Posted by on Mar 10, 2015 in Featured

The Removal of American Indians from Facebook by Shane Creepingbear

The Removal of American Indians from Facebook by Shane Creepingbear

Facebook continues to insist that our names do not meet their name “standards”. These “standards” are tied directly to state legal apparatuses. The removal of American Indians from Facebook is part of a larger history of removing, excluding, and exiling American Indians from public life, and public space. It not only mirrors this, its a continuation of it and it has deadly consequences. We shouldn’t allow this part of the story to get lost and out of focus by only discussing the Facebook name policy itself. Facebook is acting within an intentional and carefully maintained framework—one that is so far-reaching and so piercing that the impact it has on everyone’s lives is immeasurable—and this complicity is tremendously damaging to those groups of people whose lives have been systematically destabilized and disrupted over the past centuries.

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Facebook’s name policy is discriminatory, racist, and dangerous. This policy supports a narrative that masks centuries of occupation and erasure of Native culture. The parallel between Natives being removed from the space they occupied and the removal from Facebook’s space is stark. Furthermore, in the name of an anti-bullying initiative it encourages the deliberate targeting of certain groups of people over others and helps facilitate an even more dangerous faceless bullying. This type of racism and bigotry hinders cultural growth and positions itself above society as the arbiter of race and gender. It’s an exclusionary system that enforces class, race and gender lines in our lives and relationships and pushes out those who can’t immediately be categorized.

Facebook claims that they enforce this rule to keep online bullying at bay. In reality this tool can easily be exploited by bullies and aid them in targeting specific populations. They claim this system is automated to varying degrees, and uses algorithms to confirm names that somehow go against their standards. But even these algorithms have to be created by someone, so where does the accountability for these mistakes lie? And once these algorithms make their supposedly neutral decision, the name verification process can have lasting effects on the lives of the marginalized people they target. Many Native communities in North America are among the most economically depressed and requiring these individuals to jump through arbitrary hoops just to confirm their existence further alienates them from the communities that do not have to go to such extreme measures to meet Facebook’s name standards. In the process to “confirm” a name is “real”, one I recently went through, you have to turn over sensitive personal information to an organization with a history of privacy violations and poor information control. Just as well, many people do not have access to the kinds of documentation they accept.

While this experience was marginalizing and inconvenient for me, it’s actually dangerous for people that identify as transgender or non-binary, not to mention any individual that might be hiding from their abusers. Facebook is the only way some people can access much needed support networks, and cutting them off completely can be life threatening. This is an ongoing, unrecognized catastrophe. Facebook’s name policy relies on cultural norms and legal systems that are are white supremacist, gender exclusionary and dangerous. Through its complicity with them, Facebook reinforces those norms and systems, and should be held accountable for doing so.

Shane Creepingbear is the Assistant Director of Admissions and Multicultural Recruitment & Enrollment Coordinator at Antioch College.