Facebook has been accused of putting users at risk “of rape and death threats” by a journalist who was banned from the social networking site for using a pseudonym.
Laurie Penny, a contributing editor at the weekly political magazine the New Statesman, who also writes for the Guardian, said she had been kicked off Facebook for using a fake name to avoid being trolled.
“Just got suspended by Facebook because I’ve been using a pseudonym so I can hide from goddamn trolls,” she wrote on Twitter.
In a second tweet, Penny added: “Thanks to @facebook forcing me to use my real name, I am now at more risk of rape and death threats. But enjoy flogging that data, guys.”
Penny’s criticisms come less than a year after Facebook was slammed by gay and transgender users for its refusal to allow them to represent themselves with their chosen identities.
In September, a number of users on the site, mainly drag performers, reported that their accounts had been suspended in violation of the company’s “real names” policy, which requires individuals to use their legal name for personal accounts.
Though Facebook does not use an algorithm to detect violations of its policy, individuals can be reported by other users, which raises fears surrounding targeted hate campaigns and political silencing.
Responding to Penny on Twitter this afternoon, one person wrote that Facebook’s policy is “nasty” and “harms victims and survivors, sex workers and trans people”.
Other people to have been affected by Facebook’s real name policy in the past include the Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim and author Salman Rushdie.
In 2011, a blogger in Honduras, who went by the name of La Gringa, pointed to the country’s press freedom rankings after being suspended from the site. She said pseudonyms are important because “many journalists and bloggers freely admit to self-censorship for various reasons.”
In the same year, the Chinese commentator Michael Anti accused Facebook of insulting him by insisting he had to use his birth name Zhao Jing, while at the same time hosting a page for founder Mark Zuckerberg’s puppy. Though Anti sent Facebook a certificate from Harvard University – where he completed a fellowship – as evidence that he is widely known by this pseudonym, he was told he needed to use the name on his government identity card.
He said: “It’s insulting. They think my academic and journalistic work is less real than Zuckerberg’s dog? I have lost more than a thousand contacts overseas.
“It is part of my life. It’s not a fake name but a professional name in the English-speaking world. If the real name policy really applies in China, you will destroy the accounts of at least half the people. It’s ridiculous.”
Facebook has consistently maintained that a “real name culture” creates more accountability. In a statement released following Anti’s complaints, it said: “We fundamentally believe this leads to greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for people who use the service.
“This viewpoint has been developed by our own research and in consultation with a number of safety and child protection experts.”
In addition, the company keeps contact details of its users private, and has made accommodations for those who want to set up fan “pages” under pseudonyms or professional names.