Facebook Offers “Hollow Gesture” of Restoring Select Drag Queens’, Others’ Accounts For Two Weeks

Facebook officials today said they would restore the profiles of San Francisco drag queens and others that had recently been suspended or removed under it’s policy requiring the use of legal names, but only for two weeks.

The announcement today came shortly after a group including San Francisco Supervisor David Campos met with Facebook officials at San Francisco City Hall to discuss the far-reaching implications of the social network’s policy against pseudonyms and to urge the tech giant not to lock people out of their accounts if they choose not to use their legal names.

The move does not signal a change in the legal names policy, however, and the previously suspended users will still be asked to confirm their real identity, change to their legal names or move to a fan page.

San Francisco drag queens including Sister Roma, Heklina, BeBe Sweetbriar and Lil Miss Hot Mess are protesting the crackdown on profile names and recently launched the hashtag #MyNameIs on social media to increase awareness about Facebook’s policy.

The drag queens said that in recent weeks they had been kicked off their accounts and could only regain access if they listed their legal name, such as one on a driver’s license or credit card.

Roma, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, posted a statement on her Facebook page this afternoon decrying Facebook’s response and stating “This is not over!”

“While at first glance this seems like a grand show of support for our community it is actually a completely hollow gesture,” Roma said in the statement.

“Basically they offered to give us our profiles back so that two weeks later they could suspended them, demand we comply to their unfair and discriminatory policy, and if not, take them away again. This is completely unacceptable,” she said.

Roma said the meeting with Facebook helped create a dialogue, but that she wants to see them acknowledge that their policy is misguided. She and others are still hoping for another meeting with Facebook officials who can actually make policy decisions.

She said the policy would “out” people who prefer to use alternate names “to ensure their safety and privacy,” including abused and battered women, bullied teens, political activists and sex workers.

Sister Roma said she doesn’t believe Facebook targeted the drag queens, but somehow their accounts were flagged and brought to the attention of Facebook, which then enforced its policy.

Among those discussing the outcome of the meeting with Facebook today was Nadia Kayyali, an activist with San Francisco-based non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation. Kayyali said other social media sites such as Twitter, Reddit and Google Plus don’t require their members to use their legal names.

Kayyali said Facebook should allow people to use their services under the veil of anonymity, but if changing the company’s policy is expected to take much longer, Facebook officials might want to consider implementing a review and appeals process before abruptly blocking users access to their accounts.

Kayyali said Facebook, with some 1.4 billion users, has potential to hurt a lot of people if they continue to enforce their policy regarding use of pseudonyms.

Kayyali said the repercussions of Facebook enforcing the policy in a country such as Syria, where citizens live under the rule of an authoritarian regime, would be devastating for political activists and dissidents who fear for their lives and often use a false name to express their opinions and organize with other dissidents.

Supervisor Campos and the group of drag queens said they are glad they got the chance to meet with Facebook and inform them on the consequences of their actions. They said they will “mobilize” if Facebook doesn’t change its policy.

BeBe Sweetbriar, whose account was temporarily frozen, said she and other drag queens rely on their Facebook accounts for both personal and professional communications.

Many of the drag queens use Facebook to announce upcoming events, such as this Thursday night’s Leather and Feather runway show at 7 p.m. at Temple SF that will benefit the Aids Emergency Fund.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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