The global social network company is relaxing its controversial real name policy that requires users to register their legal name or some variation after civil liberties groups lobbied for changes.
Users must still register their true names defined as what one goes by, but can now defend the use of alternatives if their account is flagged as fraudulent. Those flaggers must also give an explanation as to why they are reporting an account. The function is not yet available but Facebook said in an open letter that it would start testing the new feature by December.
Softening its real name policy is the latest change, and probably most substantial, in a string of improvements in recent weeks likely aimed to perk up the company’s rather flat user engagement rates.
Public criticism of the name policy was fierce, but every time the real-name policy came under scrutiny, CEO Mark Zuckerberg stalwartly defended it. But the company backtracked in a letter penned by the company’s growth vice president Alex Schultz:
“We know the current process does not work for everyone. We are working on several improvements, with two goals in mind: First, we want to reduce the number of people who are asked to verify their name on Facebook, when they are already using the name people know them by. Second, we want to make it easier for people to confirm their name if necessary,” Schultz wrote.
The new policy reverses Facebook’s previous hard-line stance against using pseudonyms in any capacity, and has been criticized for negatively impacting members of the LGBT community and online harassment victims. Facebook previously rejected user profiles for names that seemed inauthentic, and would disable profiles of drag queens and transgender individuals after requesting government identification to verify their names and noticing differences between stage or adopted names and their IDs.
The policy became an issue for national debate in Germany because it violated individual’s privacy rights protected by national law. German regulators with the Hamburg data protection authority determined in July that Facebook’s real-name policy “violated the right to informational self-determination and constitutes a deliberate infringement of the Data Protection Act.”
Facebook contested the decision through a spokesperson saying, “The use of authentic names on Facebook protects people’s privacy and safety by ensuring people know who they’re sharing and connecting with.” That means harassment can be curbed when a person’s identity is known, as they are less likely to engage in negative behavior — a problem that has become rampant on other platforms such as Twitter that have minimal information on their users.
“People feel more comfortable sharing or reaching out knowing that you are the person you say you are,” Facebook’s policy director previously told ThinkProgress.