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Facebook to test tweaks to real name policy again after more criticism

Preventing the policy from being weaponized

Facebook announced that it plants to test alterations to its controversial real name policy to allow users more room to explain their name choices. The company will also require more explanation from users who report others for violating the real name rule to prevent it from being used as a silencing or harassment tactic on the social network, according to BuzzFeed. Alex Schultz, Facebook's vice president of growth, explained the changes in a letter today after the company received an organized complaint from members of the LGBT community, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other activist and advocacy groups who say the real name policy is still overly simplified and technically flawed.

"We want to reduce the number of people who are asked to verify their name on Facebook, when they are already using the name people know them by," Schultz wrote. "We want to make it easier for people to confirm their name if necessary." Now, Facebook says it may give users the opportunity to write to Facebook's Community Operations team to explain their name choice. In the past, Facebook simply asked for confirmation of someone's name with no room for context. Reporting another user for using an alleged fake name will may also require more information to prove the authenticity of the claim. Facebook says it will test the changes starting in December

More room to explain your name choice

The real name policy began generating renewed controversy last fall for users who don't use their legal name on Facebook in either social or professional contexts. Everyone from San Francisco drag queens to foreign dissidents were being unceremoniously kicked off Facebook, either because the company's system was ill-equipped to handle non-traditional identifiers or because harassers or repressive governments were utilizing it as a weapon.

Facebook has slowly been making progress to fix it. In June, the company axed its mandate that users send in a legal document to clear up the complaint, instead letting people prove their identities with an addressed piece of mail and remain active on Facebook during a one-week consideration period. But the company remains steadfast in its defense of the policy's necessity to free the social network from bad actors who hide behind anonymity. "When people use the name others know them by, they are more accountable for what they say, making it more difficult to hide behind an anonymous name to harass, bully, spam or scam someone else," Schultz wrote.

Update at 2:27PM, Friday, October 30: Clarified that Facebook will begin the tests in December. Also clarified that while Facebook's real name policy has existed in some form since the site's creation, it began generating renewed controversy last fall.