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Spotlight on: Facebook and Google Crackdown on Using Real Names

Updated on August 12, 2019

By Rachael O'Halloran

Published September 22, 2014

Facebook TOS Requires You To Use Your Real Name

Do you think you should be "forced" to use your real name for a social network account?

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Identity Check Time

If you think you should have the right to use an alias instead of your real name ... Facebook won't agree with you, and they're willing to delete your account to prove it.
If you think you should have the right to use an alias instead of your real name ... Facebook won't agree with you, and they're willing to delete your account to prove it. | Source

Enforcing Terms of Service (TOS)

For Google, it was always a recommendation.

For Facebook, it has always been a rule, clearly written in their TOS, that you are required to use your real name. However, neither social site has ever asked for proof, and it was rarely, if ever, enforced.

Huffington Post reports that people using real names helps Facebook to target advertisements to over 1.32 billion users, but Facebook claims the real name requirement is mostly to reduce bullying and criticisms. (I don't know how they arrive at that conclusion!)

On Wednesday, September 10, 2014, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, made an announcement that Facebook will now be enforcing their long-standing policy.

"All users must use their legal names (the one that's on a driver's license or credit card)," or Facebook will start suspending accounts until the change is made.

Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook already began notifying those accounts which they felt were in violation of their policy (i.e. fake names and names with "titles.")

In February 2014, Facebook added over 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender (examples: transwoman, non-binary, intersex) including a choice of him, her or them.

Facebook said that gender has always been private and is expected to remain so.

Name and profile picture have always been public and are expected to remain so.

The requirement of "real names" is at the heart of this article.

Google's Stand As Of July 2014

Google has reversed their "real name" policy as of July 16, 2014, and no longer requires legal or real names on Google accounts.

Google's Official Statement:

"We know that our names policy has been unclear, and this has led to some unnecessarily difficult experiences for some of our users. For this we apologize, and we hope that today's change is a step toward making Google+ the welcoming and inclusive place that we want it to be."

Facebook: Use Your Real Name - Or Else!

By selecting account names using titles like Father, Brother, Sister, Doctor, Yitz, Mister, Mistress and others, Mark Zuckerberg's team contacted a large number of people using religious titles and specific adult performers in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

They were told to start using their real names on Facebook or else have their accounts disabled.

The Notice A User Receives From Facebook

This is the screen users get when they try to sign on with what Facebook deems to be a fake name.
This is the screen users get when they try to sign on with what Facebook deems to be a fake name. | Source

Facebook's official statement

"We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you're connecting with. This helps keep our community safe."

The "Sister" Title

Among those targeted was "Sister Roma," a Facebook user since 2009 and a member of the LGBT community.

Facebook at first said they were citing her for using the title "Sister" because they didn't allow titles.

Soon afterward, Facebook informed her that she was in violation of their TOS for not using her birth name of "Michael Williams," a name she hasn't used in over 27 years. They gave her the company line that if she didn't comply by using her real name, they'd disable her Facebook account.

When Sister Roma refused, Facebook followed through and suspended her account.

Disabling, shutting down, deleting, suspension - the words all mean the same thing.

The account is gone and so is anything associated with the account - photo albums, all comments and interactions with other users, any Facebook groups they created and any stand alone Facebook Pages they own.

Sister Roma's interactions with her family, her friends, and her photos all disappeared with her account suspension. And so did her Facebook Page (also called a Fan Page) where she is listed as a Public Figure and has a following of almost 10,000.

Since she has 5,000 friends on her regular Facebook account and many photo albums on both her Facebook account and Fan Page, including prized photos with Cyndi Lauper and other celebrities, she didn't want to lose it all.

But when Facebook shut her down, it was all gone, as if they never existed.

Facebook Name Rules (click to enlarge)

Most of us weren't born with one, but Facebook objects to 'titles' as part of a real name. I wonder if Prince William or Prince Harry have their own Facebook accounts ....
Most of us weren't born with one, but Facebook objects to 'titles' as part of a real name. I wonder if Prince William or Prince Harry have their own Facebook accounts .... | Source

Public User Settings

Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, said in 2010 that if he were to create Facebook over again, all user information would be permanently set to public and the user would have no option to change it.

He seems to have thrown user privacy out the window when Facebook offered stock options in 2009.

He forgets that when people joined Facebook, they really liked the idea that they had control of their privacy settings to determine what part of, and to whom their personal information was accessible.

Your user name and your profile picture have always been public, so if Facebook requires you use your real name, where is the privacy in that?

Sister and Brother Titles

It's not so much the LGBT community that Facebook is targeting but rather their use of non-legal names and the title "Sister." (Example: Sister Mary Francis, Sister Roma)

Since I don't have a Facebook account, I had to ask my son to do a search for me.

