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Facebook to drag queens: 'Sorry for forcing you to use your real names'

“By forcing us to use our ‘real’ names, it opens the door to abuse and violence.”

Drag queens Lil Ms. Hot Mess, Sister Roma and Heklina, protest the Facebook policy at City Hall in San Francisco. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

FACEBOOK HAS APOLOGISED to drag queens and members of the transgender community for a recent crackdown which forced them to either use their real names or set up a separate page on the social network.

In a statement last night, Facebook’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox spoke about the “hardship” caused to some users:

I want to apologise to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbours, 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.

Last month, an unnamed individual reported as fake “several hundred” Facebook accounts belonging to drag performers and LGBT people.

These reports were among the several hundred thousand fake name reports we process every single week, 99 percent of which are bad actors doing bad things: impersonation, bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams, hate speech, and more — so we didn’t notice the pattern.

Facebook Event Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Over the last few weeks, the company began contacting the affected individuals, giving them a two-week ultimatum to use their real names, which caused widespread outrage.

Olivia LaGarce, a drag performer in Seattle, Washington, last month published a petition to allow performers to use their stage names on Facebook, which has garnered more than 36,000 signatures.

In her statement, she explained the problem with the policy:

Victims of abuse, trans people, queer people who are not able to be safely “out,” and performers alike need to be able to socialise, connect, and build communities on social media safely.
By forcing us to use our “real” names, it opens the door to harassment, abuse, and violence.

Facebook has a policy requiring members to use their real names, which it says is intended to discourage bullying, abuse and imposter accounts.

Cox clarified in his statement, however, that this policy doesn’t necessarily involve legal names, but rather “the authentic name [you] use in real life.”

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While apologising to affected users, and promising to “fix the way this policy gets handled,” Cox defended the real-name rule, and explained the rationale behind it.

It’s the primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm.
The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names, and it’s both terrifying and sad.
Our ability to successfully protect against them with this policy has borne out the reality that this policy, on balance, and when applied carefully, is a very powerful force for good.

Facebook Drag Queens Drag queen Sister Roma protests Facebook's policy at City Hall in San Francisco. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

The company’s apology has been welcomed by some prominent drag performers throughout the world.

Panti Bliss, aka Rory O’Neill, last night posted about the inconvenience of users being forced to switch to pages – which don’t allow the same interaction as a personal account.

Sister Roma, a drag queen in San Francisco (pictured above), had campaigned against the move in recent weeks, after being forced to use the name Michael Williams on her personal page.

Last night, however, she gave a cautious welcome to Facebook’s apology:

I sincerely believe that Facebook hears our concerns and I know that they have been working diligently to explore ways to modify their policies and procedures globally to create an authentic and safe environment for all users.

Read: Facebook Ireland ordered to respond to privacy lawsuit within four weeks>

Watch: Panti talks homophobia in Amnesty video>

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