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Salman Rushdie battles Facebook over his identity

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He was born Ahmed Salman Rushdie. His passport proclaims him to be Ahmed Salman Rushdie. He calls himself Salman Rushdie. The world knows him award-winning writer Salman Rushdie. What should his Facebook profile list him as?

That question was the subject of much debate when the world-famous novelist found himself locked out of his own Facebook account.

The New York Times reports that the drama began when Rushdie tweeted that his Facebook account had been deactivated because someone or some system at Facebook didn't believe he was really who he claimed to be.

This isn't a particularly unusual occurrence for celebrities or individuals who happen to share names with celebrities. We've previously seen Justin Bieber and Kate Middleton get kicked off the social network until they proved their identities.

So in order to verify his own identity, Rushdie provided the folks at Facebook with a photo of his passport which shows his full name: Ahmed Salman Rushdie. That was apparently enough to get his account reactivated, but Rushdie was asked to use his first name, Ahmed, on his profile — and the account was even reactivated with his legal first name already added.

Twitter

Twitter

Twitter

Rushdie lashed out.

The world knows him as Salman, not as Ahmed, he explained. Making him use his first name in place of his widely recognized middle name was "like forcing J. Edgar to become John Hoover." He questioned what would happen "if F. Scott Fitzgerald was on Facebook, would they force him to be Francis Fitzgerald? What about F. Murray Abraham?"

The onslaught of tweets continued as Rushdie realized that @MarkZuckerbergF wasn't the Facebook founder's Twitter handle (as he has assumed in earlier tweets). How could the man at the helm of a company which forces users to stick to their real names possibly use pseudonym on Twitter?

"Mark? Come out here and give me back my name!"

I don't know if Zuckerberg heard that plea or if someone at Facebook simply took a closer look at the situation. But Rushdie's identity crisis was resolved just a few tweets later:

Twitter

Twitter

We asked the folks at Facebook to explain how the social network determines which accounts to disable for being fake — and what happened in Rushdie's case — and were provided with this statement:

This action was taken in error, and Mr. Rushdie's account has been reactivated with the correct name. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."

Problem solved, apology made. Great.

But why was Rushdie ever even asked to use his first name instead of the middle name which he favors? Facebbook's Help Center may have the answer:

Facebook is a community where people use their real identities. We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you're connecting with. 

Names can’t include:

- Symbols, numbers, or unusual capitalization or punctuation
- Characters from multiple languages
- Professional, religious, or military titles
- Words, phrases, or nicknames in place of a middle name
- Offensive or suggestive content of any kind

Other things to keep in mind:

- Nicknames can be used as a first or middle name if they're a variation of your real first or last name (like Bob instead of Robert)
- You can also list another name on your account (ex: maiden name, nickname, or professional name), by adding an alternate name to your profile (timeline)
- Only one person's name should be listed on the account – profiles (timelines) are for individual use only
- Pretending to be anything or anyone is not allowed

Nowhere in Facebook's policies is there any leeway for users who prefer to be addressed by their middle names instead of their first names. They can list them as alternate names, but not in place of their first names. (Though they can certainly use variations of their first and last names in place of their first and middle names.)

Rushdie's situation was resolved because someone made an exception for him. This means that most others would be forced to conform to Facebook's name guidelines. Is this the way it should be? Should Facebook determine which names we may use?

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