The list returned over 500 Catholic nuns, over 60 missionaries of various religious affiliations, 31 authors of theological works, and 312 accounts with connections to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The use of the title "Sister" is widespread. So I asked him to search for "Brother." (Example: Brother Charles as a religious salutation)

Facebook is going to be pretty busy tracking down all these TOS violators.

So Who Is Sister Roma?

Sister Roma is a community activist and member of San Francisco LGBT community, a fundraiser, a volunteer for STOP AIDS Project and other organizations, an Ordained Minister, one half of The Tim & Roma Show, a columnist/contributor to Gloss Magazine, guest star of local radio and television talk shows and on CNN, FOX's Bill O'Reilly and BRAVO's Kathy Griffin "My Life On The D-List," an Art Director for an adult video site, and a cat owner/lover.

Her Facebook Fan Page proclaims her to be The Most Photographed Nun In The World as a member of The Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence.

Many view her as an adult performer and a drag queen.

Facebook sees her using the title "Sister" and wants it gone from her account because it is not her real name.

She rallied her friends, and they contacted their friends. She has just the right number of friends in just the right places to bring this issue to national attention. Soon they had a lot of outraged drag queens who decided to meet with Facebook to plead their case.

On September 12, 2014, David Campos, a member of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors along with members of several San Francisco's LGBT communities had a meeting with Facebook's Public Relations and "Pride" teams.

However, Sister Roma and friends learned that these teams were in no position to make decisions, so the outcome of the meeting brought no satisfaction. Facebook policy remains unchanged as of this writing.

The community regrouped and decided to approach this with a petition.

An online petition on which demanded that Facebook change its policy, had 25,000 signatures within 24 hours.

Facebook noticed.

On September 13, 2014, Facebook decided to temporarily restore hundreds of deleted accounts of LGBT members affected by the name change policy, but only for two weeks. If they didn't change their name to their real name or convert over to a Fan Page, Facebook said they would permanently delete their accounts.

Sister Roma already had a Facebook Fan Page listing her as a Public Figure under her Sister Roma name. She just wanted her regular Facebook account back with its 5,000 friends and all her photo albums.

And she wanted to continue using the name she's been using for 27 years, the name she is known by in many circles, the name that is not her legal name, but her chosen name.

Sister Roma and other activists say that Facebook doesn't realize that many of their users who use aliases, screen names and other non-legal names are doing so not only to protect their privacy, but also because some are escaping from abuse of some kind. In some LGBT cases, some are not totally migrated into the gay world, and use Facebook as a way to socialize with members of their social circles.

UPDATE: September 14, 2014 - The regular Facebook account of Sister Roma, using her real name Michael Williams, was reinstated. But she said any conversations on her account discussing Facebook's "real names" policy have all been marked as spam or abusive, even after she complied with Facebook's demand to put her real name on her account. She responded to a message from another Sister only to find previous messages were deleted.

Her Facebook Fan Page was also "reactivated" when her regular account was reinstated so that she was able to recover her photos and reconnect with friends and fans.

It wasn't only members of the LGBT community with titles in their names that came under Facebook's gun.

Facebook also targeted other people of faith with first or last names that could be considered a "title."

Facebook Allows Five Name Changes

For anyone who has a Facebook account, you probably know they allow each user up to five name changes per account.

I guess it is mostly to take into consideration if you get re-married, divorced, return to a maiden name, or have your name changed legally due to adoption, becoming a nun, or a missionary.

I wonder if undergoing gender reassignment is covered under that ....

In any event, they allow that many name changes, for whatever reasons.

How many times have you seen people use names for a particular game they play? Bill Slotomania Smith, KimCaesarBergen, MyFacebookGameName (yes, I've seen it!), and LynnsGameAccount.

For each change, is Facebook going to require proof of their identity before approving their name revision?

The Case of Yitz Jordan

I came across Yitz Jordan's run-in with Facebook when I was looking for the Pros and Cons about using real names on the internet. His plight touched me so much that I wanted to let you know about it.

Now, I don't have as much biographical data about Yitz Jordan as did about Sister Roma, but that doesn't make his case any less important.

According to his post, Facebook told him that their “systems indicated that his account may not be authentic based on a variety of factors” and he was blocked from Facebook on Aug. 26, 2014. One of those factors was his first name.

In order to get use of his account back, he had to verify his identity by submitting a government ID with photo on it.

"Yitz" is a Hebrew name he began using after he converted to Judaism about 15 years ago, so it is not his birth or legal name. However, it is a popular name on Facebook and if Facebook continues their real name enforcement, they will be real busy going after the people with that name to challenge their identity, citing their use of a name as a TOS violation.

