I went to log into my Facebook account yesterday and was greeted by something new and different. My account had been disabled. Why? Because, according to them, my profile doesn’t list my real name.
First off, I disagree. The name I use on Facebook is “Nowhere Man” and that is the name that I have been known by to my close friends online and off for over a decade. For social purposes, it is my real name. Facebook is supposed to be a place about friends, right? So why can’t I use the name that my friends know me by?
Even worse, the way in which this happened is completely unacceptable. My account was shut down without warning and without giving me an opportunity to present my side of things or to take any action to avoid the shut down. There was no email saying “hey, you need to put your real name on your profile or it will be locked on xx/xx/xx.”
And there is no appeal process. Now that my account is disabled, the only path for me to take is to enter my full legal name, wait, and hope. There is no way for me to say “but this is my real name and here’s why I think you should let me use it on your service.”
Reading through their FAQ on allowed names, the very first suggestion on their “Things to keep in mind” list is this: “The name you use should be your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, student ID, etc.”. Maybe I’m just old and paranoid, but I find it disconcerting that an online service that makes this information public and that makes a good chunk of its money from advertising would ask me to format my name in the same way that it appears on financial documents. Perhaps this is because it makes my personal data more valuable when it gets sold to advertisers.
This policy is flawed in some very basic ways. I don’t go by my legal, financial document name and I know a lot of people in the same boat. My father goes by his middle name because he’s a Jr. The name that appears on his financial documents is different than the name he uses on Facebook, but his account has not been disabled. Even before I went by Nowhere Man I didn’t go by my full legal name as it appears on my financial documents. Never in my life have I gone by my full first name, except to my grandmother.
If Facebook really is about social and really is about friends and truly wants to mirror real life as closely as possible, they need to get a clue. In real life, there are many many people who are known in social settings by a name other than their legal, financial name. Imagine what might happen if a bar tried to force everyone who entered to use their full legal name when interacting with other patrons.
By and large, this is not a huge deal to me. I read somewhere recently that the average Facebook session lasts more than 30 minutes. Personally, I spend maybe 5 minutes a day on Facebook just to read any messages and maybe comment on some of my closer friends’ stuff. I’m more than happy to take my business to other services like Twitter or Google+.