UPDATE (2 October 2014): it would appear that Facebook has belatedly realised that they need to rethink their approach to ‘fake names’ and how to deal with reports they receive about them. I’m leaving this article un-edited, because the points made about psychology and social media still stand. The first part will remain, like a fusty little time-capsule of old news (maybe).
This month’s entry will probably go out of date very quickly, but here goes anyway… one of the stories of September 2014 was the news that drag queens are getting kicked off Facebook, unless they change their accounts to their real names (and/or prove what their real name is). This is a problem, and not just for cross-dressing entertainers.
Mark Zuckerberg simply does not get it, and he’s rich enough not to give two shits about you, either. He does not understand that the world is not a safe and happy enough place for his utopian vision where nobody requires privacy any more:
“You have one identity,” he emphasized three times in a single interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect.” “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.”
He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
It must be great being able to make such simplistic, black-and-white moral judgements without being called on your bullshit (I can see the appeal of founding a religion). He has no need to understand how harmful this attitude is. He’s never faced -or never felt like he’s faced- a situation where he might want to be a little circumspect. Tragically, many other people do.
Instead of these evil, nasty, treacherous, lying, fake names which the saintly, integrity-loving Facebook absolutely loathes, there are other options:
“…we hope that they will decide to confirm their real name, change their name to their real name, or convert their profile to a Page.”
Well, that makes sense in the context of drag queens, doesn’t it? If they violated Facebook’s terms, shouldn’t they play by the rules if they want to stay?
Facebook pages can be created for a limited number of categories: businesses or places; companies, organisations or institutions; brands or products; artists, bands and public figures; entertainment shows; or causes and communities. In theory, if drag queens want to communicate, they can set up a commercial page to promote themselves (cha-ching! for Facebook, no doubt). Of course, if you are a private individual -a quiet cross-dresser, say- who just wants to use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, then none of these categories apply.
The thing is, although Facebook has this policy against fake names, they do not enforce it. For them to delete your profile, someone has to flag your name as fake. And apparently, that’s precisely what someone has done, for pretty much no reason at all, other than some complete prick deciding to troll drag queens.
So, it looks like the rest of us need not worry… for now. The trouble we feared isn’t going to erupt, and the damage is limited to a very specific group. But even so, as RuPaul says,
“…it’s bad policy when Facebook strips the rights of creative individuals who have blossomed into something even more fabulous than the name their mama gave them.”
In December 2013 I gave a talk to Edinburgh Skeptics about social media. In it, I related the study which described how
- Age, gender, occupation, education level, and even personality can be predicted from people’s website browsing logs
- Personality can be predicted based on the contents of personal websites, music collections, Facebook or Twitter data (number of friends or the density of friendship networks or language used by their users)
- Location within a friendship network at Facebook was shown to be predictive of sexual orientation.
To quote the study’s authors:
“…companies, governments, or even one’s Facebook friends could …infer attributes such as intelligence, sexual orientation, or political views that an individual may not have intended to share. Importantly, given the ever-increasing amount of digital traces people leave behind, it becomes difficult for individuals to control which of their attributes are being revealed.”
Facebook wants to collect all this information about you so it can help advertisers target adverts better. You have to be absolutely clear on this: you are not Facebook’s ‘user’, you are not its ‘customer’. You are the product Facebook sells to advertisers. Facebook can make or change the rules at whim and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Don’t like it? Too bad. Facebook has no obligation to keep you happy, beyond financial self-interest. (UPDATE 27th January 2015: you can find out precisely which of your data Facebook share here.)
If I had to close my alter-ego’s Facebook account, it would cause a great deal of hassle setting up a new account and recontacting my friends list, but that would be about the extent of the damage. For others, more dependent on Facebook for communication, community or support, it might be far, far worse. To suggest that people set up alternate social media outlets for themselves may not help matters. Social media is now so pervasive, I doubt there are any simple, or even good-enough answers.
As has been noted elsewhere, your identity encompasses far more than the name you were born with.