As many of us in the queer community know there has been a lot of anger brewing in the last week about Facebook’s “true name” policy. Recently Facebook has cracked down on drag queens who violate their policy to only use your real name on the social network. While the policy has long been in place the recent crackdown has sparked outrage from many across the queer community because it puts them in the unenviable position of leaving Facebook or exposing their birth name, which could lead to serious harm from bigoted family members, employers, or neighbors.
While the easy position for libertarians to take is to say they are a private business and they can do what they want, I find this approach to be heartless and lazy. Many libertarians take the stance on marriage equality that the government shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all, therefore they don’t support marriage equality. While that might be philosophically pure it is again, heartless and lazy (and in a few cases a way for bigots to cloak their hatred behind a noble cause). But, if that is your stance you should be encouraging non-government agencies to see identity, relationships, and names as something owned by the individual and not the state. Those companies that view people as individuals instead of looking only at their government issue IDs, accreditation, or marriage certificates should be praised. Libertarians should be standing next to the queer community and fighting Facebook on this policy, your name and identity belong to you. It is not the property of the state (or your parents who named you), it is your personnel property to define and use as you wish.
It is particularly sad that the liberty community is being so silent on this issue when many people use fake names like “Freeman”, “Rothbard”, “Liberty”, etc as their online identity. Facebook says that they are not targeting members of the queer community, that it is a computer algorithm that identified them. I don’t know if this is true, given Facebook’s very progressive stance on gender identity I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this, but it is still a bad policy and libertarians should fight it. I don’t think the state should be involved but we should put pressure on them by writing to Facebook, boycotting those that advertise with them, and doing everything we can to stand in solidarity with those currently targeted, who face a very real fear of harm by this policy change.
Many have said that you can always have a “page” instead of a “profile” if you don’t want to use your name. While this might seem to be a solution on paper, the truth is separate but equal (and this would be far from equal) is not a solution. Facebook treating people differently because of their identity is discrimination, pure and simple. They are looking to the government as the only legitimate source of identity, something libertarians should be furious about. This policy, if left unchecked, encourages Facebook to require government verification for marriages, hometowns, and every other factor of our existence. We should draw a line in the sand here and vocally oppose it. There is nothing un-libertarian about encouraging private companies to change their discriminatory policies, but there is something heartless and lazy about remaining silent.