Submitted by Nigel Whitfield, BLUF webmaster, 21 November 2014
Like it or not, Facebook is the site that many, many people turn to for a lot of their online socialising. It's captured the market to a huge degree - you even see adverts where, instead of a web site, companies urge you to find them on Facebook.
And, as the de-facto location for interacting online, it's not perhaps surprising that many people talk about their sex lives, including their fetish life. There are hundreds - quite probably thousands - of groups dedicated to different aspects of sexuality. For years, these groups have been tacitly accepted. People have curated communities where they can talk freely about all manner of topics, whether it's fetish how-tos, HIV treatment and prevention, or just who's the hottest film star in leather.
Now, much of this is under threat, thanks to Facebook's naming policy.
In an interview in 2010 Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said "Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity," from which I'm minded to draw the conclusion that he's a straight white male who probably doesn't frequent leather bars.
Those of us who are involved in the fetish scene know that it's not always approved of by other people. In some cases, people lose their jobs because of it. And so, it should come as no surprise that - notwithstanding the "only real names, only one account" policy on Facebook, many users do have an account that, whether their sole or a secondary one, does not have their real name on it. By calling themselves, for instance, "Fred Leatherpig" they make it much harder for employers, friends, family, and others to find out any details that they share.
This is important because Facebook's privacy controls don't make it easy to just share information with a subset of people; that's far easier on Google+, where you can create circles and share with members of that circle only, in just a couple of clicks.
Facebook has - rightly in my view - attracted a lot of ire for enforcing the "real names" policy on the drag queens, many of whom are known only by their drag name.
In the case of the leather and fetish communities, it's not quite so simple. Many people aren't commonly known by the moniker that they use on Facebook, though some are. For a large chunk, it's simply a way to dissociate their fetish identity from other parts of their life.
We don't do this because we're ashamed.
Many of the people who use names like this are people with whom I'm proud to have marched, in leather, during London Pride. We do it because there are still too many people for whom any expression of sexuality outside a few tightly defined norms is abhorrent. We do it because out of respect for other of our friends, we don't want them to see all the details of things that we may talk about with others who share our desires. We do it sometimes because - in a world where so many women can be attacked simply for having an opinion - we wish to protect ourselves from having our sex lives used to attack us in other areas of our life.
All of these reasons have integrity.
You may argue "you've broken the rules, tough luck," and yes, strictly speaking you're right. But Facebook can and does change its rules. It reached - thanks to the hard work of people like Sister Roma - an accommodation of sorts with the drag community. And by doing nothing for years, largely turning a blind eye to a growing fetish community, Facebook has given tacit acceptance to our presence.
Now, though, there seems to be a wave of people who are being contacted by Facebook and told they must change their name. Where once perhaps we saw a trickle, now I'm hearing regularly of BLUF members and others in the leather community who are facing bans, or exposure by being required to use their given identity on the site.
Perhaps it's time Facebook gave the fetish community some straightforward answers, so we can decide if we want to remain on their site. If we want to continue to put the effort into building some of the useful communities online that bring people together.
If you're reading, Mark:
Are we welcome, and will we be protected? Are we unwelcome, and will we be outed?