By Geoff Gillette
Drag Queens, transgenders and all those affected by Facebook’s recent crackdown on their naming policy can now breathe a sigh of relief…sort of. In response to the outcry from members of the LGBTQ community, the word out of Menlo Park is, “I’m sorry.”
In a status update posted to his own account on Oct. 1, Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox apologized for the crackdown and “the hardship that we’ve put you through.”
But the question now becomes, was it an apology motivated by actual concern for people or a concern for loss of users?
Don’t get me wrong, I give props to Chris Cox for his lengthy apology post. It hit on a lot of the right notes, it scapegoated a single user who flagged several hundred accounts – which precipitated the entire event – and it offered a sense that the company would be looking at ways to improve the way they handle situations like this.
Where the false notes sound is in the discussion of the policy as a ‘force for good.’ Cox talked about the spirit of the policy and says, “Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that's Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that's Lil Miss Hot Mess.”
But if this whole debacle shows anything, it’s that this IS what the Facebook Naming Policy DOES say. To say the company is trying to enforce the “spirit” of the law when hundreds of people were affected by the letter of the law comes across as disingenuous. Cox says they intend to look at better ways to authenticate users. Is that even possible? In order to have your name be what you want on Facebook, what will you need to do?
Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but the question foremost in my mind is would Facebook be doing this if they weren’t seeing a backlash and were afraid of losing users?
A Time Magazine article in January 2014 quoted a Princeton study that showed Facebook would lose 80% of its users between 2015-2017 and this most recent outcry seemed to be spurring that exodus. Several different news articles (including ours) covering the naming policy issue pointed out that many users were abandoning the social media giant and moving over to a relatively new player in the social media field, Ello. A Vox.com article reported that during its biggest spike (not surprisingly during the height of the naming policy hype) 31,000 people per hour were trying to join Ello.
And let’s be fair, Ello isn’t the only alternative social media game in town. They’re just the ones who have made the biggest splash in the wake of the naming debate. Diaspora also saw a spike in people trying to join up.
So is it still an apology when it’s done to save corporate face and not because of the thousands of people who were disenfranchised by the company’s actions? And does saying you’re sorry really mean anything when the policy remains and they’re going to “examine” how it can be enforced better?
What do you think? Actual concern or corporate concern? And does the naming policy really affect cyber-bullying and trolling?
IMAGE CREDIT: AMITLEV