Facebook apologizes to LGBT community over real-name policy

Responding to widespread protests, Facebook ended its crackdown on accounts from people not using their real names. Meanwhile, new social media site, Ello, reaches out to LGBTQ community to move their accounts.

Mike Segar/Reuters/File
Facebook's Chris Cox delivers a keynote address at a global event for marketers in New York City on Feb. 29, 2012.

Facebook is sorry.  

The company's Chief Product Officer Chris Cox apologized to the LGBT community in a statement Wednesday for the 'hardship' created by requiring Facebook users to use their legal names. The real-name policy says users must use a name "as it would be listed on your credit card, driver's license or student ID" or their account could be deleted.  

There was a backlash. A widespread protest campaign was launched, notably from members of the LGBT community, but also from people who feel unsafe using their real names on the Internet.  

"I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we've put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks," Mr. Cox said, in a Facebook post after the meeting

Two weeks ago, Facebook began cracking down on the accounts of hundreds of people using nicknames, stage names, or drag names. Members of the LGBT community who for years could use their name of preference were forced to switch to their real names. Sister Roma, a leader of the San Francisco-based Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence advocacy group and an outspoken member of the LGBT community, had to instead use the name Michael Williams. She has been a vocal leader in the movement against the real-name policy. 

"I was automatically logged out and told my account was suspended because it appears that I'm not using my real name," Sister Roma told the Daily Dot. "I was instructed to log in and forced to change the name on my profile to my legal name, like the one that appears on your drivers' license or credit card."

Cox says Facebook never intended to go after members of the LGBT community. Rather, he says these accounts were reported along with the many other fake accounts Facebook targets each week, "99 percent of which are bad things" such as Internet trolling, cyberbullying, and impersonation. According to Cox, Facebook has maintained since its inception that people should use the "authentic" names that they use in real life. "For Sister Roma, that's Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that's Lil Miss Hot Mess," he says in the post, noting the goal is to foster a safe community. 

Cox has not yet said how Facebook's name policy will change. But he did mention that the company is "already underway building better tools for authenticating the Sister Romas of the world while not opening up Facebook to bad actors." What exactly these tools are remains unclear. 

This announcement also comes amid anticipation over the new social media site, Ello, which is positioning itself as a kind of anti-Facebook, with no ads and no name requirements. As disgruntled Facebook users have bemoaned the requirement of real names, among other grievances, many are looking to Ello as a more welcoming alternative.

After Facebook disabled LGBT accounts, the Daily Dot stated, "The great gay Facebook exodus begins." And Ello founder Paul Budnitz has said the site welcomes the LGBT community. "Ello welcomes the LGBTQ community and we're very excited to see so many people moving over!" he told the Daily Dot. 

According to Mr. Budnitz, the site, still in beta testing, has been signing up new users at a rate of 4,000 people per hour, though the Washington Post noted that number could not be independently verified. 

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