Facebook's controversial way of filtering fake users
Brief history lesson: Facebook was the belle of the ball when it went public in Spring of 2012 with a capitalization of over $104 billion. By August of that year, stock prices had dived 40% with about $50 billion in losses. Why? Glad you asked. There were a couple of contributing factors like weak morale from within the company and GM pulling $10 million out because Facebook ads weren’t yet effective. But, a lot of it was because an estimated 83 million Facebook profiles were “fake,” meaning that they did not belong to real people. Queue Scandal by Queen.
If you’ve ever been messaged by some creepy John Doey or been catfished, you know why fake Facebook profiles are serious problems. A fake Facebook profile is also not the same thing as a fake Twitter or Instagram account because it is much more serious. Facebook profiles represent the individual way more than other social media by the very virtue of their platforms and the information shared with them. Meaning that if a stranger follows your Twitter account, it matters about as much as your grades from High School: bragging rights maybe(?), but you’re an adult now, move on.
To try and ameliorate the situation, aka. take the creeps offline, Facebook created a “real-name system”, which in its simplest form states that names on a profile must match that of the user’s driver’s license, credit card, birth certificate, etc., in order to keep its users safe. History lesson over. That was exhausting.
Here it starts to get really interesting a. because not everyone has a name that sounds “real”, and b. not everyone uses their “real” name. The first really affected people in the Native American and other ethnic communities, many of whom had names that Facebook decided sounded “fake.” The latter mostly affected people of the LGBTQ community, particularly Drag Queens and people who are transgender, and performers who use stage names.
I know what you’re thinking: those people were real and had legitimate profiles that actually represented their personage and they were not bothering anybody. True, but rules will be rules and according to Facebook’s “real-name system” those people were not real and thus were kicked out faster than a kid at a night club. This was offensive to many people and it hurt the business of some entertainers who used their Facebook account as a means of networking.
Facebook’s “real-name system” has caused quite a bit of controversy. On one hand, there isn’t really a stellar way to regulate internet safety, but on the other hand, Facebook definitely over stepped some boundaries in deciding what constitutes a “fake” name.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.