Blog Post

Facebook is under fire from gay and transgender users who are being forced to use real names

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Not that long ago, it looked as though Facebook might be softening its previous stance on real names, with comments from CEO Mark Zuckerberg that suggested he saw the value of anonymity in some cases — and at the same time, the social network has expanded the number of gender-related selections users have to choose from. Despite those moves, however, some gay and transgender users say the site is forcing them to use their birth names or have their pages blocked.

According to the website Queerty, the network has been ordering gay users who registered using their drag personas to either set up a fan page or change to their legal name, and has been asking them to send copies of birth certificates and driver’s licenses to verify their identity. Queerty said it was alerted to the crackdown by Sister Roma, the drag persona of a gay man named Michael Williams, who has been forced to change his account to his given name.

Facebook real names

What’s odd about the move is that Facebook put together a significant PR campaign earlier this year to promote the fact that it had changed the gender-related menu choices for users, offering more than 50 options for the gay and transgendered — something it said was done after much consultation with gay and transgender advocates. In one article, a trans Facebook engineer named Brielle Harrison even talked about how important this option was for people like herself.

Taylor Hatmaker at The Daily Dot says reports have been emerging from a number of gay communities that other users who registered under drag personas like Sister Roma are also being forced to change their names or risk losing their pages. Although setting up a fan page is an option, Hatmaker — who is gay — points out that this isn’t appropriate for many users, and that forcing them to do so or risk being shut out of Facebook altogether is unfair:

Presumably, Facebook wants to shoehorn these personal identities into Pages, like the ones brands and celebrities use. But for queer users more interested in keeping up with friends and building community than collecting followers, it’s an extremely poor fit. Facebook is making an implicit judgment call here, operating off of the hunch that an account in question is not the “true” identity of the user, which is an inappropriate position to begin with.

As Hatmaker and others like ZDNet columnist Violet Blue have noted, pseudonymity is not just a convenience for many gay and transgender users, but is something they are in many cases compelled to use because of threats of violence, or because revealing their identity could put their jobs at risk. Forcing them to use legal names essentially means forcing them not to use Facebook.

[tweet 510546705331130368 hide_thread=’true’]

As Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out during a discussion of the topic on Twitter, the action against Sister Roma and others may not be a sign that Facebook is actively targeting gay men or drag queens, but could be a result of complaints from those who do want to target those individuals, which Facebook then has to pursue. In any case, she says, the policy is unwise.

Facebook and Google+ were both involved in a “real names” crackdown several years ago, saying their networks were designed for real identities and that pseudonyms made bad behavior more likely to occur. Google has since given up on its real-name policy for Google+, but it seems Facebook is still pursuing that goal — even though it may drive some users away.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / Andrea Michele Piacquadio

25 Responses to “Facebook is under fire from gay and transgender users who are being forced to use real names”

  1. Licum Anoos

    What, you mean they are ashamed of their behavior? I thought they were supposed to be proud of what they are and what they do? Obviously they know the shame, know how much people with any sense of tact or morals look down on them and want to hide it. Screw them. No special treatment.

  2. Mustela de Zabulus

    It not just hitting the LGBTG – political and seperation of church and state activists like myself, who have to deal with serious death threats are also being ordered to “show our papers” to Facebook.

  3. Stratocaster

    That Farcebook would require birth certificates and driver licenses is outrageous. I don’t have to give either of those to my bank. Just one more reason not to use Farcebook, and one more reason that they are the single biggest threat to security of personal information.
    I had a FB account under an alias, but I closed it a good while ago, before their IPO.

  4. If you want to be anonymous, Facebook is not the option, nor is the internet, for that matter. It was never intended to be something to hide behind. If you don’t like the exposure, then cancel your account and call your friends when you have a great dinner.

  5. Princess so

    Sadly, its not just the transgender getting hit. Authors have been getting hit hard past 2 months. Some waking up the next day to find their accounts deleted by facebook directly without even giving them a warning or the option to change their published pen name to their real name. while others have their names changed and then locked in by facebook moderators.

    The ‘Page’ ploy is a ridiculous corralling of ‘celeb’ personas, as facebook doesnt allow these pages to be seen in their own right, even ‘payng for boosts’ is a farce, because the views are purely cyber counts, not actual views. So its a wasted investment bth in money and time.

    On top of this, many authors, who dont have StevenKing status, like to communicate with friends and readers alike, and like people of transgender who are feeling the pinch, a page doesnt fit.

    But for sometime Facebook is ceased to be about social networking and more about a metadata of consumers.

  6. Unique Johnson

    How does Facebook determine a name is not real. No ID is required to sign up, fake IDs are easy to generate, and people can readily change their name. Is Facebook going to ask married people to verify that they have or have not changed their name?

    Has anyone verified this or could it be that Sister Roma is the target of a phishing scam? I know of several individuals using Facebook aliases and none have received this notice.

