Now before I get started on this rant: referring to the situation Dawn and I were dealing with for the past few weeks as a “game” might be misleading, at least if you approach it from the sense that games are meant to be fun.

One fine day, Dawn logged into her Facebook account to find a message stating that they required her to authenticate her name. She could do so right then or delay for a week. Since she was in the middle of important things, she chose to delay. A week later, she was again prompted. Checking Facebook’s guidelines, she scanned her driver’s license, blacked out the portion’s they didn’t need (or, frankly, had any business knowing), and uploaded the image.

And got back the message that Facebook could not verify her identity based on the documentation provided, at which point she was locked out of her account. In fact her entire profile was walled off. Events she had created were gone. Personal messages she’d sent, restricted. Instead of being “Married to Dawn Wolf”, I was now just listed as “Married.” According to Facebook, Dawn Wolf no longer existed until she satisfied them that she did.

A brief ray of hope occurred when Dawn uploaded her license again along with the staff ID from where she works, except that whoever was reviewing the situation decided to change her profile name to the full name on her ID without her consent. This despite Facebook’s stated intent of having people use the names they are known by in real life, which was exactly the case here. True, Dawn is her middle name, but it’s what she is known as both personally and professionally and it’s right there on her government issued ID. She can cash checks made out to Dawn Wolf using that ID. What, precisely, was the major malfunction here? The result of Dawn asking that the profile be changed back to what it was, was for Facebook to lock the account again, a state of affairs that persisted until just this past Monday morning, with all efforts being met either with silence or a stock form response and no resolution.

Welcome to the ongoing muddle of Facebook’s real name policy controversy. I’m probably not out of bounds to call it what it is: a debacle. Someone apparently decided that “Dawn Wolf” sounded like a fake name to them, and with a few clicks reported her profile to Facebook. Then, despite Facebook’s claims that a real person investigates each claim, the 10 seconds of research it would have taken to see, for example, “Married to Clinton Wolf”, was not taken, and instead the burden of proof placed on Dawn to verify her legal existence. Then a government-issued identification with that name printed right on it was not considered sufficient proof. Meanwhile in the wake of the drag queen controversy last year, Facebook reinstated “Lil Miss Hot Mess” and unequivocally indicated that a pseudonym of that nature was kosher and in keeping with their policies and further they were really, really sorry.

A few months later–on Columbus Day, for added insult to injury–hundreds of Native Americans were reported as “fake” by an anonymous party and locked out of their accounts. Again a big kerfuffle and some percentage of accounts reinstated after a lot of back and forth, though perhaps not all. Worse, it’s still happening.

Facebook has repeatedly defended the policy as one necessary to protect people from trolls creating fake accounts for harassment purposes, and yet the trolls have figured out a much better means of harassment. With a few clicks, they can get someone’s account suspended for weeks. Perhaps even forever, unless that person is prepared to jump through ill-defined hoops, fight a tide of form letters, and perhaps in the end is willing to accept having their full legal name posted (hello harassment!).

This is apparently what happened to Dawn, although we may never know for sure. Someone reported her name as fake. Who would dislike her enough to do that? I don’t know. What I do know is that we couldn’t get this resolved through any of the meager channels Facebook provided, finally having to resort to personal contacts I had inside the EFF, who luckily have been monitoring “real name” issues for years and in turn have the contacts inside Facebook to get shit done. People without those avenues are just at the mercy of a broken system, and it’s damn fortunate that I’m a secondary admin on all of our associated professional pages like the one for Zombie Ranch or we would have lost access the entire time it took to sort this out.

It may very well be that Facebook is telling the truth about having real people look into each reported fake account. I think it’s also a truth that having it be so easy to make such reports means they get bombarded with thousands each day, which would overwhelm such people to where they’re not going to be able to treat every instance with even the ten seconds of scrutiny it would have taken to confirm the report on Dawn was groundless. Flag the account, send off a form letter, boom, on to the next one. It’s a system that’s going to give the worst of both worlds: the impartial coldness of a computer coupled with the inexactitude and inconsistency of a human.

In a sense, this kind of thing is the firstiest of first-world problems — but on the other hand, damn it’s annoying when you end up arbitrarily on the wrong end of it. At least in the end we were able to get a better resolution than our Google Ads debacle a few years back. Let’s hope it stays that way.