An avatar is an icon used to represent someone online. It's also an "epic science fiction film directed, written, produced, and co-edited by James Cameron, and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sigourney Weaver," or so I'm told. I don't know. It's no Titanic.
Turns out, it's also the real last name of an Arizona couple – Boa and Audry Avatar.
But Facebook took issue with it, as it sometimes does, and banned the Avatars for violating its real name policy.
We've talked before about Facebook's real name policy and how it's not really that great for some in the community. Basically, Facebook forces users to use the name they would find on official documents – IDs, paycheck stubs, bills, bank cards, etc. The list of acceptable identification forms is long, but still pretty stuffy. The bottom line is that Facebook wants your real name. It’s better for data tracking. It’s better for ad targeting.
The company has a history of banning people for using assumed names. And sometimes, like the case of the Avatars (and many Native Americans), Facebook screws up and thinks someone's real name is actually a fake name.
"I'm not blue, so, and I'm not gigantic," Audry Avatar told KTVK. She was prevented from changing her maiden name to her married name.
Here's Facebook's response to the matter:
We are committed to ensuring that all members of the Facebook community can use the names that they use in real life. 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. 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. We have more work to do, and our teams will continue to prioritize these improvements.
Of course, the Avatar family will probably get this straightened out – especially now. But this just highlights another inherent problem with Facebook's policy. Mark Zuckerberg says the policy helps keep people safe.
But many transgender feel Facebook’s real name policy is discriminatory and ultimately unsafe. People who are victims of online abuse have also denounced Facebook’s policy, saying pseudonyms let them hide from trolls. Domestic violence victims say the same thing. Facebook has even faced lawsuits from Native American activists over the policy.
Last month, a German regulator said that Facebook must allow fake names, and forcing real names violates privacy rights.