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New 'Nameless Coalition' challenges Facebook's real-name policy

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A new collection of groups called The Nameless Coalition is targeting Facebook's real-name policy. The policy requires Facebook users to register under their "authentic identity," and allows for users to be suspended if their identity is found to be fraudulent, but complex issues of online identity have made the policy controversial from the start.

In a letter to the company, the new coalition asks Facebook to reform its abuse-reporting system and allow for further exemptions of pseudonyms and non-legal names in specific situations. Facebook faced criticism earlier this year for suspending accounts registered under non-legal names, and in July, a German privacy regulator ruled that the policy violated the country's privacy laws.

"We will not stop advocating until fundamental changes are made."

A broad range of groups have been affected by the real-name policy, with US-based drag queens kicked off Facebook over stage names and foreign dissidents reported for abuse on a mass scale by repressive regimes. The new coalition is the first time those groups have formally joined to protest the policy, bringing together tech advocacy groups like Access and the Electronic Frontier Foundation with gay rights groups like Human Rights Watch and the Transgender Law Center, as well as the ACLU and a number of Indian and Pakistani human rights groups.

Facebook's actual policy has been updated several times since the controversy began, but it's also been shaped by the practical limitations of customer service and user reporting systems. In June, Facebook loosened the policy to rely less on legal documents, allowing for any addressed piece of mail to be used as proof-of-authenticity and a weeklong verification period during which the account is still accessible. Still, the Coalition letter believes those don't go far enough, with government registrations still playing a central role in verifying a given user's name.

A Facebook representative confirmed that the letter was received, and defended the policy as a necessary measure to ensure users know who they are communicating with. "While we know not everyone likes this approach, our policy against fake names helps make Facebook a safer place by enabling us to detect accounts created for malicious purposes," the representative said. "It makes it harder, for example, for terrorist organizations to hide behind fake profiles, school bullies to anonymously smear the reputations of others, or anyone else to use an anonymous name to harass, scam or engage in criminal behavior." Nonetheless, the representative said the company has been working on improvements to the policy and related tools for months, based on direct feedback from Facebook users.

The coalition has asked Facebook to respond to the letter before October 31st, either with an official reply or changes to its policy. "Our communities recognize the common injury this policy currently inflicts," the letter reads, "and we will not stop advocating until fundamental changes are made."

4:38PM ET: Updated with a response from Facebook.


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