Facebook Responds To Open Letter Criticizing 'Real Names' Policy

The changes come after activists criticized the company in an open letter.

Facebook today announced a couple of process improvements meant to smooth the road for those unfairly removed from its service due to its 'real names' policy. The changes are designed to give people caught up in the policy more room to provide context, and will also now require more information from anyone reporting violations.

The policy, which requires people to go by their "authentic name" on Facebook, has been heavily criticized, largely by members of the trans community as well as advocates who find it dangerous to use their real names in their work.

"We want 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," wrote Facebook VP of Growth Alex Schultz in a letter the company released today. "We want to make it easier for people to confirm their name if necessary," he added.

To that end, those required to "confirm" their name to Facebook will now have the ability to add context and details to the cases they make to the company. They were previously unable to do so. "This should help our Community Operations team better understand the situation," said Schultz. "It will also help us better understand the reasons why people can’t currently confirm their name, informing potential changes we make in the future."

The second big change is a new requirement forcing Facebook users who flag others under the policy to provide the company with more information about why they are reporting the profile. The change should add more friction to the reporting process, potentially lessening the likelihood it will be used as a weapon, locking certain people out of their profiles via the name-proving process.

The changes are expected to start rolling out in December.

Despite the introduction of these changes, Facebook is not backing away from the policy, which Schultz argued is making Facebook a safer place. "When people use the name others know them by, they are more accountable for what they say, making it more difficult to hide behind an anonymous name to harass, bully, spam or scam someone else," he said.

Schultz's letter comes in response to an open letter sent to Facebook by a number of groups — including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and ACLU of California — calling Facebook's policy "broken" and demanding it be fixed.

"Facebook maintains a system that disregards the circumstances of users in countries with low levels of internet penetration, exposes its users to danger, disrespects the identities of its users, and curtails free speech," the letter said.

Once someone gets shut out of Facebook for violating the real-names policy, the process of "confirming" an authentic name can be arduous and frustrating. Given that, any process improvement will likely be welcome, though it's difficult to say if it will smooth out the edges enough to make the policy work for everyone.

Here's the full letter:

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