  7. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    Anyone confirm this with actual Facebook or are people getting outraged over scammers that sound really real but are really identity thiefs?

    Facebook doesn’t need your birth certificate or drivers license. Scammers sure would like it though.

  8. wowgreenwinner

    Well, the answer is pretty simple, from the Facebook side…
    Simply add a “Verified Identity” Star to your name, when you “verify that this is you”…

    Problem solved!

  9. This also affects people hiding from abusers. I created a new email and a fake name and have used it for 5 years, to the point that many of my friends call me that name. Forcing me to use my “real name” puts me in a precarious place. I shut my account down and moved to Google+ on the mere principle. How do they know any names are real? They never asked for my ID when I signed up, I am certain many people have used fake names. I would have deleted my account, but conveniently Facebook does not allow you to delete the account completely.

  10. JaredKorry

    ” has been asking them to send copies of birth certificates and driver’s licenses to verify their identity. ”

    The second FB did this to me, I would tell them to shove and delete my account. There is not one single legit reason for FB to need a copy of my birth certificate or driver’s license.

  11. So in other words- facebook has now become anti trans? if you think about it this way (as i explained to a friend) those in drag DO have two parts. but a trans person is one part. so facebook is telling a trans who is transitioning as part of the WPATH- that living 24/7 as your transitioning gender,aint happening here? like for example: in drag- you dress,you go to work and then you come home and undress. a trans on the other hand,doesnt do that. they sleep as their gender,dress,eat,go out. they become their gender. yes those in drag will need a 2nd page for that persona but at least they can still use facebook on either one. the trans community however have to completely ditch their WPATH transition while on facebook? hell no! guess i will be closing my page soon. i hope facebook goes down for this.

  12. Facebook is not a life-essential entity: people can and have lived without it in their lives.

    If Facebook is requiring you to use your real name and you do not want to comply, find and support another website. Use word-of-mouth to popularize that website and make it into a viable option to Facebook.

    There are many websites that will welcome (pseudonymous) persons of the LGBT community as well as any person desiring anonymity.

    Facebook believes it is the only game in town and tend to do things with audacity rather than compassion. Still, you have to right to leave if you don’t like it. Facebook is not a country, state, or city. It is a website.

    The way some people are acting toward Facebook (et al) is akin to a person addicted to heroine: “No matter how much damage to my life it threatens, I must keep using it”.

  13. daddy.bearby

    this in it’s self is a Charlie fox trot waiting to happen and when it falls down around Zukerburg’s ears I am not even going to offer to pick up a single piece because I have a copy writed nick name even tho it is not the name I used on facebook had I opted to do so I’d be threatening a multi million dollar lawsuit because I had to use my legal name and in fact the name I did use herein is not my legal name according to any government document it’s a family nick name I have utilized since childhood and most people know THAT name not my legal name !

  14. Zidders RooFurry

    I know a lot of people in the LGBT community who live in fear of their lives because of the communities they live in. They shouldn’t have to put themselves in harms way just to use a service that allows them to stay in touch with their support network be it a group or group of friends.

    • Sister Unity

      That is true, however doing so does disproportionately affect our community. It must also be said that FB is apparently going after Gay and Trans people and also artists, authors, musicians and performers in ways that 1) remove their rights to self expression (granted FB is an agreed to private venture), and also in ways that endanger LGBT people who have issues with jobs, family and persecution.

    • Scott Meilyk

      “Additionally, many Facebook users – performers or otherwise – use names that are not their “legal names” to help protect their privacy and anonymity, with good reason. Victims of abuse, trans people, queer people who are not able to be safely ‘out,’ and performers alike need to be able to socialize, 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 claims that the restriction on using ‘real’ names ‘helps keep our community safe’ (, but in fact this restriction enables our communities to be attacked and degraded, both online and off.” It’s dangerous, discriminatory, and wrong.

  15. Boreal Explorer

    It’s time to delete your account. Yes, you.

    Think about it. Does Facebook enhance your life or not? For most people, the answer is no – even local bands with hundreds of fans still have to pay to get their posts to users who SIGNED UP TO SEE THOSE POSTS.

    Delete your Facebook account and move on. You’ll be surprised how much you won’t miss it. It’s a crapfountain of 9-month-old “memes” and racist uncles.

    • Zidders RooFurry

      i help moderate a 6K+ member self-harm support group. Because of Facebook I’ve not only been able to make a number of really great friends I’ve also been able to help a lot of people through a lot of difficult situations. The fact is because of Facebook there are a lot of people still here, and doing a lot better now because of people they’ve met via the service.

      You can’t make blanket generalizations like that. Instead of focusing on the great many people who use it to do a lot of good (such as groups like Have A Gay Day or the group I moderate) you’re choosing to focus on the small vocal minority-which is always a mistake or an excuse to hate on something just to hate on it.