In what most are calling a confusing statement in the least, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made the following statement today regarding the public utilities “real Names” policy, which adversely affects Natives as well as LGBT+ people, domestic abuse survivors and others.
The statement reads:
“Real name does not mean your legal name. Your real name is whatever you go by and what your friends call you. If your friends all call you by a nickname and you want to use that name on Facebook, you should be able to do that. In this way, we should be able to support everyone using their own real names, including everyone in the transgender community. We are working on better and more ways for people to show us what their real name is so we can both keep this policy which protects so many people in our community while also serving the transgender community.”
This is a complete 180 from the previous policy which required some users with non-Eurocentric last names to provide documents stating that the information provided in their profiles was indeed their true legal identity. One of the most public cases of this discrimination happening to an Indigenous person is that of Deloria Her Many Grey Horses. In Ms. Her Many Grey Horses case, Facebook allowed her re-entry to her account, but only after her story hit the mainstream media. There are several accounts of similar stories from Indigenous peoples all over the world who are experiencing problems with this feature.
Additionally, this stance is rather paternal and colonialist in that it essentially bestows upon the user to pick the name they choose to be recognized by while sending the message that transgender and other minorities require protection. Zuckerbergs’ repeated reliance on his argument that the “real names” protects transgender and other minorities may not be fact based. There have been several domestic abuse survivors who have come forward to report having been tracked down by their former abusers some 15 to 20 years after escaping them. In some cases, using a moniker had been the only way these folks could safely this public utility.
Last weekend in San Francisco revelers took to the streets to celebrate not only the SCOTUS decision around the right for LGBT+ people to marry, but to celebrate PRIDE. The Gay PRIDE weekend is an event that draws well over 750,00 people annually but also provides an impressive stream of tourist dollars during the month of June. Protesters with the #mynameis movement took to the pavement on that summer Sunday to send a message. “We didn’t want to target pride or anything like that but we just wanted to make Facebook feel a little bit unwelcome and realize that this is an issue that is not going away until they fix it,” said Lil Miss Hot Mess, a renowned performer and one of the leaders making a statement that day. Right now Facebook is showing no real interest in changing the policy, so further actions will be required. “We need to regroup and figure out what we’re going to do,” she stated.
Ultimately, today's statement is so confusing and convoluted that one wonders if this is some sort of legal strategy they are employing, while trying to best determine a future course of action. It seems that some progress may be being made at Facebook, but from today's statement it is difficult to discern what is really going on.
Samuel White Swan-Perkins, the owner of White Swan-Perkins Cultural Consulting, has been active in the Bay Area Native American community for nearly 20 years and is a freelance writer. He currently resides in Northern California and in his free time enjoys long walks with his girlfriend and two dogs.
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