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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Say my (Facebook) name

Imagine a casual conversation:

“What was your name again?”

“Oh, I’m Jack.”

“Really? Prove it.”

Many Americans never face this level of scrutiny. We take for granted the security of our identities and others’ responses when we simply state our names.

Apparently, though, the American ideal that “you can be anybody you want” applies only if your name fits within a narrow margin of “normal.”

“Your name wasn’t approved.”

That’s the message that countless Native Americans have been confronted with when trying to access their Facebook accounts.

Social media is the new hub for introductions and conversations alike. In this new forum, the standard introduction generally involves scanning a new person’s profile for their name.

For most, establishing an online identity is as simple as providing a full name and a few other personal details. No one suspects the information of being fraudulent; from then on, staying connected with news, friends and family becomes as easy as logging in.

For many Native Americans, however, things aren’t so easy.

Facebook’s “real-name policy” -— which aims to prevent and deactivate fraudulent accounts — has backfired. It has determined that many Native American names are inauthentic. This error often arises in cases when a traditional Native American name contains a combination of adjectives and nouns. Users whose names are flagged by this policy are suspended from their accounts until they provide multiple, invasive sources of documentation such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses and tribal IDs to validate their preferred names. Others are forced to change their online names entirely.

According to interviews with the Washington Post, Facebook users such as Shane Creepingbear and Dana Lone Hill — both reported for their surnames — have publicly decried the policy in response to being suspended from their accounts multiple times.

To add insult to injury, the suspension occurred to Creepingbear on Columbus Day, otherwise known as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“Try again @Creepingbear apparently my family name does not meet @facebook standards. Way to go #ColumbusDay #facebook,” Creepingbear tweeted.

Another user, Oglala Lakota Lance Brown Eyes, provided Facebook with the requested forms of ID upon being suspended. After the situation had been processed, however, Brown Eyes logged into his account to find that Facebook had permanently changed his name to “Lance Brown.”

Public dialogue raises the question: Are these policies careless oversights on behalf of Facebook’s fraud detection algorithm or a form of racism requiring that social media users adopt more traditionally Anglo names?

Because only a select few Facebook users are required to prove the validity of their names, it’s obvious that Facebook’s policy reflects not just the goal to promote authenticity but a desire to manipulate users into adopting names that better fit into America’s accepted spectrum of “familiar” names.

Donna Swaim, a recently-retired faculty fellow of the UA Native American Student Affairs, agrees she “would attribute [Facebook’s] inappropriate reaction to Native American names to narrow perceptions of ‘normal’ naming.”

Native Americans face scrutiny that the John Smiths and Mary Johnsons of Facebook will never be forced to encounter. This is, in part, because the “real-name policy” relies on community reports to deactivate “suspicious” accounts. Any user who comes across a name they think could be fake has the power to report that person to Facebook.

This means that the number of people negatively affected by the “real-name policy” is directly correlated with the cultural awareness of other Facebook users. Those with limited knowledge or those who are culturally insensitive toward non-European names are more likely to falsely report Native Americans.

If Facebook won’t rescind its policy, the best way to counter it is to promote the idea that a person’s usage of their preferred name is entirely their choice. Even if that name seems foreign or unreal, it’s not for others to decide whether it should be accepted or not.

After all, it would be better for a few misguided, fraudulent accounts to slip by on Facebook than for hundreds or thousands of people’s authentic names to be degraded and treated as jokes.

Whether or not the subjugation of its users was Facebook’s intention in establishing the policy, it is certainly the impact. Facebook has developed the most effective and damaging way to marginalize a group of people: Strip them of an essential part of their identities.


Hailey Dickson is a freshman studying public health and molecular & cellular biology. Follow her on Twitter.

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