Why Some Native Americans Say Facebook Is Biased Against Them

PHOTO: Facebooks logo is pictured on Oct. 31, 2014.Lukas Schulze/AP Photo
Facebook's logo is pictured on Oct. 31, 2014.

There's a message many Native Americans have been getting from Facebook because their accounts were reported for having a fake name and thus deactivated. The message reads: "It looks like that name violates our name standards."

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And many feel it's a subtle form of racism and marginalization that may not be intentional but needs to be fixed, Vienna Elk Looks Back told ABC News.

Elk Looks Back is Sicangu Lakota, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, and mother of four and grandmother of five. She said her account was reported and deactivated earlier this month.

"It's very upsetting to me," Elk Looks Back said. "I feel this is harassment and another form of racism us Native Americans are facing, especially considering there are a lot of actual fake accounts, but here we are being targeted for our real names."

Elk Looks Back's account was suspended until she provided identification, she said, adding she had to send them a photo I.D. and then a copy of her Social Security card. Her account was reactivated 12 hours later when she received a confirmation and brief apology from Facebook via email.

The identity confirmation process can be tedious and also brings up concerns about privacy, said Dana Lone Hill. She is another Native American woman whose account was deactivated when she tried to change her last name to "Lone Elk" to preserve her father's last name and Lakota identity, Lone Hill told ABC News.

"It seems so sketchy, and I didn't feel comfortable sending some of the stuff," Lone Hill said. "Facebook already feels so creepy. They have facial recognition software that suggests who to tag in photos, and it's hard to trust them with all your information."

"I don't want to have to prove who I am," Lone Hill said. "Katy Perry's 'Left Shark' has a page. It just seems like they could go after fake accounts instead of kicking Native Americans off who are real."

Lone Hill's account was deactivated for a week this month before she finally got access back, she said.

Both Elk Looks Back and Lone Hill signed an online petition asking Facebook to allow them to use their native names. The petition has over 12,500 supporters.

A Facebook spokesperson told ABC News that the company is aware of many Native Americans' concerns and is working hard to resolve the issue.

“We are committed to ensuring that all members of the Facebook community can use the authentic names that they use in real life," the Facebook spokesperson said. "Having people use their authentic names makes them more accountable, and also helps us root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation and hate speech."

"We have more work to do, and our teams will continue to prioritize these improvements so everyone can be their authentic self on Facebook," the spokesperson said.

A man in Ohio, who also said his account was deactivated over his name, added that he felt the language in Facebook's message prompts were marginalizing and subtly upheld racism even if it wasn't the company's intention.

"As I was trying to put my real name in and reestablish my account, I kept getting messages that said 'This name doesn't meet Facebook's standards,'" Shane Creepingbear told ABC News. Creepingbear is an assistant director of admission and multicultural recruitment at Antioch College and is a member of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma.

Adding insult to injury, his account was deactivated on Columbus Day, Creepingbear said.

"While I'm sure Facebook didn't mean to marginalize Native Americans, the messages I was getting reinforced the idea our names and personalities don’t meet the U.S.' 'standards,'" he said. "It's a subtle way of excluding us, and we already have a long history of erasure and racism against us in this country."

He eventually got his account back up, and a personal apology, but Creepingbear said he hopes Facebook offers a more public apology to Native Americans such as one last October addressed to drag queens who had similar issues not being able to use the names they use in their daily lives.

"The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life," Facebook's chief product officer Chris Cox wrote in October. "For Sister Roma, that's Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that's Lil Miss Hot Mess."