Skip to content
Naked Security Naked Security

Facebook finally changes real-name policy

The policy isn't going away, but Facebook is addressing multiple complaints, including en masse account flagging.


Facebook on Friday finally changed the real-name policy that has made using the service difficult for drag queens, the LGBTQ community, Native Americans, those who use pseudonyms, and persecuted groups.

The Nameless Coalition, consisting of 75 human rights, digital rights, LGBTQ, and women’s rights advocates – including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – had penned an open letter (PDF) to Facebook, on October 5, 2015, explaining why the policy is broken and how Facebook could mitigate the damages it causes.

The coalition included an appendix to the letter that contained multiple stories of how people have been harmed by the real-name policy.

A few of many stories, excerpted from the appendix:

  • Journalists and human rights activists in Vietnam have been flagged en masse and forced to stop using pen names on Facebook. One user, a mother with two imprisoned sons, had largely used her account to campaign for their release from prison. In every case, Facebook asked the activists to verify their identities. To make matters worse, in several cases, when the activists submitted their identity documents, Facebook unilaterally altered their accounts to list their legal names, without consent or notice.
  • Facebook enforced the policy against a user known as Lily in December 2014, forcing her to use her legal name. Only two weeks later a man who had, two decades earlier, beat and sexually abused Lily sent her a private message. “My blood ran cold, I was sweating, and [having] heart palpitations opening the message.”
  • In the United States, Native American Dana Lone Hill was locked out of her account and repeatedly refused reactivation even after submitting multiple IDs, a library card, and a piece of mail showing her Lakota name. As one Native user points out, “I think that Facebook has to have no general knowledge of Native Americans or their surnames.”

On Friday, Facebook responded with its own letter.

Alex Schultz, Facebook’s VP for growth and internationalization, published a letter answering the coalition’s criticism and suggestions.

Schultz said that a Facebook team is now working on these changes and expects to test them in December:

  1. A reduction in the number of people asked to verify their name on Facebook, when they’re already using the name people know them by.
  2. Making it easier for people to confirm their name if necessary.

One thing at issue has been Facebook’s failure to provide technical details and documentation on the process of submitting identity information, including where and how it’s stored, for how long, and who can access it.

The Nameless Coalition had asked Facebook to provide users with the ability to submit the information using PGP or another common form of encrypted communication, so that their identity information would be protected during the submission process.

Done, Schultz said: going forward, IDs submitted to Facebook as part of the identity verification process will be encrypted when they’re temporarily stored on Facebook’s servers.

What’s more, Facebook’s ability to decrypt the IDs will expire after 30 days, and the IDs will be deleted shortly thereafter.

More changes in the works include requiring people to provide additional information about why they’re reporting a profile.

As it now stands, it’s trivial for any Facebook user to file reports claiming that a fellow user is violating the real-name policy. Abuse reporters haven’t had to submit any evidence whatsoever to support their claims.

As the Nameless Coalition had pointed out, those reporting supposed abuse can “file as many reports as they wish, as quickly as they wish, allowing targeted reporting sprees” – including those targeting Vietnamese journalists and activists and many others in South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

In fact, it turned out that one, lone Facebook user was behind the mass-reporting of the accounts of drag queens, drag kings, transgenders and others in the LGBT community that in September 2014 had resulted in the account lock-outs of multiple performers.

Schultz said that changes to the real-name policy include a new process that will let people provide more information about their circumstances – information that Schultz said should help Facebook’s Community Operations team better understand individuals’ situations, including the reasons why people can’t confirm their names, and thus help the company to potentially make future changes.

These are substantive changes, but make no mistake, Facebook’s real-name policy isn’t going away.

Facebook will still require people to use the name that their friends and family know them by. It has no plans to change that, given that the company continues to stand by its belief that the policy helps make Facebook safer.


When people use the name others know them by, they are more accountable for what they say, making it more difficult to hide behind an anonymous name to harass, bully, spam or scam someone else.

In fact, when Facebook reviewed its reports from earlier this year, it found that bullying, harassment or other abuse is eight times more likely to be committed by people using names other than their own than by the rest of the Facebook community, Schultz said:

When profiles were reported to us and our reviewers asked the person to verify the name on the profile, our analysis showed that the people behind these inauthentic profiles were much more likely to be involved in some form of bad behavior.

