If you’re John Smith or Susan Jones, you will never run into the Facebook name police. Based on assumptions and algorithms, Facebook will inherently believe you are a real person, and who you say you are. Your account will not be flagged as inauthentic; you will not be accused of being a fictional character, or somebody’s inside joke, or a marketing scheme, or a tribute to a professional wrestler. For people with less-common, yet totally authentic names, it’s not so simple. The evidence suggests that Facebook’s effort to weed out inauthentic identities targets overly descriptive names. Names that contain recognizable nouns, adjectives, adverbs.
In other words: Native American names. Consider these names, well known and unquestioned in Indian country:
Bunky Echo Hawk (artist)
Tom Poor Bear (Oglala Sioux Vice President)
Larry Spotted Crow Mann (author, musician)
Chase Iron Eyes (attorney, activist)
Ashley Callingbull (actress, model)
Adam Sings-in-the-Timber (photographer)
Marty Two Bulls (cartoonist)
Michelle Shining Elk (entertainment publicity guru)
Ryan Red Corn (designer, comedian)
Sonny Skyhawk (President of American Indians in Film and Television)
We’re not saying they have been locked out of their Facebook accounts, but they have and use, in their everyday lives, the kind of names that Facebook doesn’t like. Just ask Dana Lone Hill, also known as Dana Lone Elk. In a post for Last Real Indians, Lone Hill describes the experience of being shut out of her Facebook page, which she’d used for eight years, by Facebook’s name police. “Please change your name” was the message that greeted her on a recent day when she tried to sign in. “It looks like the name on your Facebook account might not be your authentic name. We ask everyone to use the name they go by in real life so friends know who they’re connecting with.”
Dana Lone Hill is, now, back on Facebook, but at the time she wrote her article she had yet to be reinstated after sending the name police three pieces of identification as proof that her real name is a real name. Her story isn’t unique. Facebook suspended Lance Brown Eyes over suspicion that his name isn’t authentic, and after he submitted his proof he was reinstated as Lance Brown. “They had no issue with me changing my name to a white man’s name,” Brown Eyes told Lone Hill. He contacted the Better Business Bureau and threatened a class-action lawsuit; Facebook reinstated him as Lance Browneyes.
And it was on Columbus Day 2014 that Shane Creepingbear received the sadly ironic message from the Facebook name police: “It looks like that name violates our name standards.”
“It’s a problem when someone decides they are the arbiter of names,” Creepingbear told Colorlines. “It can come off a tad racist.”
Today, ABC News posted the story of Vienna Elk Looks Back, a Lakota grandmother of five, whose account was deactivated. Dana Lone Hill told ABC News that the trend is extra-insulting in light of all the obvious silliness on Facebook. “Katy Perry’s ‘Left Shark’ has a page,” she said. “It just seems like they could go after fake accounts instead of kicking Native Americans off who are real.”
A petition at Change.org, “To Allow Native Americans to use their Native names on their profiles,” currently has 12,681 signatures.