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Facebook’s indifference to gender freedom and user safety

Unless one exists in perpetual naivety, it is no secret that certain humans willingly inflict the cruelest vitriol against homosexuals. Whilst society and government appear to be becoming more homophobic than ever before, places like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and the like become safe havens, even if their presence is only virtual. This happens through sympathetic communities or anonymity.

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This is not a guaranteed haven and those being attacked have to fight for it with self-assurance or spit the same vitriol at their prosecutors. One way to avoid the attacks, and in the process be oneself without the fear of being chastised for it, is to assume a new identity.

Earlier this year, Facebook appeared to have complete understanding of this, but it seems that it has since gone back on its impressive advancement towards a social media world that is friendly to all. They are forcing transgenders (for example, drag queens) to use their real names.

Facebook introduced a new set of labels to self-identify, offering 50 options including androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender-fluid and transsexual. Following user feedback, the list was bumped up to 70.

Facebook, through their Facebook Diversity community page, sent out this message around that time.

When you come to Facebook to connect with the people, causes, and organizations you care about, we want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self. An important part of this is the expression of gender, especially when it extends beyond the definitions of just “male” or female.” So today, we’re proud to offer a new custom gender option to help you better express your own identity on Facebook.

To add to that, Trans Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison said at the time: “There’s going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world.”

“All too often transgender people like myself and other gender nonconforming people are given this binary option, do you want to be male or female? What is your gender? And it’s kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are.”

“This really changes that, and for the first time I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know what my gender is.”

Months later after that announcement Facebook has gone back on their word.

On Friday, this all came to an end, without any public announcement. Sister Roma, a San Francisco drag personality, updated her profile with a status about how she is being forced to change her personal profile to a name she cannot identify with, Michael Williams.

The status update read:

In light of the new demand by Facebook that we use our “real” names I am considering shutting down my personal page to concentrate on my “FAN PAGE.” I update it an interact as much as I can but I detest the idea of having a fan page. I’m not fucking Britney Spears. I have friends, not fans. At any rate, please follow me there cause this profile may be coming to an end.

This latest development is not only a step backwards for Facebook but it is also a betrayal to its users.

In a lukewarm response, Facebook has defended their position:

If people want to use an alternative name on Facebook, they have several different options available to them, including providing an alias under their name on their profile, or creating a Page specifically for that alternative persona. As part of our overall standards, we ask that people who use Facebook provide their real name on their profile.

Forcing people to create a page for their alternative persona serves Facebook and not its users. A page only reaches a few of its fan page followers. The only way to reach a large number of followers, is if the page owner pays to promote that page. Facebook has not admitted that this move is financially motivated, and waiting for a comment may never be a fruitful venture.

Whatever the reason is behind this move, it cannot be more important than people’s lives. But we will only know that reason when Facebook stops being elusive and tells us the truth, and nothing but the truth.

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