For a brief period, I was a full-time music journalist. That’s how I came to know Al Overdrive, a photographer whose work is featured by some of the world’s biggest fashion and music titles, as well as a lot of big brands. And yes, his legal name is Alister Overdrive. That’s what it says on his driver’s licence and passport.
But, for the second time in as many years, Facebook doesn’t believe that Al Overdrive can possibly be his real name, despite him previously jumping through the social network’s hoops and supplying it with copies of his documents. This isn’t the equivalent of Homer Simpson changing his name to ‘Max Power.’
There have been numerous examples of this happening to trans people, those using pseudonymous profiles to protect themselves from abusers, and performers who are known by something other than their birth name.
Facebook has been promising that its ‘real name’ policy is being refined for several years. The company’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox said in October 2014:
I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks.
It really doesn’t look like that apology has resulted in adequate changes yet.
For Al, Facebook suddenly deciding to lock down his profile and his access to professional groups on the social network (some of which he moderates), will have a material effect on his business. He hasn’t even been able to add a message to profile to let people know why he is not responding.
The focus of my rage, of course, is that the email telling me I need to use my real name and that my account is inactive until I tell them who I really am. One would think that, having sent them proof when this last happened, their systems would be able to retain a record of me having provided authentic identification – so now I am at the mercy of their super-slow system and unable to even put up a note on my page with alternate contact information.
Obviously for a company that wants to be the most important business social media platform this kind of slackness makes me reluctant to use it for business in the future.
I’m flagging up this example for two reasons – one, it’s useful to see that almost anyone can get caught up in Facebook’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy, and two, as a PSA to anyone with an ‘unusual’ name on the social network. Make sure you’ve got alternative contact information listed on your profile in case someone decides to flag you to Facebook, resulting in a lock out.
One of my childhood friends – we’re no longer exactly close – is now a Hollywood star and he uses a ‘false’ name on Facebook to avoid having his account bombarded by fans, which is a very real possibility. No one has twigged or flagged his account, because, luckily, his friends aren’t assholes.
Incidentally, my name on Facebook is Mic Wright. My full name is Michael Wright. That’s the name on my passport and all my other official documents. Is that acceptable to the name police? I’ve contacted Facebook in the hope that it will send me more than the usual boilerplate statement about this issue.
Let’s all commiserate with Al by watching this together:
Read next: Facebook’s name pronunciation tool is your ticket to trolling its ‘real name’ policy
Feat image credit: Al Overdrive