This afternoon Chris Cox — Facebook’s Chief Product Officer — issued an apology “to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community” over the takedown last month of a number of accounts due to supposed violations of Facebook’s “real name” policy.
Cox’s apology follows several weeks of response to the takedowns, including the hashtag campaign #MyNameIs. A number of activists and organizations met with Facebook last month, but the meeting only delivered a grace period to allow affected users to change the names on their accounts. Another meeting took place today, ahead of the apology and a protest planned for tomorrow at San Francisco City Hall.
According to Cox, the takedowns were the result of a single individual able to take advantage of the volume of requests Facebook receives:
The way this happened took us off guard. An individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these accounts as fake. These reports were among the several hundred thousand fake name reports we process every single week, 99 percent of which are bad actors doing bad things: impersonation, bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams, hate speech, and more — so we didn't notice the pattern.
Because of the types of ID that Facebook accepts as identity authentication, many of these reports ended in account suspensions.
Cox goes on to say that the company will continue to use a real name policy, but that “The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life.” He also adds that Facebook is “already underway building better tools for authenticating the Sister Romas [a drag performer and activist] of the world while not opening up Facebook to bad actors”.
What the promised authentication tools will be isn't clear yet. Even so, it’s good to see that once in a while organizing in response to denial of agency and identity yields at least the promise of some small change.