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Facebook ‘Authentic Name’ Policy Discriminates against Native Americans

Dana Lone Hill (Facebook)

Dana Lone Hill (Facebook)

Facebook’s policy of only allowing accounts with “authentic” names is resulting in Native American users being blocked from using their real names.

Last year, Gigaom reported that Facebook’s “authentic names” policy, softened from the previous “real names” rule, was forcing some gay and transgender users to use birth names that they no longer identify with or have their pages blocked when they tried to use their transition, drag or performer names.

Now some Native Americans are being targeted by Facebook’s name police. Writing at Last Real Indians, Dana Lone Hill, a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, recounted how she was forced by Facebook to prove her true identity.

“To date I have sent 3 forms of ID, one with a picture, my library card, and a piece of mail in file form,” she wrote. “I received a generated message to be patient while they investigate to see if I am a real person.”

Lance Brown Eyes, also Oglala Lakota Sioux, was surprised when Facebook took it upon itself to change his name to Lance Brown, even after he provided proof of his real name.

“They had no issue with me changing my name to a white man’s name but harassed me and others, forcing us to prove our identity while other people kept whatever they had,” fumed Brown Eyes. “They let me change my name back but what about you and all the others they discriminated against. Our people need to know they can fight back. The more of us stand up, they will change.”

Last Columbus Day, a US national holiday regarded by many Native Americans as the beginning of the genocidal colonization of the Americas by Europeans, Shane Creepingbear, a member of the Kiowa tribe in Oklahoma, received an ironic message from Facebook informing him that his name “violates our name standards.”

“Apparently my family name does not meet Facebook standards,” Creepingbear tweeted on October 13. “Way to go #ColumbusDay.”

“It’s a problem when someone decides they are the arbiter of names,” Creepingbear told Colorlines. “It can come off a tad racist.”

Especially when make-believe characters like “Left Shark” from Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime show get to use their “real names” on their Facebook pages.

NJ.com reports Brandy Eves, a Native American from Hackettstown, NJ has launched a Change.org petition aimed at persuading Facebook to change its policy and let Native Americans use their real names.

“Stop this racism,” Eves wrote in her petition, which has been signed by more than 13,000 people as of Friday night. “Many Native Americans are being forced to have their Legal Native American names removed and are being forced to use fake names because their real names were not acceptible [sic] to be used,” Eves wrote.

Facebook product officer Chris Cox issued an apology in the wake of the LGBT name controversy. But Eves differentiates between Native American names and those adopted by some LGBT stage and performance artists.

“Native names are legal and binding with ceritified [sic] papers, NOT stage names,” she wrote.

A Facebook spokesman told the Washington Post that the social media giant is working on improving its name verification process.

“Having people use their authentic names makes them more accountable, and also helps us root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation and hate speech,” the spokesman’s statement said. “Over the last several months, we’ve made some significant improvements in the implementation of this standard, including enhancing the overall experience and expanding the options available for verifying an authentic name.”

Lone Hill says she expects Facebook to acknowledge its mistake.

“I am just expecting an apology from Facebook to the Native American community any day now, especially if they are sincere,” she told Moral Low Ground.

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