If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed that I’ve been investigating/poking around the Facebook names policy crackdown – it hit my radar after two Pittsburgh drag performers mentioned being caught up in the thick of it. I smelled a conspiracy and it turns out I was a bit right.
As it stands, Facebook users are being required to submit and display their legally assigned names regardless of any mitigating factors such as their personal safety or the name not reflecting their actual “real” identity. So survivors of assault or domestic violence or stalking are given no leeway. Transgender individuals whose legal name is not their real name for various reasons (often including access to legal resources) are out of luck. There are dozens of other reasons why people want discretion on Facebook. Facebook doesn’t seem to care and so there is much discussion about queer people leaving the social media platform for pinker pastures (bad joke, I know but still …)
To be honest, I’m concerned that the majority of users impacted are part of the LGBTQ community. I’ve only heard directly from one cisgender heterosexual person who was “caught” for using his Hebrew name. He told me it has happened to other Jewish people, but I haven’t been able to confirm. But I’m also concerned about the impact for other vulnerable groups as I mentioned above.
While I understand that desire to leave and I find the policy abhorrent, I am going to stay on Facebook.
First, there are a lot of queer people using social media.
LGBT adults are heavy users of social networking sites, with 8o% of survey respondents saying they have used a site such as Facebook or Twitter. This compares with 58% of the general public
The key element is how we use social media in terms of our identity.
About four-in-ten LGBT adults (43%) have revealed their sexual orientation or gender identity on a social networking site. While roughly half of gay men and lesbians have come out on a social network, only about one-third (34%) of bisexuals say they have done this.
Just 16% say they regularly discuss LGBT issues online; 83% say they do not do this.
This information is from a 2013 study published by the Pew Research Center on LGBT social trends. What I take away from this is pretty simple – a lot of us are on Facebook and Twitter, but we aren’t out. I see this play out in the analytic data of my tools and sites I administer. I won’t get into the technical side, but I’ve learned a few things about the need to create social media content that reaches people without requiring them to like something or follow something that might make them uncomfortable.
Sometimes this requires more effort, but that’s the point – engaging people with information they need and want.
Second, we are still a minority on Facebook even though our community uses it more than the general population.
Crafting queer spaces on Facebook requires queer people.
Facebook may have reached its peak, but it is still going to be around for a long time. We can separate our desire to be on the cutting edge of social media from our work of community building within the existing structures. Some people opt out and that’s fine. But some of us need to stay opted in and keep the home fires burning. Brightly. Fiercely.
We need to stake a claim on the portion of Facebook that is queer – the whole damn thing. We are here, we are queer and – in the words of State Senator Jim Ferlo – get over it. If the openly queer people leave Facebook en mass, it doesn’t become less queer – but it becomes less openly queer. We sort of need to stay and fight the good fight to claim our land so to speak.
And by queer spaces, I mean “safe spaces” and openly, loud, proud type spaces. I remember several years ago that users could not claim a name with the word lesbian or gay or queer. Now I admin a page with the word “dyke” in it. Facebook can evolve.
Thus, the 50% of us who are out online advocate for those who aren’t. Being out is somewhat of a privilege and with privilege comes responsibility. We are the ones who can raise hell about this – sign the petitions, share the links, be vocal and adamant that Facebook has a duty to address this. We are necessary to amplify these messages.
Third, we are more than a market. I know that the data on our consumer spending is valuable to Facebook, so finding ways to piggyback on that to discuss issues like poverty, homelessness and discrimination are essential. We have to keep bringing these topics to the table. This is part of the danger of the commercialization of Pride around the nation. We may not like having to set up our exhibits next to McDonalds, assorted banks and aluminum siding companies, but it we leave Pride – what would happen to the thousands of people who come looking for information? They get a cheeseburger coupon and then what?
We need to stay at the table (with both Pride and Facebook) to keep these issues front and center.
Fourth, the reality is that most LGBTQ people will not leave Facebook. We can either stand with them and push for change from within or we can walk away, but they aren’t going to join Ello or Google+. They aren’t. Being on the cutting edge of social media is great, but it doesn’t mean you abandon the foot soldiers. We can do both. Selectively, of course, because one could spend all day just monitoring social media.
I want to send a message to the closeted and quietly queer people across the nation that some of us are here with them and they won’t be alone in a sea of cat memes and Buzzfeed quiz results.
I’m not going to lie – I like Facebook and don’t really want to leave. I use other social media tools, but none even touch Facebook for me, including Twitter where I have more connection than on FB. But the fact that it is so successful touches on the reasons I plan to stay. I want to be in touch with my friends across the spectrum of “outness” and I want to agitate for change. I realize I’m a commodity, but I can invert that to my own purposes at times.
If enough people leave to make a ripple, great. That helps with the larger goal of getting the name policy changed. I just think some of us need to stay behind to keep the lights on and continue to monitor the situation. It feels like we might be abandoning a lot of queer folks by taking our time and talents to the next big thing.
I don’t have any inherent objection to people leaving, of course. I simply think this is a battle on multiple fronts – much like the struggle for equality. It only makes sense that we invest resources – including our own time – in various efforts to continue the struggle.