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  • Writer's pictureRachel E. Pollock

The Right to Reinvention

You might wonder what this has to do with my writing, but bear with me.

The Drag Queen Debacle might be what finally cuts the Facebook cord, not just for me, but for many of my friends and acquaintances and colleagues.

I've seen five of my good friends, faraway friends that i stay in touch with only on Facebook, have their accounts suspended for pseudonymous nicks. For all of them, using their legal name is non-negotiable, not gonna happen, and they are all angry and heartbroken and scrambling for other social media outlets to stay in touch with faraway friends--email blasting their Skype nicks, quickly setting up FB pages for their pets (because FB will allow your fucking CAT to have a page that's unverified, but god forbid you function as an actual human with a stage name or an alias), reactivating Google+ or tweeting like mad now. I read a quote from Mark Zuckerberg in which he said that using an alias on social media belied a lack of "integrity." How glorious and warm and fuzzy it must be to live in that insulated a bubble of privilege and presumed safety, to where you cannot fathom a reason for using a pseudonym other than shady behavior. (Nevermind the fact that it grosses me out for Facebook as a company to hide their actual motives--more effective datamining--by paying public lip-service to passing some kind of ethical judgement on others using aliases. Because you know, everyone on Facebook under their drivers-license names is just teeming with fucking integrity. Gimme a break. So, let me run down a few sample reasons why many of my friends and acquaintances and colleagues conduct Facebook activity with pseudonymous accounts.

  • You perform or otherwise operate professionally under a stage name/nom de plume. Nobody knows or cares what Lady Bunny's legal name is. If they'd had Facebook in the 1950s, would Norma Jean Mortensen have had 23048 followers? Fuck off.

  • You are a survivor of abuse, sexual violence, or the victim of stalking, and you don't want to live your life under a rock, but you also don't want to make it any easier for your abuser(s) to find you.

  • You are estranged from your family or a former friend-group, and wish to keep your social media activity separate from drama that might arise with those people. In my own social circles, this one applies most often to people who have been through rehab for addiction and have successfully come clean. Does someone who's successfully kicked a junk habit really want to negotiate a friend request from a former dealer? Bitch, please.

There are, of course, many other valid reasons, including "I don't like my legal name, but don't want to take the time and money and red tape to change it to "Name I Prefer." Whatever the reason, WHO CARES? Facebook only cares because it helps them stalk you better, organize your online habits into more complete, marketable, exploitable profiles. And whatever, that's their business, i'm not even faulting that, but just own your own avarice, instead of putting up this high-horse smoke screeen. I see people moving, not en masse, but in bursts and clusters, to Google+, to, returning to LiveJournal or boosting their Twitter usage. Facebook is starting to hemorrhage performers and writers and survivors and artists and people on the gender and sexuality spectrums who do not fit neatly into demographic Facebook boxes.

And believe me, if you are banking on your social cachet? Those are not the people you want abandoning ship. The birdflipping part of my nature wants to proactively change my Facebook name to something like Coprophagia Tome-de-Visage, something so obviously fake that I get suspended in solidarity.

But the practical part of me knows that i do enough actual professional-related work on Facebook maintaining groups and pages that that might be shooting myself in the foot, i don't know.

What i do know is that i've started checking in a lot more often on Google+, LiveJournal, Twitter, and Ello, to see where the critical mass of friends will wind up migrating. Hell, maybe it'll cause a renaissance in Usenet and IRC or something. Because i suspect that these strongarm account-suspension tactics will ultimately just lose Facebook all their users with utterly valid reasons not to want their Social Security name on their media accounts. And that constitutes a lot of my dear, dear friends. This is not, actually, new news. Facebook and Zuckerberg have been pushing for this for years. The integrity comment? Goes back to 2010. They're just playing hardball now.

But you know what? None of us have to accept it. There are other ways to communicate, to socialize, to stay in touch. Facebook is not, despite what they hope that we think, essential. The social norms of privacy may indeed be changing, but people will probably also always have good, valid reasons for wanting to reinvent themselves, and even in a world of naked Instagram selfies accidentally (or purposefully shared with our grandmothers, we SHOULD all respect those reasons, and that right. Because i'm proclaiming that a human right: the right to reinvention. Fuck yourself, Facebook.

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