Facebook arrives at commonsense 'real names' policy

And it only took six months

Facebook has announced a revised, and some would say commonsense, version of its "real names" policy that introduces a little grey into its previous black-and-white efforts.

Having taken six months to come up with a solution, the social media giant has outlined what most policy wonks would have written on a paper napkin within 15 minutes: the ability to self-identify within a limited range of exceptions.

Facebook efforts to force everyone to use their actual names when signing up for an account was in response to the fact that an increasingly large number of accounts are fake and are used to drive traffic for profit.

Facebook correctly surmised that people would be less likely to try to abuse its systems if they weren't anonymous. It then expanded its privacy settings in an effort to get people more control over what happens to the information they share and who gets to see it. But then the company took the policy a step too far when it started shutting people out of their accounts.

It didn't take long for the angry exceptions to mount up: people concerned about being stalked; performers with stage names; dissidents, people fleeing abuse, and so on.

Facebook's response was initially to ignore the complaints and insist on its policy, telling users that it knew what was best for them: an approach that started to annoy its larger customer base and even drew the attention of the authorities.

The new approach hopes to draw a line under the problems both by expanding the reporting system and giving people a way to self-report the fact that they are not using their real name.

Now, if someone goes to report a user that they suspect is not using their real name, they are presented with four options:

  • This profile doesn't represent a real person
  • They're using my or someone else's name or photos
  • They're using a name that they don't go by in real life
  • Other

Likewise, if someone is asked to verify their name, they are also given more granular options. "Do you identify with any of these options?" the company will ask:

  • Affected by abuse, stalking, or bullying
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer
  • Ethnic minority
  • Other

In each case, the user and reporter are able to add details.

This approach, which the company is rolling out initially only in the US, should give Facebook employees significantly greater details to make a decision on people's accounts, and so hopefully prevent the unannounced shutting down of accounts that has so infuriated some. ®

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