Facebook suspended and then reinstated Vancouver drag queen Peach Cobblah’s account this week, as part of an ongoing struggle between the social network and those who use chosen names on the site.
While Cobblah’s account has been restored, other Vancouver drag queens and burlesque performers remain locked out of their accounts, despite an apology posted Oct 1 by the company’s chief product officer. The apology followed criticism from several prominent San Francisco queens who objected to Facebook’s deletion of their accounts and several hundred others in September.
Chief product officer Chris Cox posted that he was sorry for “the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks” and said “we’re going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were.”
Cox also wrote that Facebook’s policies do not “require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life.”
Cobblah says her account was suspended Oct 6, even though she is using an authentic name. Along with the suspension came a message: “Facebook is a community where people use their real identities. We require everyone to provide their full name so you always know who you’re connecting with. Don’t worry — you’ll be able to get back into your timeline with your full, real name.”
But her drag queen name is a real name, Cobblah says, even if it does not appear on her government ID. “I would venture to say that more people in this city probably know me as Peach Cobblah than who I am when I’m not, because that’s the most public presence I have in the city,” she says.
Cobblah contacted Sister Roma and Lil Miss Hot Mess, the San Francisco drag queens who originally protested Facebook’s ban. They helped her to email Facebook at a special address set up to review drag queen accounts. The next day, and after Xtra contacted Facebook about Cobblah’s case, her account was restored.
Other Vancouver performers’ accounts remain blocked, however, regardless of the authenticity of their names. Burlesque dancer Villainy Loveless says Facebook blocked her account and did not even give her the option of proving her name is real. Instead, it asked her to turn her page into a fan page, a platform for businesses or brands. Through fan pages, Facebook users have to pay to ensure their followers receive messages.
Loveless already has a fan page, however, and says her personal page uses her authentic name. “It’s the name I use in day-to-day life,” she says. “Even my mom calls me Villainy.”
Sister Alma, a drag queen and member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, says she had to change her Facebook name back to the name she uses in everyday life to get back her account. She says she used her drag name to separate her charity work as a drag queen from her everyday life as a medical professional. She, too, sent an email to Facebook appealing the forced name change but has not heard anything back.
“I’ve got my account back,” she says, “but it’s a lot less fun.”
Xtra contacted Facebook for comment on Cobblah’s case. A representative replied by email to refer us back to Cox’s statement and said that the company had added a new way to verify user accounts that involves providing government-issued ID. We pointed out that some people, like Cobblah, might have authentic names that are not on government ID and that Cox’s statement seemed to suggest those would be acceptable but was not clear about how those cases would be handled.
Facebook once again referred us to Cox’s statement and said the company is “working to enhance our enforcement of the policy so that we can ensure that people can use their authentic names on Facebook.”