Two different items on Facebook in the last week have prompted this post. One talked about about Facebook’s lack of anything resembling a “due process” when users are locked out of accounts. It can happen immediately, and without a discernible cause, and getting accounts reinstated is difficult.
The second is the story of a group of drag queens’ fight to use their stage name after being told that they’d have to go by their legal name from now on. Facebook’s response to the protest was to reiterate its real name policy: “as part of our overall standards, we ask that people who use Facebook provide their real name on their profile.”
Zuckerberg’s quote about anonymity also resurfaced: “You have one identity… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” This, in turn, brought more supporters to the anonymity argument. There are many reasons someone would use an alias, as shown in the graphic on the right. A need for an alternative identity on Facebook is necessary for many different cases and most are without any malicious intent.
Facebook’s response to these problems are to go back to its Terms of Service saying that if users don’t want to use Facebook according to the Terms, then don’t use it at all. That and “if you violate the letter or spirit of this Statement, or otherwise create risk or possible legal exposure for us, we can stop providing all or part of Facebook to you.”
My problem with this approach is that while legally correct it creates more questions than it answers. Facebook is more than just an app or a place we go to read the news. It’s bigger than that. Facebook is many things: it’s a way to stay in touch with family, friends, coworkers, classmates, colleagues, and so on. It’s a way to share your life with these people and, beyond the site itself, it’s a way to be identified on other sites and apps that offer Facebook commenting and login as an alternative to registration. This is why, at the risk of sounding a bit pompous, in modern society a Facebook profile and presence is de rigeur. In fact, hiring companies often look at a candidate’s profile before hiring and not having such a profile is considered a warning sign. “Organizations (77%) are increasingly using social networking sites for recruiting, primarily as a way to attract passive job candidates” says the Society for Human Resource Managers.
My point is that for many people Facebook isn’t optional, and Facebook telling users to “play by our rules, or else!” is unfair to users.
Both of these companies provide a unique, much-in-demand service. One that we have grown to rely on even as we realize that it may be unwise as users to rely on a service that can be taken away at will.
There are some remedies here:
- Care. The networks can become more responsive to users, consider different cases and otherwise have a way to serve them. Remember, even if the users are not the paying customers of the network, they are the ones the customers are paying to reach. Treat them kindly. As Sister Roma said: “Facebook knows everything about all of us. They can easily tell the difference between someone trying to deceive other people for personal or predatory purposes. There are already processes in place to report trolls, spam, and other abuses. They need to fine-tune the process and realize that being given a name doesn’t make it real. Real names are chosen.” Maybe it’s time to create a real user support channel and not treat all users exactly the same.
- Pay. Have users become customers and have a say in their social identity. If it is important to get a personal inspection of your profile and unique exemptions, pay for that process. LinkedIn has this passive user vs. active user approach already, offering different subscription options to different user types.
- Regulate. Though I really, really, really hate to see government involvement in tech, maybe self-regulation isn’t working any more. Is Facebook too big and too much of a unique service (read: monopoly) to decide on the rules? I sincerely hope not.
Hopefully, Facebook will realize that not all users are the same or that they need to be treated the same. They’ll realize that just as they intended, they’ve become a significant part of their user’s life, and that that achievement should be celebrated, not stomped on.