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Drag queens, others plan Monday Facebook protest

SAN FRANCISCO -- Drag queens, Native Americans, domestic violence survivors, activists and others plan to protest at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Monday over the social media company's "real name" policy.

"People who've done nothing wrong are being targeted and harassed," said Sister Roma, a drag queen in San Francisco who's used that name for "nearly 30 years."

Facebook requires users to create accounts using their real names.

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That was a breakthrough concept when Facebook originally launched in 2004. One of the key ways the site was distinct from other online services at the time was that it was built on the concept of real identity, a backlash against the anonymity and chaos of other sites.

Drag Queen
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Facebook allows users to report accounts that they allege were created under fake names.

In the past year, some Facebook members say the reporting tool is being used to target those they disagree with, says Roma, resulting in a wave of harassment that shut down accounts for thousands "of innocent people who haven't done anything."

"People realized it was a tool to maliciously target and bully people they didn't like. It started with drag queens and then spread to hit gay and lesbian activists and others," said Roma, who did not want to use her legal name due to potential harassment.

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Facebook spokesman Andrew Souvall said the company is committed to ensuring that Facebook members can use the names they use in real life.

"Having people use their authentic names makes them more accountable, and also helps us root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation and hate speech," he said.

But, Souvall says, Facebook has worked closely with drag queens and other affected groups to make significant improvements to how it implements the standard.

"We have more work to do, and our teams will continue to prioritize these improvements," he said.

Roma's Facebook account was suspended in September of last year following a complaint. That's when she began a #MyNameIs protest on Twitter.

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She and others who had had their Facebook accounts closed due to complaints came together and formed the My Name Is campaign. They included women who'd been the victims of domestic violence and Native Americans who used tribal names different than those on their drivers licenses.

"We've also had police, prison workers and mental health professionals, all who need to keep their public and private lives very separate, get involved," said Roma.

The group met with Facebook four times, the last time in March. At that meeting, Facebook apologized for closing the accounts and vowed to find other ways to authenticate accounts.

The company also said it would change its policies to give people flagged for using a non-legal name a seven-day grace period. Users are also now able to submit other forms of identification, such as a utility bill or magazine subscription, to verify the name they want to use online.

Facebook has said it's committed to using legal names so people cannot hide beyond anonymity, part of what makes the platform safe for people to communicate and share on.

At the same time, the company says that while users are required to provide a picture ID or birth certificate to verify their name, that doesn't have to be the name used on their account.

While some national groups were happy with the changes Facebook has made, they were not enough for the local group, which now plans a public protest in front of Facebook headquarters on Monday.

"Facebook already has a system in place to deal with people who behave badly, you can report them," said Roma. "There's no need to target people just because they're calling themselves a more authentic name."

"I don't get why anybody cares. If you don't like the way I look or you think my name sounds fake or weird, then block me," he said.