Facebook's 'Authentic Name' Policy Faces New Questions

Writer Salman Rushdie became one of the best-known victims of Facebook's infamous “real name” policy in 2011, when the social networking service took down his profile due to doubts that it was genuine.

Rushdie reported on Twitter that he had to send a photo of his passport page to get back his profile page. Even then, the process wasn't smooth. 

When Facebook initially restored the account, it did so under the name “Ahmed Rushdie,” reflecting the author's “real” name.“ They have reactivated my FB page as 'Ahmed Rushdie,' in spite of the world knowing me as Salman. Morons,” he famously tweeted at the time.

The Satanic Verses author, whose middle name is “Salman,” eventually got his identity back on Facebook.

But the company continues to run into problems with its policies. Most recently, it came to light last week that Facebook is challenging some Native Americans about their names.

Lakota woman Dana Lone Hill brought the issue to attention when she wrote that Facebook took down her page due to its doubts about whether her name was genuine. She got her page back, but only after one week of aggravation.

Hill isn't alone. Facebook apparently has been questioning the accuracy of Native American users' names on Facebook for at least six years, according to Colorlines.

The digital rights groups Electronic Frontier Foundation -- which previously called on Facebook to abandon its policies and allow people to create profiles under pen names -- points out the procedural problems with Facebook's current approach.

One is that Facebook locks people out of their accounts without first warning them of questions about their names. The EFF is calling on Facebook to change that practice.

“Users should still be able log in to their account after being reported. This would give users a chance to warn their friends that their profile may become inactive and to download their account’s content,” the organization argues.

The organization also is urging Facebook to examine its reporting policies, which allow a single account to accuse numerous people of real-name violations.

“In the past, Facebook groups have been created specifically for the purpose of reporting accounts, and in Vietnam government supporters have organized reporting sprees against political activists,” the EFF writes.

The digital rights group proposes that Facebook should target reporting sprees, possibly by limiting the number of reports that one account can make. “Without putting more controls on how people can report profiles, Facebook has given any user the ability to decide that they are the arbiter of someone else’s name -- even when that name represents centuries of cultural tradition,” the group says.

For its part, Facebook says through a spokesperson that it's standing by the anti-pseudonym policy on the grounds that requiring actual names makes users “more accountable,” while also helping the company “root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation and hate speech.”

The spokesperson adds that the company has made improvements in implementing its policy, but acknowledges that the company still has “more work to do.”


4 comments about "Facebook's 'Authentic Name' Policy Faces New Questions".
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  1. Chuck Lantz from, network, February 16, 2015 at 6:44 p.m.

    It's painfully obvious that FaceBook has not thought this thing through. And "policy" is the word used as a blanket excuse to hide behind after suffering the effects of not thinking things through.

  2. Taylor Enriquez from Arizona State University, February 16, 2015 at 8:43 p.m.

    I believe that this argument could go either way. I feel like Facebook means well behind the whole thought of protecting their users, but just needs to further organize this policy so there are not so many open spaces for error to seep in. I can understand that they created this policy to sustain from any fowl play on another person’s life but kicking people out of their accounts for having a not "normal" name is leading into racial profiling. I think if they are going to block someone from entering their profile it should be based off of just reasoning and evidence.

  3. Erik Sass from none, February 17, 2015 at 7:26 p.m.

    Some of the problem may also be due to the fact that whoever is making these judgments isn't familiar with, for example, Native American naming conventions. I believe any reasonably well-educated American would know that these names often incorporate geographic, animal, and other natural descriptives. However if the person trying to decide is from overseas (i.e. an outsourced contractor) they may not know this.

  4. Chuck Lantz from, network, February 17, 2015 at 10:23 p.m.

    Erik; With all due respect, shouldn't an individual or company hired to check for "real" names at a worldwide entity as large as FaceBook either already be familiar with cultural or geographic naming customs, or at least be intelligent enough to do some research before making such potentially harmful decisions? It's not rocket surgery, after all. That being said, I have to admit that even my own, USA-founded and based, Very Huge Bank has senior managers who still question me at least once a week about my use of the name "Chuck" when my account clearly says "Charles."

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