Still, Schultz said, Facebook is well aware that the current process doesn’t work for everyone.

It’s a tough balancing act, he said, but the company is “deeply invested in making this better.”

I’ve seen first hand how people — including LGBT people — can be bullied online by people using fake or impersonating accounts. At the same time, I’ve walked with our head of Community Operations at Pride in San Francisco, and heard the feed-back from the LGBT and other communities that our policy and tools aren’t enabling people to be their authentic selves on Facebook.

We also understand the challenges for many transgender people when it comes to formally changing one’s name. That’s why we’re making changes now and in the future, and will continue to engage with you and all who are committed to looking after the most vulnerable people using our product.

It’s a balance to get this right — we want to find a line that minimizes bullying but maximises the potential for people to be their authentic selves on Facebook.

One of the performers targeted in the reporting spree on the LGBT community in September 2014, Sister Roma, said in a Facebook post that she’s scheduled to meet with Facebook and reps from key LGBT organizations on Tuesday (Nov. 3).

Stay tuned, she said. But at this point, it’s looking like Facebook’s truly listening:

It looks like our hard work and protests are finally going to result in some tangible changes to the fake name reporting option.

Image of Facebook logo courtesy of rvlsoft /


More likely is that nobody ever got it into their head to report you.


I feel that is what happened to me. I got reported and now I can’t get into my account unless I submit highly sensitive documents related to my personal life. NO WAY. I can live without FB, but I would want to leave on my own terms. I enjoy the groups that I am active in on there. I want to get through and bypass the system. Any ideas?


I never use Facebook as I’m too socially awkward


yep. I use Spacebook all the time, and you’re the freak…all my friends say so.

Because there’s nothing socially awkward in broadcasting half-eaten cheesecake photos or digitally sending a tractor or a case of machine guns to 85 people you haven’t physically spoken to in five years.


I know a number of people who use other than their legal names on Facebook for entirely innocent and valid reasons. A pen name or stage name, so their audience *can* find them (occasionally, not always, also so the day job cannot…) Someone who both professionally and personally uses the nickname that’s been used by everyone since birth.

In one case, the initial profile was set up with the legal name, which is also the name under which books are published, and professional contacts were made – and the writer ended up setting up another profile under a family nickname for the privacy of the grandchildren… (Pictures of the child’s birthday party had been posted to the wall for all readers to see. Not good…) In fact, for many people the merging of personal and business lives is problematic.

But the one person I know who was locked out was under the legal name on the birth certificate, which happens to be very English and very traditional – and it is not this person’s fault that it sounds like something out of a romance novel, it is the real name. But this is a journalist, and I suspect made an enemy somewhere…

(And – FWIW – checking my Friend’s List will not deliver these people up to anyone… ) Meanwhile, as a married woman, I could easily prove a name that I do not, in fact, use.

It looks as if they need to worry more about harassment, under any name, than about legal names.


You are 100 billion % correct. Well said. The same goes for other benighted “real” name polices, too — like that of Quora.


I commented on this on Facebook and next thing my account is closed. Sick of having my account closed because my name is Isis.


I have an Idea.
If everyone who has been booted out like us, creates a new account and then starts reporting every name they can, every chance they can, we might be able to upset enough people so that they make so much noise that they have to change there policy.
Everything I have read has told me that facebook has made it open slather for people to report false names, this is the chink in there armor, this is how we get them back.
We take away there users, we overload there workers, and we create a stink that goes viral without facebook.


I am a male to female crossdresser and I had my profile blocked because I used my female name. I used this profile to communicate with other people in the Trans community and to keep my trans persona seperate from my straight persona. I cannot come out as transgendered to my straight friends, family and business associates.


Due to the work I do I do not wish to be tracked down on Facebook leaving me open to abuse, which has happened before when I used my authentic name. I changed my Facebook identity and the abuse stopped, but now that Facebook has demand authentic names only I have had to close my account thereby losing some good Facebook friends. I would ask Facebook to think again about this policy. I changed my facebook identity for practical reasons and have never used it to abuse people. Now I can’t get the enjoyment out of socialising on Facebook due to their new policy.


