Facebook publicly apologized Wednesday to a group of drag queens, drag kings and transgender users for how the company has enforced its “real name” policy over the past few weeks.
Facebook suspended a number of user accounts last month when they were flagged for breaking the network’s policy that requires users to sign up with their “real names.” Many of those users were drag queens and drag kings who identify with their stage names or chosen names — for example, Sister Roma or Lil Miss Hot Mess — not their legal names. (The accounts were restored on a temporary basis prior to Wednesday’s apology.)
Following a meeting with a group of drag queens and LGBT activists on Wednesday, Facebook’s head of product Chris Cox posted an apology and explanation of the company’s real-name policy to Facebook.
“We’ve also come to understand how painful this has been,” he wrote. “We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we’re going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were.”
Facebook’s real-name policy states that when a user profile is flagged, that user is asked to confirm his or her identity with “some form of ID — gym membership, library card or piece of mail,” wrote Cox. When the drag queen and LGBT accounts were flagged, Facebook asked these members to convert their profile pages to “Fan Pages” instead, and users pushed back.
A Change.org petition launched in support of the deactivated users summed it up this way: “Although our names might not be our ‘legal’ birth names, they are still an integral part of our identities, both personally and to our communities.”
Mark Snyder, a spokesperson for the Transgender Law Center, one of the coalition groups present at Wednesday’s meeting, told Re/code in an email: “We are thrilled to continue working with Facebook on solutions so that we can all be our authentic selves online. We accept the apology. The meeting today was very productive. Chris is a cool guy and it’s clear he wants to figure this out.”
Facebook backed off after multiple meetings with LGBT groups, including drag queens and drag kings, over the past few weeks. Facebook now says its policy has never required users to identify with their legal name, but rather, their preferred name they use “in real life,” wrote Cox. Instead, this issue revealed a flaw in the enforcement process, Facebook says.
“We see through this event that there’s lots of room for improvement in the reporting and enforcement mechanisms, tools for understanding who’s real and who’s not, and the customer service for anyone who’s affected,” he wrote. “These have not worked flawlessly and we need to fix that.”
Cox said that Facebook isn’t changing its policies, but is already working on new tools to improve the enforcement behind it, although he did not provide specifics.
One side effect of the controversy has been the rise of social network Ello, an ad-free network where users can sign up with any name they wish. The Vermont-based social network launched in early August, but picked up steam over the past two weeks in unison with the drag queen issues on Facebook. Ello, which is still invite-only, has been adding as many as 50,000 new members per hour, according to CEO Paul Budnitz.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.