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Facebook Apologizes For Name Policy That Affected LGBT Community

Facebook has apologized for a policy that drew criticism from LGBT groups after it led to the deactivation of dozens of accounts belonging to drag queens. While the policy itself will stay in place, Facebook says, it will be changing how the rule is enforced.

As we've reported, the policy requires people to use their "real names" on their Facebook profiles (names that could be on a variety of official documents or IDs). Drag queens, who use their stage names, were reported by another user as violating that policy. As drag queens and LGBT-rights groups organized, they found allies in other communities where members use names other than their legal ones for safety reasons, including survivors of domestic violence.

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos — who attended today's meeting with Facebook, activists and LGBT-rights groups, including Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD — called the apology "remarkable and unprecedented."

"We are very grateful to Facebook," he said, adding that he thought Facebook's comments were "heartfelt."

Campos praised Facebook's Chief Product Officer Chris Cox and to the company's gay employees for pushing for change internally.

The name policy itself is not changing — the enforcement mechanisms are. In a lengthy statement on Facebook, Cox wrote:

"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."

He wrote that "an individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these accounts as fake," and that this targeting was not picked up as a pattern among the "several hundred thousand fake name reports we process every single week, 99 percent of which are bad actors doing bad things."

Cox stood by the original "real name" policy — which, by the way, Facebook says is not synonymous with requiring "legal" names. He said the rule helps Facebook stand out amid all the anonymity online and helps keep users safe from anonymous cyberbullying.

San Francisco-based drag queen Sister Roma, who was the first to speak out publicly about being kicked off the site, was named in Cox's statement:

"With this input, we're already underway building better tools for authenticating the Sister Romas of the world while not opening up Facebook to bad actors. And we're taking measures to provide much more deliberate customer service to those accounts that get flagged so that we can manage these in a less abrupt and more thoughtful way."

A protest that had been planned for Thursday in San Francisco will now be a "Victory Rally."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dana Farrington is a digital editor coordinating online coverage on the Washington Desk — from daily stories to visual feature projects to the weekly newsletter. She has been with the NPR Politics team since President Trump's inauguration. Before that, she was among NPR's first engagement editors, managing the homepage for NPR.org and the main social accounts. Dana has also worked as a weekend web producer and editor, and has written on a wide range of topics for NPR, including tech and women's health.
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