Activists push Facebook to abandon its real-names policy

A broad coalition is meeting with the company Wednesday

Activists are meeting with Facebook officials Wednesday, challenging the company's real-names policy and other rules they say violate free-speech rights, sense of identity and safety.

The Transgender Law Center, a San Francisco-based civil rights group, will deliver a letter to Facebook outlining demands. The letter was cosigned by dozens of other groups, including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, the ACLU of Northern California, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit privacy rights group. They are representing transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual people as well as immigrants and domestic abuse victims, among others.

Roughly a dozen people from the coalition are meeting with Chris Cox, chief of staff to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on products, and other Facebook representatives at company headquarters in California, said Mark Snyder, senior manager of communications at the Transgender Law Center, prior to the meeting.

The groups take issue with Facebook's policies requiring people to use their legal names on the site, as well as its requirements for verifying names through government-issued photo IDs.

The policy is unfair, raises free-speech concerns, and causes problems for people who may need to identify themselves in a different way, the groups say. "Many people need to use a chosen name in order to feel safe or to be able to express their authentic identity online," the letter says.

Facebook last month held a meeting with drag queens and others from the Transgender Law Center who protested the site's real-names policy after Facebook deleted and then restored some profiles.

But this week's meeting brings a broader group of parties to the table, giving further weight to their demands.

Since last month's meeting, a number of other people besides drag queens have voiced their concerns about how Facebook's real-names policy negatively affects them, Snyder said. Transgender people, for instance, are often unable to legally change their names, and Facebook's policies require them to show identification that may not accurately reflect their gender identity, the group's letter says.

Or, domestic violence survivors may need to use a different name as a layer of safety or for peace of mind. Immigrants may also have trouble producing identification.

The groups are asking Facebook to publicly commit to changing its policy to ensure people can be their "authentic selves online." The groups also want Facebook to end the requirement for people to show forms of identification, and for Facebook to establish clear and easy procedures for users to appeal account suspension.

Snyder said he was hopeful Facebook would change its policies.

Facebook, for its part, says it requires people to provide their real names so people know with whom they're connecting. "This helps keep our community safe," the company says in its policy.

The meeting was to start at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. A Facebook representative said the company would comment after the meeting.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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