In a victory for Facebook users who used assumed names and whose accounts were abruptly suspended on Sept. 11, Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, who met with a coalition of LGBT activists unhappy with Facebook’s "real-name" policy on Wednesday, apologized in a Facebook post after the meeting. Unnamed sources had earlier tipped Valleywag about the meeting and its expected outcome.
In the post, Cox apologized for creating “hardship” for those affected by the policy; explained that the policy was intended to protect its users rather than to force anyone to use his or her legal name; and promised to update the tools it previously used to authenticate identities so that Facebook users could continue to use the assumed names they always had.
“In the two weeks since the real-name policy issues surfaced,” Cox wrote, “we've had the chance to hear from many of you in these communities and understand the policy more clearly as you experience it. We've also come to understand how painful this has been. We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we're going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were.”
Cox’s apology specifically addressed members of the LGBT community whose profiles were affected by the policy. “I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we've put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks.”
Cox wrote that the real-name policy was instituted after an individual reported evidence of more than 100 fake profiles. He wrote that Facebook reviewed them as it has for 10 years – by requesting a form of ID -- in order to create a community safe from anonymous harassers, stalkers and impersonators. ”Until recently it's done a good job of creating a safe community without inadvertently harming groups like what happened here,” he said.
In what is arguably a contradiction of the actual real-name policy, Cox claimed that “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." Sister Roma and Lil Miss Hot Mess are drag queens, the former for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a charity performance group. In fact, its “real name” policy states that users must employ a “real name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver’s license or student ID” or risk having the relevant account deleted.
He said that Facebook would focus on improving the “tools for understanding who's real and who's not, and the customer service for anyone who's affected” and that they were working to “[build] better tools for authenticating the Sister Romas of the world while not opening up Facebook to bad actors.”
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation had representatives at the meeting. Later, GLAAD published a statement on its website: “GLAAD was happy to participate in this meeting with Facebook, and we look forward to working with them and the coalition partners on implementing a solution that allows people to be their authentic selves on Facebook.”