Victory for drag queens in their fight against Facebook

October 1, 2014, 11:20 PM UTC
Electronic cables are silhouetted next to the logo of Facebook in this illustration photo in Sarajevo
Electronic cables are silhouetted next to the logo of Facebook in this September 23, 2014 illustration photo in Sarajevo. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: BUSINESS TELECOMS) - RTR47HVX
Photograph by Dado Ruvic — Reuters

Chalk up a win for the drag queens in their fight against Facebook and its policy requiring that people use their real names on the service.

The social networking giant said Wednesday that it will loosen its “real name” policy to let drag queens and others who use stage names to do so on the website.

The change comes after Facebook faced withering criticism for cracking down on drag queens who use creative names on the service. Leaders of the protest included Sister Roma and Lil Miss Hot Mess, who complained of being told by the company that their profiles would be deleted without proper identification.

“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,” Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.

The flap began after someone reported several hundred drag queen accounts as being fake, Cox said, setting into motion Facebook’s standard process of asking users to verify their identities. Facebook’s real name policy is intended to prevent impersonation, domestic abuse, and bullying.

“We’ve had this policy for over 10 years, and until recently it’s done a good job of creating a safe community without inadvertently harming groups like what happened here,” Cox wrote.

He promised that Facebook (FB) would create a new system to verify accounts that have been flagged as fake by other users. The company is already building better tools for verifying the Sister Romas of the world while not opening up Facebook to bad actors, he said.

A petition through the website called on Facebook to allow users who are performers to maintain profiles under their stage names. The petition gathered more than 36,000 online signatures. San Francisco Supervisor David Campos also joined the protest.

“The drag queens spoke and Facebook listened,” San Francisco Supervisor Campos said Wednesday in a statement praising Facebook’s change in policy.

Cox, from Facebook, also clarified that the website’s policy has never required users to be listed under their legal names.

“The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life,” Cox said. “For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess.”

Facebook has recently been fighting to slow the steady stream of users defecting from its own platform to join new rival social media startups like Ello, which eschews advertisements and has taken public aim at Mark Zuckerberg’s company. And, apparently, Facebook decided that drag queens are one group of users that the social media giant could not afford to lose to a rival platform – especially since the broader LGBT community was outspoken in its support of the “real name” protest. Ello, which requires new users to be invited to join, was reportedly receiving more than 30,000 membership requests per hour last week.