improve how users confirm their name on Facebook when signing up, and make it more difficult for trolls to target individuals.

When users are asked to confirm their name – which it can do when users are reported or when a moderator questions an account – they will be allowed to add additional details to provide context. Secondly, people that want to report profiles for using non-authentic names (a process which advocates say has been abused) will have to provide additional information about why they are reporting an account.

Schultz said the new changes would begin testing in December. It is the latest in a series of tweaks to Facebook’s real names policy, which include it demanding “authentic” rather than “real” names, and allowing users to verify names using more methods than just government IDs.

Last year, after a public outcry, Facebook’s Chris Cox apologised to affected users after an individual reported hundreds of accounts as fake, resulting in several being suspended.

However, Facebook is not dropping the policy, and Schultz defended it, saying it made users safer. “We require people to use the name on Facebook that their friends and family know them by, and we’ll continue to do so,” he said.

“From experience, we know this policy helps make Facebook safer. When people use the name others know them by, they are more accountable for what they say, making itmore difficult to hide behind an anonymous name to harass, bully, spam or scam someone else.

“A review of our reports from earlier this year showed that bullying, harassment or other abuseon Facebook is eight times more likely to be committed by people using names other than their own than by the rest of the Facebook community.”

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