Facebook is relaxing its real-name policy

A framed Facebook logo, filled with employees' signatures, hangs in the lobby of the company's Palo Alto, Calif., building in June 2009.

Until now, you had to use your “authentic” name on Facebook. That’s no longer the case.

The world’s largest social network said it is relaxing its rules for how people identify themselves, allowing them to more easily use the name “people know them by.” In addition, the service said it would make it harder for harassers to ask Facebook to disable users’ accounts.

“We recognize that it’s also important that this policy works for everyone, especially for communities who are marginalized or face discrimination,” two Facebook employees wrote in a blog post announcing the moves Tuesday.

Facebook said it has changed its systems to be more forgiving about uncommon names, hoping to reduce the number of people who have to verify with Facebook who they are. The company also said it will allow users to verify their information with a wider variety of documents beyond typical governmental IDs. They will also be able to explain why they aren’t using their legal name, if Facebook asks. “This additional information will help our review teams better understand the situation so they can provide more personalized support,” the company said.

The move will be particularly welcome by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, which have criticized Facebook for its rigid rules requiring users to identify themselves by their real names. The company, which counts more than 1.5 billion people using its service each month, has defended the rule, saying that when people are forced to use their real name on the Internet it adds weight and authenticity to what they’re saying. Other, smaller, social networks like Twitter and Reddit don’t require users to identify themselves with their real names.

The debate hit a tipping point last year, when gay rights activists said their Facebook accounts were being deactivated, seemingly as a result of a coordinated campaign by detractors who reported them under Facebook’s naming policies.

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