Facebook real name policy must go

Tommy Collison, Opinion Editor

Every few months, a story surfaces of someone being kicked off Facebook for refusing to adhere to a little-known, sporadically enforced policy that requires users to use their “real name” in their profiles. The summer saw two high-profile cases of blocked Facebook accounts: Laurie Penny, a British journalist who uses a pseudonym due to the rape and death threats she regularly receives; and Zip, a former Facebook employee who had used her name for six years through her employment, both had their accounts deactivated. However, German regulators have forced Facebook to stop enforcing the rule, claiming that banning users from using alternate names and pseudonyms violates German law. This is a step in the right direction, but change must come from within: Facebook should drop their real name policy entirely.

Facebook’s rationale for the policy stems from their belief that real names push up user engagement on the site. Facebook is inherently less valuable if you cannot easily find your friends or the cute person you just met at a bar. But not only that — Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg cannot fathom why someone would have two names. “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity,” Zuckerberg said in an interview. He has also said that privacy is no longer a “social norm” people care about. This is a belief that benefits Facebook but is incorrect and should be abandoned.

There are plenty of reasons people may not use their real name online. Facebook is positioning itself as the gatekeeper of our social interactions: if everyone at NYU knows me by a nickname and not “Tommy,” it should not be Facebook’s decision which name I use on the site. Alternatively, users could be transitioning, closeted or victims of stalking or domestic violence who want to use the site for support and outreach without leaving themselves vulnerable to their abusers. They could also be Native Americans, whose accounts have been suspended by the social network in the past. Facebook seems to have a pre-existing idea of what a name should be, and “Dana Lone Hill” does not fit the idea. Suspending accounts for this reason in no way Facebook’s jurisdiction, and this odious practice must stop.

On an iPhone, if you ask Siri how old “Bruce Jenner” is, it will correct you and say that Caitlyn Jenner is 65 years old. If you type “Bruce Jenner” into Wikipedia, the site redirects you to the article on Caitlyn Jenner. These subtle shifts, prompting users to refer to and see Jenner by the name she has chosen, is an example of how technology is not neutral, and can shape our realities. Last year, Facebook introduced custom genders, allowing users to identify as genders other than “male” and “female.” They must now take the next step and end their toxic real name policy.


Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Tommy Collison at [email protected]



  1. I agree. I recently had this happen to me. I reverted to my maiden name more than 40 years ago after fleeing an abusive relationship. Since then, I own property in my “fake” name, publish under this name, and remarried using this name.

    I am now a patient in a hospice, and the only current ID I have is my hospice patient ID. When I sent a copy to Facebook, they had the audacity to tell me that my ID is not “real.” That, despite the fact that my sons own the facility, so I can assure all involved that it is legitimate.

    It would have been nice to be able to stay in touch with friends in these, my final weeks of life. But I don’t want to waste my time squabbling over this inane policy.

  2. Same has happened to me. I’m a cancer patient with a 5 year life expectancy, not only did I show info validating me within their guidelines… I’ve had the account since MySpace swandived. They locked me out of my personal account, as well as the secondary account I created to access my fan page with my “government approved” middle names. ( YET they email me constantly that this middle name account is missing stuff) …Their reasoning is ridiculous…the discontent from my cancer support groups, friends and loved ones has been cruel and painful but in the end my RIGHT to call and define MY self for and by myself ….is my right to my last breath.

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