If like me you're a fan of Mr. Paul D. Miller and want to become Facebook friends with him, you should skip searching for that name on the social network; even though that's the name on his driver's license, you'll have better luck if you look up his stage name: DJ Spooky. However, if you're fans of an extremely popular Second Life avatar, and want to find her on Facebook, you best know her real life name too.
That's the policy distinction I just got from Facebook representative Simon Axten, based on a recent email exchange with him. Last week I reported that Facebook is apparently banning FB accounts created with Second Life names. I made my case for avatar-based Facebook accounts to Axten this way:
"Members of the SL user community (even staffers with Linden Lab) often use their avatar name for their Facebook account profile," I wrote him. "For the most part, these are not fake names created for deceptive purposes, but to establish an individual Facebook account that is more known and trusted within the virtual world community. In fact, many SL users have Facebook accounts with networks that include both real and avatar names; just as often, an avatar name is better known than the person behind it. I'm sure Second Life isn't the only virtual community with a Facebook membership where this is true. Given all that background, do you think allowances could be made for avatar names? For example, wouldn't it be better not to assume all avatar names are untrustworthy, but to check instead the strength and number of their connections to other Facebook members?"
Axten replied this way:
"The name that a person uses on Facebook doesn’t have to be his/her formal legal name; however, it must be one that’s commonly used to refer to the person in real life. This is both because Facebook is meant to reflect real world identities and connections, but also because it helps maintain Facebook’s trusted environment, since people are more accountable for their actions. The vast majority of fake accounts on which we take action have been reported to us by other users. Of course, we’ve also developed automated systems to detect and flag anomalous or suspicious site activity regardless of the specific name associated with the account, and we’re always working to improve these."
So for now, at least, that's how it is. However, judging by my own Facebook network, there are still hundreds if not thousands of avatar-based accounts still in Facebook. If I understand Simon's wording correctly, an avatar account isn't usually banned unless another user reports on it. It still seems to be an occasional occurrence.
In any case, I remain convinced it's a short-sighted policy; however, as with many Facebook policies, I suspect it's unlikely to change unless a concerted effort of users express their displeasure at it. There's a Facebook group created to do just that: Avatars & Humans United: Petition for Avatar Identities on Facebook. At the moment, however, it counts less than 300 members.