Despite Chris Cox, Facebook’s Chief Product Officer, stating yesterday that everyone has the right to use their “authentic identity” rather than their legal name on Facebook, I woke up this morning locked out of my account. A message popped up stating I had to provide a “government issued ID” to change my name back to the only name I’ve used for many years.
Sister Roma has done so much for folks on this issue. Having met with Facebook twice this month, she was able to persuade them to apologize to those that have been outed as a result of the real name policy. Facebook also vowed to change their name policy allowing people to use names they are commonly known as. To my understanding, a number of drag queens in Sister Roma’s circle have had their accounts reinstated and names changed back on the social networking site today. That certainly is a victory for those in the drag queen community but many others are still in the dark wondering how Facebook’s policy change will affect them.
Performers, trans people, those that are hiding from abusers, mental health workers who need to remain anonymous from patients, sex workers, people from small communities with differing views or lifestyles, those who need privacy from employers/risk termination due to their lifestyle, and a whole host of other folks may need to use a name other than their legal name on Facebook. Will everyone who wishes to use a pseudonym on Facebook be able to do so?
According to yesterday’s statement by Chris Cox, “Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess. Part of what’s been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook.”
That works for me because I do use Sunny Megatron as my authentic, all the time name. Friends know me as this name (most have no clue what my legal name is), professionally I am this name, I have a website, e-mail address, web history, and even a TV show with this name attached to it. I can clearly prove Sunny Megatron is my recognized pseudonym both personally and professionally. As of now, however, there isn’t any new system on Facebook to correct that. I have been e-mailing various Facebook e-mail addresses all day trying to get this fixed. This is one of my many messages I sent directly to Facebook:
According to Facebook’s chief Product Officer, Chris Cox, yesterday the name policy has changed to include common use/non-legal names. I am a sexuality educator, LGBT advocate and member of the LGBT community. I am also in the public eye and host a TV show about these topics on Showtime. Sunny Megatron has been my personal and professional name for years and I am not known by any other name in my personal or professional life. In the attached proof of ID file I have included the below letter plus screen grabs from my Showtime Networks TV show page, my website, IMDB, etc. Thanks.
Text from the attached proof of ID file:
“Sunny Megatron is my professional, entertainment and common personally used name and it has been for years. According to Facebook’s apology/policy change yesterday we are allowed to use the name we go by on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t just an entertainment name for me, it is the ONLY name I am known as both professionally and personally. Below I have copied screen grabs from my TV show on Showtime (with my name, Sunny Megatron, in the title), Website, IMDB, etc. My e-mail is also email@example.com. I also have long-time established social media accounts under that name. You can google image search my name and countless images of my face pop up. I cannot have my legal (publicly and personally unused) name known. Because I am in the public eye/TV I have received numerous death threats. I have a family to protect and people can find out where I live if they connected my legal name to my professional/public name (public search, property records, etc). This isn’t just a business/entertainment name, this is the ONLY name I am known as both publicly and privately. I even have a PO box so my mail carrier and passers by cannot connect my legal name with my place of residence. I was quoted in CNN a week ago talking about this: http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/16/living/Facebook-name-policy/ Please let me know what I can do to change my name back to my common/public/personal name, Sunny Megatron. Thanks.
https://twitter.com/SunnyMegatron (since 2009)
After posting about this on Facebook, a friend commented along the lines of, “thank goodness you have your TV show to reference to prove what your authentic name is.” That depressed me even more. I have that but so many others don’t. How would this affect me if this were 5 years ago? Before I was publicly known to use this name? Before the TV show and internet articles to back me up? When I was hiding from an abusive partner who was threatening to kill me and harm my children? Vowing to “ruin my life” and do everything they could to cause me mental and physical distress?
For me, keeping my legal name off the internet has always been a safety issue. It’s the same reason that back in the day I paid extra for an unlisted phone number; only used a last name on my mailbox so people couldn’t identify who I was, my gender, or if I lived alone; or why I always said on my answering machine that “we” aren’t home instead of identifying myself as a woman living by herself.
I have always strayed from using my legal name on social media for these very reasons— because I never knew who I would meet or how they may one day harm me. It sounds so cloak and dagger now, but honestly, to me it’s just part of being a woman living in a fucked up society. Never leave yourself vulnerable because you never know, right?
If my name were something like “Mary Jones,” I don’t think I would be quite as conscious of being exposed. My legal name, however, is very unusual and when googled I’m the first listing (and only one of two) that pops up and that leads to my address, phone number, property records, etc. No matter how hard I try to remove my name from those people finder type sites, another one always seems to pop up again.
My “paranoia” paid off a few years back when I finally mustered up the courage and resources to leave an abusive long term partner. He made numerous threats which prompted me to obtain an order of protection and pursue felony criminal charges. Every social media page I had he monitored so I took solace in the fact that I could hide behind an anonymous name online. For so many people in abusive situations online connections can be a lifeline, I’m not sure how I would have coped if those channels were cut off.
Now I’m in a completely different position. In addition to always wondering if abusive ex will come back to haunt me, I am in the public eye and have my regular rotation of stalkers. They threaten me and my family. Sometimes they are obsessed with me and want to find me. Often they tell me they will find out where I live. That’s pretty scary. Reaching celebrity status has its downside– but it’s that same celebrity status that will likely get my account switched back to my “authentic name.”
What about those that don’t have that level of fame or proof? Not everyone who uses a pseudonym online has a website or email address to back it up. Google+ recently reversed their real name policy after realizing that requiring legal names puts people in harms way. They even went as far as to recognize that allowing people to use alternate names only if those names are established/provable isn’t good enough.
I hope Facebook gets it. Changing their policy to allow people to use only “established pseudonyms” doesn’t cut it. There are many folks that legitimately need to use alternate names for their safety.
Please keep talking about this. Whether it’s tweeting about the issue to Facebook using the #MyNameIs hashtag, writing a blog post, informing others, etc, each little bit helps. Facebook said they’d change their policy but today, the day after they made that promise, countless sexuality educators and friends from Chicago who live alternate lifestyles were locked out of their accounts. These people are not the “bad actors” or spam accounts Chris Cox spoke of. They are simply people trying to interact online as their authentic selves.
UPDATE 10/3/2014: Received this reply back from facebook: “Hello Sunny, I have forwarded the information to the appropriate teams for processing. I am so sorry you’re going through this. Hopefully we can get it squared away soon.” That’s hopeful (for me) but I’m not holding my breath. I’m still left wondering if I had to go through such lengths and show so much proof (and no guarantee that will even work– I’m not reinstated yet), what about people in situations that I listed above whose pseudonym isn’t established enough? I’ll keep you all posted . . .
UPDATE 11/12/2014: after e-mailing everyone under the sun and having Sister Roma do the same on my behalf, a few friends volunteered to contact Facebook via their “help” screen about my issue. The next day I was changed back. Not sure which form of contact did it, or if the timing was purely coincidence, but I’m back listed as my authentic name. It took 5 weeks of waiting but I’m glad it’s been resolved. Thanks to all who helped out!