Names within the Book of Faces

Posted: August 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

I’m seeing more people have been name reported recently (not sure how many), and I’ve helped some people respond to these things. Here’s something I just wrote up for it, in response to an article I just read about a religious figure who actually legally changed his name to his religious name in order to get around a FB name report:

Changing your name legally, or using a “legal name” as it appears on a driver’s license or birth certificate, isn’t actually necessary for hassle-free Facebooking. It is the “easiest” way to deal with FB’s policies, only in terms of having them “approve” your name, but can come with all kinds of issues (such as court costs, the publication of one’s name change which can be problematic in cases where a person has safety reasons to remain anonymous in their location and names used.)

The amount of misinformation about FB’s policies and enforcement and “how to respond when/if you are reported” is staggeringly unhelpful to those caught in the name-report-loop.

Facebook at this stage has a very clear definition for “authentic name” requirements. An “authentic name” is not necessarily a legal name, but is (paraphrasing here) a name which a user goes by in real life, outside of Facebook, by which they are known. To directly quote their latest revisions to their pages:

There is an understanding that people may be known authentically by more than one name, and Facebook is not interested in prohibiting or challenging this, contrary to appearance. What they are interested in doing is ensuring that users are setting up accounts with “authentically used names” by which they are known privately (“privately” as opposed to publicly, as in professional/celebrity/public-figure names) in their lives.

These policies were instituted at the very beginning when the site was limited to college students with a .edu email address from their universities; their names needed to reflect how they were known at their schools. They’ve expanded a bit since then, but at no time have they been “legal names” as a required thing.

The reason for the policy is that Facebook is not presenting as an online community but as a directory of real-life people. It always has been. (It is based on an interactive college year-book.)

The original reason for the name-report/user-report feature was not actually to police people using names like the Monk in this article, but something much more admirable: the feature was implemented so that users could report false accounts which were being used by cyber-bullies, stalkers, criminals, and impersonators. (Example: there was a trend for a hot minute of conservative trolls making fake accounts with the name and likeness of local adult/sex entertainment personalities in order to discredit, release personal information, or otherwise leverage a religious/hellfire type message in their name and to their audience and demographic. Name reporting was implemented to stop things like this.)

So in other words, it’s probably useful to consider it as though we-the-users ASKED (nay, demanded) that Facebook allow this name-reporting process, in order to protect ourselves and our communities from (often conservative, often misogynistic, often homophobic, often racist) trolls, stalkers, and online assailants or impersonators. And it worked well, to that end.

The problem: the people it was designed to protect us from? They started using it against us, reporting users (like the good Monk in this article, and like myself a few months back) who would make “easy targets” for this new kind of cyber-attack: identity erasure.

The thing is, Facebook has always been pretty clear about how to respond to name-reports (and in just the last few weeks seem to have totally revamped their pages for such, in a more user-friendly fashion). I got my account restored in 4 days by ignoring the misinformation, hype, and paranoia that drips from EVERY article and petition regarding these policies, and instead actually read the company’s policies.

All any user needs to do to maintain their name on Facebook is:

