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How Facebook Stole my Name, and How I Got it Back

Facebook’s real name policy is hands down a complete waste of time. It not only stands as a clear example of the company wanting to know everything about us but also as a completely unneeded element of the social network. Regardless though I recently found myself head-on with Facebook’s real name policy and found my name stolen from me and put under lock and key by the social network. Thankfully, I was able to get my name back rather quickly but nonetheless, it was a stressful and stupid experience that I would like to share with you all.

Let’s start at the beginning shall we? Like many people on Facebook the site has become a key part of my social life even if I don’t want it to be. I use Facebook daily to keep in contact with friends, family and in some cases even clients. Though it is mostly for sending messages I still consider the side a key part of my daily habits. So when I woke a few days ago to find I had been locked out of my account I was utterly confused and shocked. It then all made sense when I discovered that the reason I was locked out was because of Facebook’s real name policy and to unlock my account I needed to send them my ID. I’m sorry, what?

To give some context to this I should start by saying I don’t really use my real name on Facebook. In fact, I use my real name hardly anywhere online. The main reason is because I don’t see the issue with it but also because over the years my online moniker has become a brand of sorts that links to me. Regardless, why Facebook wants our real names and ID’s on their system I will never know, nor understand.

So after finding the myself looking at the onscreen message I began looking at a way to fight back against the system. From all this Google searching I came across two articles that really stood out and in turn helped me through the fight. The first article by Engadget was an article covering the real name policy and the changes that Facebook announced that will be applied soon to it following initial backlash.

[su_quote cite=”Alex Schultz, VP of Growth at Facebook”]Facebook is making two primary changes. First, the site will now allow users to provide additional context and explanation for using the name they do when confirming their accounts. “This should help our Community Operations team better understand the situation, It will also help us better understand the reasons why people can’t currently confirm their name, informing potential changes we make in the future.”

Anyone who remembers the time that Blizzard Entertainment enforced real name usage on their forums will recall how quickly the backlash lead to the feature being dropped. In the case of Facebook however there wasn’t really any clear timeline or idea of what changes to the policy would be made other than maybe by the end of the year. So I took this in mind and went to the next screen to tackle the policy head on but rather I found myself at a loss right away.

Round one: Your real name please.

So after the initial “your account is locked and we want your real name” message you can click next to carry to input the data requested. This is simply three boxes for your first, middle, and surnames and then the option to upload three files for ID. There is no “additional information”, dropdown boxes or even a simple “let me talk to a human” option. The system makes it very clear to as well that your ID will be stored during the investigation but with no word of when or if they would be deleted.

Round one goes to you Facebook but not for long, I hoped.

Round two: ‘My personal account was disabled’

One of my friends had informed me that my account was gone as though I had disabled it or deleted it. As I had found in another article, this time by Nadia Drake on Wired, talking about her run in with the real name policy as well. She mentioned some of the steps she had looked at to get her account back which sadly, did not work.

One of those was to appeal to the account being disabled and another to report the account as hacked. Both of these didn’t work for Nadia and in turn, didn’t work for me as well. I found myself try to report the event through the ‘my personal account was disabled’ section in Facebook’s help centre. This failed as I needed to log in to even do anything and the reporting the account as hacked would only reset the password. No remove the lock put in place Facebook themselfs.

Round two goes again to Facebook but by now, I’m starting to get angry.

Round three: I want to talk to a human

Nadia mentions in her article how after a short Twitter rant she was finally able to speak to someone through email. After spending easily the best part of an hour or two trying to find a direct contact email or number I gave up and took to Twitter. Trouble was, it was the weekend so any chance of a reply was very, very low. It was here I took a step back to reflect on the whole event.

I was locked out of my own personal account for honestly no real reason. It was as if Facebook was trying to blackmail me to continue to use the site which may I remind everyone, is free to do so. At the end of the day if people don’t use Facebook the company would suffer a damaging blow and at this point, though it would make no impact, I was more then happy to leave the website. The following day however, I got an idea. One which in turn I think was by all accounts, pretty good.

Final round: Time for a counter attack

So Facebook wanted my ID and my real name. Okay then, I play the game and I give them what they want. By this of course I’m joking as what I really did was fill the name boxes with what my profile name had been and would remain. As for the ID section of the form I wanted to have a bit of fun.