Yitz wrote: "After changing the name on my profile to match the name on my ID, a representative for Facebook twice referred me to the name policy about “titles of any kind,” implying that “Yitz”—my Hebrew name, which I have used since conversion to Judaism nearly 15 years ago—was a “religious title.” After sending in two additional pieces of supplementary ID reflecting my name (the one on my ID), I was warned that Facebook’s Support Center would simply 'not respond' to me any longer."

Facebook Support told him that his account was not permitted any more appeals and sent him the following notice:

Please click to enlarge


Yitz Jordan's Statement

"To clarify, my profile was re-enabled with my birth name after sending Facebook my personal identification information. However, given that I have used my Hebrew name for over a decade, I could no longer interact on Facebook with a community who didn’t recognize me. I took down my profile photo as a result."

Posted on


Does it seem fair to you that Facebook is questioning the identity of people with "titles" to show proof, change to their real name or open a Fan Page?

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Professional Actors And Actresses Who Do Not Use Their Real Names

Martin Sheen - real name Ramon Antonio Gerard Estevez

Charlie Sheen - real name Carlos Irwin Estevez

Michael Caine - real name Maurice Joseph Micklewhite

Tom Cruise - real name Thomas Mapother

Steven Tyler - real name Steven Tallarico

Sophia Loren - real name Sofia Villani Scicolone

Ben Kingsley - real name Krishna Pandit Bhanji

Woody Allen - real name Allen Stewart Konigsberg

Meg Ryan - real name Margaret Mary Hyra

Joan Crawford - real name Lucille Fay LeSueur

Mel Brooks - real name Melvin Kaminsky

Tea Leoni - real name Elizabeth Tea Pantaleoni

Barry Manilow - real name Barry Alan Pincus

Vin Diesel - real name Mark Sinclair Vincent

Alice Cooper (male) - real name Vincent Damon Furnier

Tim Allen - real name Timothy Alan Dick

Eric Bana - real name Eric Banadinovich

Nicholas Cage - real name Nicolas Kim Coppola

Carmen Electra - real name Tara Leigh Patrick

Jamie Foxx - real name Eric Bishop

Miley Cyrus - real name Destiny Hope Cyrus

Whoopi Goldberg - real name Caryn Johnson

Just saying ....


After reading a lot of news articles and a few user experiences on this subject, Facebook's claim that using real names will reduce bullying and keep the community safe doesn't even compute for me.

What is Facebook going to do? "Card" everyone at the door for proof of identity like your first club did when you turned 21?

Facebook talks about keeping the community safe but seems to have no regard for the safety of some of its users who must hide their identities behind screen names and fake names because they are victims of abuse, stalking, harassed by vindictive family members, and other personal reasons.

Facebook would do well to instead target all of the obvious fake names of Facebook gamers who make up a large part of Facebook's 1.32 billion active monthly users.

If you want to use an alias, or screen name, Facebook has this answer:

Anyone with an alias or a name that is not their legal name is advised to create a Facebook Fan Page to replace their regular Facebook account.

Regular Facebook Accounts vs Facebook Pages

Facebook Pages are typically for those who have a business, are performers or have a large Fan base, have friends lists over Facebook's 5,000 limitation, or want to promote a certain activity or event (ex: inspirational quotes, charity events, fundraisers or book promotions).

Regular Facebook accounts are for regular people who typically don't have in excess of 5,000 friends and who do not use it to promote a business or event.

The interaction and the privacy settings of a Facebook Fan Page are very different in setup.

With Facebook Fan Pages, you can't assign privacy settings of particular posts to certain people because there are no privacy settings and no friends list. Your "friends" are the followers who click "Like."

Likes are garnered by promotion either by paying to advertise your page with Facebook ads -- or by word of mouth. Ads cost a minimum of $50 for Facebook to place ads in the sidebars of regular user accounts to specific audiences (per the category of your Fan Page) as set by their user preferences. The higher your investment, the more audience Facebook claims to reach with email blasts and the number of ads placed per day.

To require anyone with a screen name to open a Facebook Fan Page just because they refuse to comply with their name change requirement seems ridiculous.

For people who are

  • estranged from family members
  • abused by former partners or family members,
  • like Yitz Jordan who take on a Hebrew name when converting to Judaism
  • part of the LGBT community

These are not people who have a fan base or are running businesses like many other owners of Facebook Pages.

These are people who only want to be on a social media site to interact with members on their friends' lists, with people of their faith, to belong to Facebook groups, and to share their upcoming social and charitable activities.

That's pretty much the same thing many other Facebook users do on their regular Facebook accounts.

Facebook Policy

Whether one is an abused wife, a transgender, a former convict or living in a government Witness Protection Program - "there are a million different kinds of people in the world who can give you a million different reasons for using a fake name." Paraphrased from Sister Roma

I hope Facebook's policy doesn't get one or more of them killed.

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Rachael O'Halloran


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