Recently, the social networking powerhouse that is Facebook unveiled a new policy requiring all of its users to register under their legal names. Facebook claims that the newly enforced policy makes the site safer for everyone, protecting them from fraud and other activities that might allow some to be victimized by another person using an alias.
On the surface such a policy might seem reasonable. After all, why should a person on a social networking site feel the need to use a made-up name if he or she isn't up to anything sinister?
Looking closer at the issue, it becomes clear that there are many reasons Facebook's new policy is a bad one and that it may create more victims than it actually protects.
We have entered an era where nearly everyone seems to be using Facebook. In many ways, a person is effectively cut off from certain types of communication if he or she doesn't spend time on the social networking site.
The new policy is problematic to those who feel the need to protect their privacy and to provide a shield between them and potentially dangerous individuals who might harm them if they were to use their real names. For example, using an alias makes it more difficult for a potential stalker to find a person and to cause them harm.
One group that has been vocal in its opposition to the new policy is gay and transgender performers who operate on Facebook under the personas they have created. They, along with other members of the gay, bi and transgender communities, feel that there is a right to participate in social networking under whatever identity they like. The right to define oneself in whatever manner a person sees fit should be determined by that individual, not a Facebook policy supposedly increasing "safety" in some vague way. A drag performer who has his legal name outed by a social networking site could be put at risk for harassment from any number of people who would do him harm.
However, there are other valid reasons to use Facebook under an assumed name. Drag performers have often spent years creating a persona that they use publicly, and use it to promote their career. And that extends to performers of all kinds. Many musicians use names they weren't given at birth, and so do actors and other types of artists. Asking them to abandon a name they've used professionally for years is a ridiculous and unfair thing to do.
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When I was active in bands, I operated socially and professionally under an assumed name. While that was in a time before social networking sites like Facebook dominated the way we interact with other people, having an alias did protect me from a large amount of unwanted and potentially dangerous attention from people who took the idea of being a fan into obsession territory. If I'd been on a site like Facebook back then, there is no way I would've felt comfortable going by my legal name.
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Various types of therapists and doctors also frequently use an alias identity on Facebook to prevent patients from seeking them out and friending them, something that would be counterproductive to keeping a therapeutic relationship with someone they are treating. Maintaining a certain distance between a professional and a patient is necessary, and Facebook has effectively removed many of the walls that once separated our professional and personal lives. Having the ability to use a pseudonym to regain a little anonymity and control over a doctor/patient relationship is valuable, and something this new policy could eliminate.
Also at risk are people who have survived abusive relationships or who have stalkers. The reasons they might use an alias on Facebook should be obvious. People should be able to use social networking for contacting friends and family without the fear that their abuser can easily track them down and hurt them.
In any case, whenever a person is a public figure, there is always a chance that someone might seek him out for reasons that can either endanger him and his family or erode that person's ability to maintain a private life. There is no reason that Facebook should choose to implement a new policy that would compromise so many people's privacy or safety.
Facebook has defended the new policy, but has agreed to meet with people to hear their concerns about it, and there is an online petition seeking to get the rule changed and allow people to decide what name they wish to use on the site. If Internet privacy is important to you, consider checking out that petition and signing it..