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Who Should Be Unmasked on the Internet?

Facebook has always wanted to be the online chronicle of its members’ lives, a digital space where friendships are maintained and strengthened, births and birthday parties announced and chronicled, articles and consumer brands recommended, and the demographic profiles of its members steadily refined. Because of that, the information that Facebook users provide in their profiles has to be their real information. There are plenty of places on the Internet that still allow for anonymity and self-invention, but Facebook is not one of them.

Last week Facebook found itself apologizing for enforcing that policy. The company’s chief product officer, Chris Cox, wrote a blog post apologizing to “drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and [the] 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.” Facebook had suspended the accounts in question after it was made aware that those accounts were attached not to the users’ legal names but adopted names such as Sister Roma and Lil Miss Hot Mess. The response from the drag and transgender community was fierce—chosen names are, many argued, their actual names, more so than the names on their drivers’ licenses, and in some cases those new names gave a measure of protection against virtual and real-world harassment and attacks.