Facebook has no plans to end its controversial "real name" policy, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the policy can work for those in the trans community advocating for its removal.
In a Tuesday Q&A with the public on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg addressed the policy, suggesting it has been misinterpreted in some cases.
"There is some confusion about what our policy actually is," Zuckerberg said in response to a question from BuzzFeed News. "Real name does not mean your legal name. Your real name is whatever you go by and what your friends call you,"
The policy has been a target of criticism for some time. Many members of the trans community go by names different than those given to them at birth and have been kicked off Facebook for using them.
"If you're a marginalised person, such as a trans person, you may be left with no way to get back on," a former Facebook employee named Zip wrote in a recent post to Medium. "Facebook [has] handed an enormous hammer to those who would like to silence us, and time after time I see that hammer coming down on trans women who have just stepped out of line by suggesting that perhaps we're being mistreated."
On Tuesday afternoon, Zuckerberg explained that Facebook does allow names other than legal ones. "If your friends all call you by a nickname and you want to use that name on Facebook, you should be able to do that," he said. In this case, he said, the policy "should be able to support everyone using their own real names, including everyone in the transgender community."
The operative word in the sentence is "should." Though Zuckerberg articulated Facebook's official policy, the execution of that policy has been uneven, according to multiple accounts, including that of Zip.
Zuckerberg also mentioned an internal effort to improve the current system. "We are working on better and more ways for people to show us what their real name is so we can both keep this policy which protects so many people in our community while also serving the transgender community," he said.
The "real name" policy became a focal point of protests at this past weekend's Pride celebrations in San Francisco. Activists circulated a petition to ban Facebook from the celebration and some marchers walked with "Shame on FB" signs. Zip urged people to #LogOffForPride and stop using the platform during pride celebrations.
"It's an insult that Facebook is sponsoring Pride in SF, marching and flying the rainbow flag and helping everyone change their profile picture, when they cannot fix this simple thing," Zip wrote.
Here's the full answer: This is an important question. Real names are an important part of how our community works for a couple of reasons.First, it helps keep people safe. We know that people are much less likely to try to act abusively towards other members of our community when they're using their real names. There are plenty of cases -- for example, a woman leaving an abusive relationship and trying to avoid her violent ex-husband -- where preventing the ex-husband from creating profiles with fake names and harassing her is important. As long as he's using his real name, she can easily block him.Second, real names help make the service easier to use. People use Facebook to look up friends and people they meet all the time. This is easy because you can just type their name into search and find them. This becomes much harder if people don't use their real names.That said, there is some confusion about what our policy actually is. Real name does not mean your legal name. Your real name is whatever you go by and what your friends call you. If your friends all call you by a nickname and you want to use that name on Facebook, you should be able to do that. In this way, we should be able to support everyone using their own real names, including everyone in the transgender community. We are working on better and more ways for people to show us what their real name is so we can both keep this policy which protects so many people in our community while also serving the transgender community.