Three decades ago novelist Salman Rushdie became an internationally famous author after his novel, The Satanic Verses, led to a decade in hiding, fearful of the Haraam (death penalty fatwa) pronounced on him by Iran’s spiritual leader because Iran’s leadership believed the book to insult Mohammed and the Qur’an.
After such a battle, Facebook was a minor opponent, though perhaps equally insulting, given our interconnected lives.
Facebook requires a poster to use one’s real identity unless Facebook agrees to the contrary. (It has done so, for example, to allow for animated characters to have pages as part of marketing campaigns.) So Facebook insisted that Rushdie use the name in his passport – Ahmed – rather than his middle name Salman, which he has used throughout his professional career. Worse, the page automatically made the switch.
Facebook values accountability, but that value is at odds with anonymity and pseudonymnity, both important for political and social speech. Who better than Rushdie for someone to stand for the cost of writing controversial content.
“Facebook has always been based on a real-name culture,’ Elliot Schrage, vice president of public policy at Facebook, told the New York Times. ‘We fundamentally believe this leads to greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for people who use the service.’
Rushdie used Twitter to light up the public and get a response to the unwanted disclosure. He tweeted that the change was “like forcing J. Edgar to become John Hoover” and noted other middle name users “Francis ‘Scot’ Fitzgerald and Edward ‘Morgan’ Forster.”
“Where are you hiding, Mark?” Rushdie demanded of Mark Zuckerberg. “Come out here and give me back my name!”
Rushdie and his thousands of followers have forced Facebook to relent, but the issue of what constitutes “real identity” is probably going to only grow as the public realizes that often a person’s real identity is not the one on the birth certificate.