I used to be on Facebook. Technically, I still am, but I’m locked out of my account and it’s hidden from public view. I know my account hasn’t been completely purged because I still get emails from them; the ones that tell you so and so posted a new photo or whatever in an attempt to get you to log in, which I am unable to do. I can’t even unsubscribe to those emails because I have to log in to do so.
So what happened? I initially set up a Facebook profile — wow, it’s been like 12 (twelve!) years ago, at least. I don’t know what the onboarding process is like now, but back then, among the information you were required to provide was a username and your “real name,” which was defined as the name you go by in your everyday life and that people generally know you by. For my username, I entered the same one I use everywhere, and for “real name,” I entered smile from The Lower East Side.
My info was quickly reviewed by a pretty wonky AI, which refused to let me continue. The AI didn’t accept smile from The Lower East Side as my name and instead suggested, based on my username, that my “real name” was actually Lower East Smile, and encouraged (read: insisted) that I use that instead. Just to get the ball rolling, I accepted the will of Skynet thinking that I would later make a support request from an actual human to get it fixed. So, I was Lower East Smile on Facebook, a name their AI designated, like a scene out of Idiocracy. Whatever, it’ll probably only be a couple of weeks once I contact tech support.
I soon discovered that tech support was nonexistent. How the fuck does a billion dollar company not have tech support?!? They had the standard community forums, where other users would help solve common issues or explain how to use basic functionality, but as far as help from an actual employee… There was a form you could fill out and hope for a reply, but there were just so many requests for help that they couldn’t guarantee a personal response. Oh, well.
As quickly as Facebook exploded into mainstream society, they realized just as quickly that the names many people go by in their everyday life aren’t their “real names” and don’t like being forced to use a name dictated to them by an algorhythm, especially the people with clearly defined and established public personas: celebrities. Remember when Lady Gaga was a shill for Google+? Know why Facebook was unable to make that deal? Because Facebook‘s AI insisted that Lady Gaga was not a name and that she call herself Little Monster, to which Lady Gaga was naturally all, “Fuck you and the light cycle you rode in on!” 
The “real name” thing became an issue for Facebook because celebrities aren’t the only ones who assume names that don’t match their legal designations. People use pseudonyms for all kinds of reasons. Whistleblowers, domestic abuse survivors and political activitists may need to conceal their identities for their safety. People who transition may assume a name that aligns with how they identify. Facebook then introduced changes to their policy to allow for these circumstances. They began accepting requests from people to use their preferred name on Facebook.
Facebook wasn’t going to be my main outlet online. I had this site and was active on other social media platforms. Back then it was common for sites and apps to connect to each other, making it easy to share things elsewhere (i.e., I could link my Twitter and Facebook accounts, and whatever I tweeted was posted to my Facebook wall; the good old days). I intended to use Facebook as a repository of links to material hosted elsewhere, so I made the request to use my name and otherwise ignored the issue.
Years went by. During this time the various social media companies began closing off their networks in an effort to increase native engagement. Facebook didn’t want people to post through other social media outlets, they wanted people to log into Facebook and post directly, as their value was directly tied to their “active” user base. Using me as an example, even though I’m a registered user and my account still exists, since I can’t log in I am not an “active” user, so Facebook makes no money from me or through me. In fact, maintaining my inactive account costs them money, because they use drive space to store my posted content somewhere in the physical world. (Quick aside: I’m aware that Facebook can now make money off of people who aren’t logged in to their site directly through the use of tracking cookies, beacons, etc. found on other sites that link back to Facebook in someway and monetizing the collected data, but that’s a whole other post.)
As social media networks grew in popularity and public figures began to use them on a greater scale, another issue arose concerning the use of names: imposters. People would create accounts impersonating public figures for one reason or another. In response, social media companies began verifying accounts through various means, so that their users could know if they were interacting with the actual person the account claimed to represent (the fabled “blue check mark,” which is so often misconstrued that it’s another thing that deserves its own post). The verifications initially went to the most highly visible public figures, such as internationally known politicians, entertainers, global business leaders and so on. Eventually the process worked its way down to persons known to smaller followings: local politicians, community leaders and organizations. Eventually, they got to me.
In 2017, I got an email from Facebook requesting that I confirm that my name was Lower East Smile. I was given a deadline of seven days to do so, or I would be locked out of my account. When I tried to change my name all those years later, their AI still insisted that smile was not a first name, and that my name was most likely Lower, and would not let me proceed. The AI wanted me to go through their verification process, which would have required my sending Facebook reams of personal records and indentifying information. This was around the time the Cambridge Analytica data scandal was becoming a major news item (a brief overview, Cambridge Analytica was a political consulting firm that harvested data from Facebook to build specific psychographic profiles in order to create detailed propaganda campaigns targeted to individual people).
Realizing that Facebook and/or it’s affiliates, sublicensors, partners, etc. probably had some psychographic profiles that they still needed to match to actual people, I chose to opt out of Facebook rather than hand over my personal info and legal documents. I tried to download everything I shared on Facebook so that I could close my account. The second I tried to download my data, the hammer came down. My seven day deadline was dropped and I was immediately locked out. Facebook’s AI wanted me to go through the verification process to prove that I was Lower East Smile, who I am not and never was in the first place, so that I could download my data. I couldn’t even take my ball and go home.
That’s pretty much that. Like I said in the opening paragraph, I know my account still exists because of the occasional updates I get sent. I recently got an update that informed me someone shared one of my videos, so they’re out there somewhere. Eventually I’ll have the financial means to take legal action to get my intellectual property back from Facebook. I have no problem proving who I am to a court of law. If Facebook wants to do business with me, I have no problem sharing whatever information you might find on an I-9, but it would have to be one hell of a deal for me to do business with Facebook. I simply don’t trust Facebook.
Or is it Meta? I mean, the company’s real name is Meta, but Facebook is the name they go by in everyday life so…