Skip to main content

Facebook tries to make Salman Rushdie change his name to Ahmed

John D. Sutter, CNN
Salman Rushdie, an India-born author, is famous for writing
Salman Rushdie, an India-born author, is famous for writing "The Satanic Verses."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Author Salman Rushdie takes to Twitter to protest Facebook
  • The social network wanted him to change his posted name to Ahmed, he says
  • Facebook requires users to go by their real names
  • Rushdie is famous for "The Satanic Verses" and several other works

(CNN) -- Need more evidence that Facebook's real-name-only policy has its flaws? Well, here you go:

A few days ago, Facebook allegedly kicked famous author Salman Rushdie off of its social network, and then asked him to change his posted name to Ahmed if he wanted to return.

Rushdie -- known for his outspokenness -- went on a rant about the incident on Twitter, where he has more than 100,000 followers. Facebook eventually "buckled," he wrote Monday.

Here's a play-by-play of what happened, according to Rushdie's Twitter feed, which I condensed:

"Amazing. 2 days ago FB deactivated my page saying they didn't believe I was me. I had to send a photo of my passport page," he wrote. "Then they said yes, I was me, but insisted I use the name Ahmed which appears before Salman on my passport and which I have never used.

"Now they have reactivated my FB page as 'Ahmed Rushdie,' in spite of the world knowing me as Salman. Morons. @MarkZuckerbergF? Are you listening?"

Facebook did not respond to CNN's request for comment on the incident.

On Tuesday, his Facebook page, with "Salman" as his first name, appeared to have been reactivated by the social network.

Rushdie rose to international notoriety in the 1980s after his novel, "The Satanic Verses," stirred protests throughout the Muslim world. The Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran issued a fatwa against Rushdie because of the book.

His recent tussle raises issues with Facebook's policy of requiring people to use their real names when registering with the social network. People who don't use their real names are found to be out of compliance with Facebook's rules and can have their accounts deactivated.

"Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way," Facebook's terms of service document says.

Rushdie's situation shows how difficult it can be for people to prove who they are. He submitted his passport to Facebook, he wrote, and still had problems.

Supporters of democratic protests in the Middle East and elsewhere have criticized Facebook and other social networks like Google+ for their real-name policies, saying they prevent people from organizing against authoritarian governments that could use a network like Facebook to crack down.

If they could use pseudonyms, they would be safer, some say.

"There are myriad reasons why individuals may wish to use a name other than the one they were born with," Jillian York wrote on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's blog in July. "They may be concerned about threats to their lives or livelihoods, or they may risk political or economic retribution. They may wish to prevent discrimination or they may use a name that's easier to pronounce or spell in a given culture."

Facebook always has maintained its position as an "identity network." A core philosophy of the site is that people should be themselves -- and should be accountable for their posts with their real names.

Rushdie's case shows how tricky enforcement can be, though.

"This is the sort of thing that makes you wonder what real names policy is all about," Alexis Madrigal wrote on The Atlantic's website. He added: "Seriously, what is the point of forcing Salman Rushdie to go by Ahmed Rushdie? How does this benefit the social Web?"

Rushdie taunted Facebook on Twitter before the site relented and reposted his page.

"Dear #Facebook, forcing me to change my FB name from Salman to Ahmed Rushdie is like forcing J. Edgar to become John Hoover," he wrote. "Or, if F. Scott Fitzgerald was on #Facebook, would they force him to be Francis Fitzgerald? What about F. Murray Abraham?"

He later declared his win over the social network:

"Victory! #Facebook has buckled! I'm Salman Rushdie again. I feel SO much better. An identity crisis at my age is no fun. Thank you Twitter!"

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT