Imagine if Facebook had required Joan Rivers to identify herself as Joan Alexandra Molinsky, her birth name, after she'd established herself using her stage name, and then deleted her account when she refused.
She probably wouldn't have sat still for such nonsense, but going dark on the social network for even a little while might have done some serious economic damage to her brand.
Well, going dark on Facebook is exactly what's happening to drag and transgender performers and activists who depend on the site to promote themselves. They've had their pages systematically eliminated over the past couple of weeks by the social media giant, which has cited a "real name" policy to justify the action.
But for many of the performers, their chosen names are their real names. And those names are brands associated with their businesses, every bit as much as Joan Rivers' name was synonymous with her money-making comedy shtick. They are in fact sole proprietors who have had a key part of their businesses shut down by the social media giant.
As the performer Heklina, who operates a drag venue in San Francisco called Trannyshack and whose Facebook page was removed earlier this week, told TechCrunch:
"I’ve had this name for 20 years now. I walk down the street and people say 'Hi Heklina.' People know me by my drag name."
For many of the transgender artists being targeted, Facebook is a no-cost way to reach their fans and audiences, which is something any small business owner with a Facebook page can relate to.
This is what transgender peformer Justin Vivian Bond had to say on Facebook yesterday about the social media site's importance to his business:
My real name is Stanley Bond. When Facebook gets to me and forces me to choose between Stanley Bond or giving up my Facebook account I will be giving up my Facebook account. I will take a big economic hit because of it. I'm an entertainer who is pretty well known within a specific demographic. I can't afford to hire publicists to promote my shows and Facebook has been very helpful to me in that regard.
For its part, Facebook says its real name policy is a longstanding rule that prevents abuse of the site and its members, and as of Wednesday, it had temporarily reinstated the accounts of several hundred LGBT people caught up in the sweep.
The Transgender Law Center, based in Oakland, California, was part of a group, which also included San Francisco Board of Supervisors member David Campos, that met with Facebook to discuss changing the policy on Wednesday. While Masen Davis, TLC's executive director, says he still hopes that Facebook will change the policy, as Google Plus did for its real name policy this summer, he says the meeting didn't go as well as his constituency had hoped.
"Our advocates left feeling that Facebook was staunchly in support of its current policy, and were not open to other solutions at this time," Davis said.