  • Do NOT claim that your name is “a religious name” or “a professional name” or “the name you write/publish/perform under”. This flags it as a “public figure name” and they will scold you for violating their Terms of Service. Religious/professional names are forbidden from use in private/personal accounts. However, obviously many people’s religious or professional names are ALSO their “authentic personal names”, so this is a somewhat poorly worded policy. (What they really mean is: if you have a religious or professional name that you ONLY use in one small area, such as stage performances or book writing, this is NOT an authentic name, as per their use of the term. However, if even one or two people know you by this name outside of those applications, it is no longer “just a professional or religious name” and is an authentic personal name. See? Nuance.)  To quote Facebook directly on this:
  • Titles of any kind (ex: professional, religious).
  • Profiles are for individual use only. We offer Pages for professional personas, organizations and businesses.
  • Have documentation (available on FB’s help pages, which lists three options for authenticating your name) such as mail, subscriptions to magazines, packages, utilities bills, membership cards, or organizational/job ID cards which display their name as used on Facebook. Easiest way to do this? Start receiving mail in real life to the desired name, which by definition makes it legally recognizable and authentic. Also, get an ID card made by a company that produces custom ID cards, for an organization of your choosing, which displays: your name, as it appears on Facebook; your DOB as it appears on Facebook; and a clear picture (which resembles your profile pictures on Facebook). Also, keep a digital copy of these documentations in advance of being reported, so that you can respond instantly. (I used a medical release form with all information blacked out EXCEPT for my name — Anomalous Thracian — and DOB, plus mail sent to me with this name, with my address blacked out (they don’t need that), plus an ID card for an organization I work for which uses this name, my DOB, and a photo that I also use on FB.)
  • You do not need to use or provide a state-issued gov’t ID in most cases, but this is obviously the easiest to “authenticate”. However, if your name doesn’t match on your driver’s license, that’s OK: take a picture of your ID and black out your DL#, Name, and Address. Make sure that your DOB and the photo match what you have on FB. If you choose “Option 3” from their authentication options, and combine this blacked-out gov’t ID with two or more examples of ID *(like those I mentioned above, such as mail, medical files, or a membership ID from somewhere else) this is all that they need.
  • Have a pre-written response in hand for if/when you are reported, and have all of the above mentioned documents — PLUS written text and polite greeting — compiled into a single LARGE image file. (Collage all of your ID forms together, and clearly label them. Even include screen-shots of Facebook’s “accepted forms of ID” page with circles or check-marks indicating which of their own options you are choosing to comply with, and submitting information for.)
  • Be patient and be polite. It takes 3-14 days in most cases to restore account access using the above method, because each name-report cases is reviewed by a FB employee just once per day, and probably for less than 30 seconds. The vast majority of the THOUSANDS of people reported DO NOT FOLLOW PROPER PROCEDURE and haven’t bothered to read FB’s policies on these matters… so, not to defend FB in this matter, but imagine that you’re a customer service rep whose job it is to review name dispute report cases, and only 10 out of every 1,000 cases have actually bothered to read the company’s policies for responding to such a situation. It would be VERY easy to “auto pilot” through the process without even meaning to be a dick about it. That said, sometimes people there are dicks, too, or dismissive, or racist, or transphobic, and all that bad jazz. So expect to file the same report response a few times, with brief modifications to indicate exactly WHAT information you are sending (mail, medical file, membership ID, blacked out state ID) and to which identity prompt you are responding (“Option 3”, in the above example), so that the FB employee reviewing your case can actually understand what they’re looking at. And remember, be polite.

Prohibitively expensive legal name changes are not required for this. Just follow the above guidelines… the system works (in my direct experience), even if it is a nightmare that can carry really strong emotional troubles. However, some things can make it HARDER: if you’ve already told them that the name you’re trying to defend your use of is a professional name, they’re not going to forget that, and they’re going to keep trying to get you to use an “authentic personal name” for your personal account and set up a Public Figure page (through FB “Pages”) for your professional/religious/writing name. So, DO NOT EVER SUGGEST THAT THE NAME YOU ARE DEFENDING IS ANYTHING OTHER THAN YOUR REAL AND AUTHENTIC PERSONAL NAME, BY WHICH YOU ARE KNOWN.

Reiterate to them in every correspondence, briefly, the statement that:

“_____ is my real and authentic name, by which I am known personally. This is the name by which I am recognized in private and personal life, outside of Facebook and in real life. Attached below are several identifying documentations, as per your accepted identification policies choice “Option 3″, listed on your website [link URL].”

…and that’s pretty much it. Even in cases where you’ve made the error of telling them it is a “professional name you’ve gone by for 198374 years!” or your “baptized religious clergy name since 1935!” or your “name as it appears on the 48 books you’ve published!” (all of which mark your claim into the “TOS abuse, professional/religious name” category) it will eventually work.

A concluding note on religious names:

They actually prohibit religious TITLES, not names, and this applies also to institutional titles such as “Dr” and “MDiv” and “PhD”. However, many religious titles — unlike institutional professional titles like “Doctor” and “Professor” and “Headmistress” and “Reverend” — are ALSO treated as names, and so a person can easily and in compliance with the site’s policies claim these as their real and authentic personal names, using the above system. It will become exponentially harder if the names that they’re defending the use of use “common professional honorifics” however, such as Doctor, Monk, Fr., or Sister, etc. However, it -can- be done.

Face safely this treacherous book of names, my friends.

  1. All previous comments have been removed, as they did not in ANY way relate to the subject matter of this post, which is a guide for people in the midst of the difficult process of being caught in Facebook’s name-reporting loop. If you want to talk about other stuff, like how much you don’t like Facebook, please feel free to write about it someplace else. As that topic will not in any way help people with this process, please do not bring it here again.

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