Most misused policy in Facebook – ‘authentic name’

Kerala, a southern state of India is known for its leftist and progressive politics. The very first democratically elected government in Kerala was from the left front. The state stands out from the rest of India for the same reason, and it is relevant in this time when the entire country is facing unsettling incidences based on religious polarization. Our country is being ruled by the political ideology which upholds religious extremities. And yes it was elected through a democratic system so the majority of society is still guided through religion even when it comes to politics. Social media, especially Facebook is yet another projection of our society, and as it is the case with the real society of Kerala it is the same with social media society. Leftist politics has an upper hand in political discourses and debates in the Keralite community. There are many profiles in Facebook which are used exclusively to indulge in political discourses. As how our Prime Minister and his party had made use of Facebook to gather supporters, so did many other parties.  Facebook is no longer a place to post selfies and gather alumni or the sort. But it is being used as a powerful medium of communication which is aimed at creating more awareness about human rights, politics and perceptions, exposing lies from the authorities.

But what is happening with Facebook is that, it demands that people use their profiles only as the owner of FB intends. That is as they say in the need for real name policy, Facebook is to connect with your friends and community. So what if a woman decides to use this amazing tool to call out for help, to expose communal violence by keeping herself safe through an anonymous name? Facebook seems to be saying no to it. It says use your real name, get friends and that’s all you are allowed to do. Forget all the violence that women face with FB’s lousy policies for a moment, we all have been talking about it. Despite the fact that it yielded no result so far we still keep our protests up. But this is about the politics of majoritarian autocracy. Whoever is the majority, whoever has the power over society Facebook sides with them.

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You know how, here is how. It is election time in Kerala. And almost six strongly opining significant profiles of left parties have been suspended and silenced by the mob which decided against it. And they made use of the real name policy for it. There were profiles which were giving unbiased information about candidates, about their work etc. There were profiles which were reporting sincerely about the atrocities happening in different communities by the capitalist corporate. There were profiles which were writing against gender based violence. And now most of those voices are terminated from Facebook.

Mainstream media has been plagued with everything that is irrational. They are as much polarized as the society is, and they show no shame in spreading blatant lies about the opposition pole. The difference between mainstream media and social media is the fact that social media is more accessible to common man. It holds the news maker responsible for facts. It can question the propagandist lies. It can seek evidence. Mainstream media remains as a monologue, the reader either swallow the news or vomit it out. Common man and woman is left without any other choice unlike social media. So for any society, to have a rational debate on politics social media seems like the easily accessible option. And among Keralites Facebook is the ‘chosen one’. Yet Facebook ignores completely the number of users it has from this community, their needs, and is adamant on its real name policy.1

Why do I say a profile is silenced with this real name policy? No other kind of reporting makes the profile suspended forever. You can get reported for nudity, for harassment etc and FB either removes the content or gives you a warning period. But when your profile is reported for fake name, until and unless you provide an identity document you cannot operate from the profile anymore. And you cannot continue using the name of your choice even after you provide a document. That is where the real policing comes in. Once you submit your ID Facebook gets to decide what has to happen to your profile name. It chooses to impose people with something that they do not wish to keep. So through Facebook it is either have your details exposed and live under the danger of losing your life, or don’t stay in Facebook at all.

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I am curious how Facebook will respond, if the left parties decide to take a collective decision to quit using Facebook since it is majoritarian and dangerous for its users. And this is India we are talking about, any small insignificant collective body will have more number of people than probably an entire state in the US. And that will be a lot of money at stake Facebook, you might want to watch out!

Political parties can easily silence the profiles of opposition parties using this real name policy, and this policy is being misused the most at this crucial time when people of Kerala are preparing for the elections. Contemporary stories from Kerala is revealing this fact. Facebook need not favor left or right politics, but it can worry about the safety of its users, yes? It can and it has to worry about the basic rights of the users, yes? How much longer is it planning to close its eyes towards the fact that this real name policy is actually dangerous and misused? There are student union leaders who will have to face the wrath of their authorities if they are being found to be talking about against their authority. There are employees who cannot risk losing their job by exposing their identities. What is stopping the apostles of Internet.org from seeing how absurd is their policy and how it is a danger for various communities?

Irony jumps off from the cliff and commits suicide when Facebook vigilantly takes action against a profile that is named as ‘King Lear’ because of a report from profiles named as ‘Macbeth’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Romeo’ and ‘Othello’. Facebook does not care who is furnishing these reports, but its concern is only about the real name policy. It is denying a whole society to have a platform which might actually influence the election results. Facebooking is no longer a light act for many of the people from Kerala. There are people who are risking their lives to serve the society. If user amounts to money in the Facebook’s equations why should it turn its back towards the safety of these same users? India is facing a lot of violence and is going through a highly sensitive period. It thirsts for an ideology and leadership that is based on democracy and rationality. Many Keralites use Facebook as leverage to hold the harmony and push off  anti social radical religious groups. The whole society is being denied of this chance by a lousy policy from Facebook. When the radical religious groups loses their ability to hold an upper hand in political discourses they seek Facebook’s policy to shut down profiles which talk rationally. Facebook, authentic name is the most misused policy in social media.

Maya Leela

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