Ive been asked for proof of real name when i was using a fake surname. The reason for this is that my surname is unique but i do not want certain family to know I am on facebook. One reason for this is that i have been very ill and shared certain info with people about it and have been raising money for the charity using events pages etc. I thought they were looking into exceptions for stuff like this and things like Transexuals, domestic abuse etc. I tried to contact facebook support but it kot asking m to log in which i couldn’t do due to the real name thing.. Can anyone HELP me here. I have given my real name and provided Driving license as evidence but would really like to put a case forward for not using real name ..


Somethings they fail to take into consideration I was bullied slandered and harassed by group pages they are hidden behind there group and had a lot of supporters who bully some members and I had no defence they can block me and share my info online for everyone to see but I had no defence and fb doesn’t care about my harassing bullies at all. My name is spat on and spread about but they hide behind their popular groups group of the victim nature that is suppose to support their vulnerable members not bully them their spread of my info publicity which fb won’t take down a second time is leaving me open to my abusers in my past to find me because my account is very much private except for that. Here is a group claiming to help victims of abuse are hiding beind that false claim to actually bully and harass its members and slander their name and expose us publicly where possible past abusers and predators can find me my name and my i.d how is that for privacy and keeping Facebook safe
I think it’s a lot of rubbish and Facebook needs a lot of changing
Survivors of abuse deserve to go anonymous and keep in touch wiht friend we know and trust and still have a life there really is no need for our name to be open for all to see and putting us at threat at all


I never saw any good reason for giving up my identity to the world. I’m only on social media /internet to spread and exchange ideas. It’s for communication, not for getting boxed in by some third party, who I’m just a number to.


If I can’t be free even in virtual world, then why bother? I don’t exist to fit into other’s narrow parameters. I have my own mind that require an unlimited ground for expression. fb from the beginning never made sense. Why should I divulge info for friends that already know me? And why should I divulge to those that doesn’t and will never understand me? I will always reserve my right to share info about myself to those that can appreciate it. Humans are different, and incompatible with some, and compatible with others. A social media platform trying to pigeon hole the masses like cattles doesn’t work, especially when that entity (fb) is a run by narrow minded conservatives.


What a bunch of BS!!!! Spybook stop pointing fingers and own up to your BS!! You have no idea the danger you’ve created for thousands + over this BS policy!! What I don’t understand is….why did you wait sooooooooo long?? I joined in 2009 under my Artist name because that’s how EVERYONE knows me….. Family&Friends. You magically locked my account WITHOUT WARNING after 9 freaking years!!! You NEVER informed ANYONE you’ve done this too about this BS azz policy, and then have the balls to ask US to provide YOU with our personal information…. Not knowing where it’s going or who gets it, but lie under oath about your so-called “Privacy Act” that’s not private if you’re asking for OUR personal information to reactivate our account!! Let me know if that makes sense to you😒 Then you have it where WE can’t even change our name back!! I lost a lot of clients because they had no idea WTH (Government issued name) was???? Majority of my business was done from my page, but you Jack’A shut it down for 5 FREAKING months smdh!! You were able to send messages, but no one could respond to you smh… Be for real!! If you say this policy was to crack down on bullying and harassment….why didn’t you just target them instead of everyone at random???? After you allowed the government to have full access, it went downhill from there!! If I didn’t have all my businesses linked to here, I would’ve been gone!!! You guys have taken the fun and enjoyment outta what USED to be a safe space for ANYONE to be free!! Your policy is enforced for you and the government only…. Not us who created our page that matches who we REALLY are on and off social media!!!


Maybe they shut down your account not so much for a name issue, but more for posting bizarre incoherent rants?


This doesn’t change anything. If someone creates a fake account with the same name as you and report you for impersonating them then facebook will close down your account and won’t give it back until you send id and you guessed it. Your facebook name has to be the same name as the name on your id!


The “legal name” policy works great for me.
I was adopted when I was 5 years old.
The name I used from first grade to graduation, through college, is the name everyone, including family, alumni, co-workers, and friends knows or calls me by, yet it is not on my birth certificate. I can use my “legal name” on facebook and no one knows me.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to get the latest updates in your inbox.
Which categories are you interested in?
You’re now subscribed!