Drag queens dress down Facebook over names

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NEW YORK (AP) — San Francisco drag queens are sparring with Facebook over its policy requiring people to use their real names, rather than drag names such as Pollo Del Mar and Heklina.

In recent weeks, Facebook has been deleting the profiles of self-described drag queens and other performers who use stage names because they did not comply with the social networking site's requirement that users go by their "real names" on the site. The company's policy has been around as long as Facebook itself. It states that the "name you use should be your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver's license or student ID."

But drag queens and supporters say the requirement is unfair and could even put people in danger of losing their day jobs.

"They are taking my identity away, what people most know me as," said Rosa Sifuentes, a San Francisco-based burlesque performer who goes by the name Bunny Pistol. Facebook deleted Sifuentes' profile in August without warning. The company says performers have other ways of keeping their stage identities on the site, including creating pages that are meant for businesses and public figures.

But, Sifuentes points out, "when you have a fan page it's not like a regular page. Your reach is limited. But to make it (reach more people) you can pay them money."

Facebook is meeting with members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — a San Francisco group of drag performers and activists that's been around since 1979 — on Wednesday to talk about the issue. A planned protest at Facebook's headquarters was postponed after Facebook agreed to the meeting.

This isn't the first time users have criticized Facebook's policy. Political activists have complained, especially those living in countries where they could face danger if their real identities are revealed. In 2011, Chinese blogger and activist Michael Anti, whose legal name is Zhao Jing, had his profile deleted because he was not using his given name — even though his professional identity has been established for more than a decade and is better known. Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, has "merged" her stage name with her birth name on Facebook in an apparent compromise.

It's not always easy to determine which names are inauthentic. Sometimes, people whose real names sound fake get caught up in the process and have their accounts deleted, too.

For Facebook, the real names policy is not just meant to keep people accountable. The company and other website operators argue that requiring people to use true identities can reduce online vitriol and bullying. Real names also help Facebook target advertisements to its 1.32 billion users.

Facebook estimates that 6 to 11 percent of its monthly user accounts were duplicate or fake in 2013.

"We believe the percentage of accounts that are duplicate or false is meaningfully lower in developed markets such as the United States or United Kingdom and higher in developing markets such as India and Turkey," Facebook wrote in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. "However, these estimates are based on an internal review of a limited sample of accounts and we apply significant judgment in making this determination, such as identifying names that appear to be fake or other behavior that appears inauthentic to the reviewers."