Facebook ID

The above image, a screenshot of the aforementioned Engadget article, along with my own addition of red text, was what I submitted as my ID to Facebook. I crossed my fingers and hit the submit button and in a moment of still time, it accepted it. I would now have to play the waiting game as Facebook invested my real name against my supplied ID.

After all of this I honestly did not expect to get my account back and was waiting to make a new account or leave the social network all together. What surprised me was in fact the outcome that happened only an hour later.

[su_quote cite=”Rosemary, Community Operations at Facebook”]Hi Nikholai,

Thanks for your response. We’ve changed your name and reactivated your account. You should now be able to log in.

Victory. Sweet, sweet victory.

The aftermath: Facebook, check your privilege

Facebook stole my name but I got it back. The event had taken just short of two days but I had been able to win thanks to some well placed humour. Honestly though the real victim here isn’t me but everyone who uses Facebook and chooses not to display their real name.

Facebook argues that the real name policy is a benefit and has confirmed it won’t be going anywhere soon. For many this is the end of social networking and in the serious cases their own personal well being. Everyone has their own reasons for not wanting to display their real names online being it for safety, legal or even just personal choice. The result of Facebook pushing these people to go by real legal names is a stab against society and the users of the site. It isn’t something that should be welcomed by rather should be turned against if possible.

For argument’s sake I would stress that sure, my experience with Facebook’s real name policy is not all that bad but I express it as an example of how bad it could be for others. Even with the changes coming to the policy in, hopefully, the next few weeks I still can’t help but worry how this will affect many people. It is as with each passing day the internet becomes a more ruled and enforced place of stupid decisions which ultimately affect the end users more then companies could ever consider.

Facebook, check your privilege. You don’t have the right to our real names just as much as a stranger in a bar asking for our numbers. It’s unjust, creepy and honestly a complete waste of time and an invasion of our personal security. So do one Facebook, and tell me what your real name is because at the end of the day no one should have to send you their ID for any reason.

  • Great story and ending, thanks for sharing your success. Facebook locked me out in August and locked out I remain. It has been so long that some of the damage done cannot be undone, but I will not provide ID under any circumstance.

  • Andy Mitchell

    Interesting read.

    Would it not be fair to say that nobody is forcing you to use Facebook? Surely them requiring you to fill in your real name (probably due to growing pressure from governments and organisations combating cyber bullying) to use their proprietary software is entirely reasonable?

  • Peppermint Twist

    FB locked me out of my account of over five years with zero notice and zero way to get in touch with an actual person via phone, email or private message. They demanded I "submit ID" which, of course, I will never do to FB. Like you, I wasn't using my birth name on FB, for privacy reasons. I was using the internet moniker I've been using on the internet (message boards, forums and my own blog) since BEFORE FACEBOOK EVER EXISTED.

    Anyway, unlike you, I didn't get my account back. I started a new one with my real name, against my better judgement. All my photo albums, content, comments on friends' pages, writing, etc., all GONE. I already thought the ownership of FB was a bunch of spoiled, entitled, obnoxious, privacy-invading idiots. But now I truly detest them. I am ONLY on the thing because my friends are there. I'm waiting for the mass migration to Google+.

    • Peppermint Twist

      UPDATE: I just tried your approach (or, close enough, I'll spare you the details) and, miracle of miracles, THEY (the Facebook Overlords) UNLOCKED MY ORIGINAL ACCOUNT!

      However, the message screen that popped up said something to the tune that it might be locked down again once they review the documents…so we shall see, but at least I was able to download and save some precious PHOTOS and videos I thought I had lost forever. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

      • Peppermint Twist

        UPDATE II: THE SEQUEL: Okay, I'm locked out again. They did not care for my ID. And I'm now done trying to appease The Beast. There is no way I will ever upload the privacy-violating type of ID Facebook actually has the audacity to want. At least I was able, during that tiny window of time that I got back in, to save some of my precious photos, so I thank you again for this blog!

        • That is the thing that some do not realize, but I found out from seeing this happen to friends at Facebook – you can give them a govt ID like a driver's license, and they want MORE. This is yet another reason never to give them anything, because they have a goal and it is not in the interest of the user. If you give them one thing, they have something important, yet you still lose.

    • I, too, really hope people move to Google+ as I use it without having to worry about being exploited by the company in the way that Facebook has done. Google+ is nothing like Facebook, being superior in some ways and lacking in others, both because the masses are not there.