Facebook is making big changes to its real name policy. Starting Tuesday, the company will revamp its name verification process, asking people reporting fake names to provide more evidence to back up their claims. It will also give those accused of using a fake name more ways to respond to the charge and said it will give more consideration to special circumstances — such as when a user may be trying to avoid an abusive partner.
Options to report a fake name include "this profile doesn't represent a real person" and "they're using my or someone else's name or photos."
Name verification has also changed. Facebook now asks for further information when verifying a user's name, asking whether the user is an ethnic minority, affected by abuse or a range of other circumstances that should be taken into consideration.
Facebook's previous policy attracted strong criticism from campaigners, who pointed to cases where users may not want to use their real name online. Victims of abuse, for example, may not want to identify themselves.
The issue has plagued Facebook for years, and the company's previous response to concerns has been found wanting. CEO Mark Zuckerberg was slammed by campaigners in 2010 when he said having two identities was an example of "a lack of integrity." The quote was widely circulated and criticized. "Once you start questioning people’s integrity for simply wanting to manage their identities online, that’s crossing a line," said Michael Zimmer, associate professor at the University of Wisconson-Milwaukee and a privacy scholar.
Facebook has previously locked users out of accounts, even when their legal name matches their online alias. A woman called Jemma Rogers from southeast London was locked out of her account in August because her Facebook name was "Jemmaroid Von Laalaa." The company refused to unlock her account, even after she changed her name to her Facebook name through a deed poll.
Zuckerberg told Buzzfeed in June that "real name" is not the same as legal name. "Your real name is whatever you go by and what your friends call you," he said.