Native Americans rejected from Facebook, ‘odd’ names to blame

Posted at 9:44 PM, Feb 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-19 12:03:55-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- There's some controversy over Facebook not accepting names from Native Americans.

It's an issue that even sparked online petitions from activists.

Facebook prides themselves on monitoring the profile names of its users, to make sure nothing inappropriate stays online, but what happens when your cultural name is a bit different than the 'typical' and your profile gets deleted?

"If you just look at the name you might think, Her Many Horses, is kind of humorous," said Levi Rickert.

Levi Rickert runs Native News Online, creating a large following connecting the Native American community around the country.

"Social media without any reprisal because of the last name. So, I'm glad that they are looking at this hard and getting passed this hurdle because some of the people are really upset," said Rickert.

Facebook's name policy is easily accessible online. It does mention how professional or religious titles cannot be used on their site, but is it illegal? According to a law expert we spoke to, the answer is no.

"Facebook is not a government agency. It's not run by the government, so Facebook sets its own rules. Which makes it very hard legally to think about bringing a cause of action against Facebook," said attorney Tom Sinas.

Tom Sinas at Sinas Dramis Law Firm, which has litigated civil rights cases in the past, said that  first amendment rights don't always apply to private businesses.

"People have the right to be upset if they don't feel like they are treated fairly by a company, like Facebook. They should voice that concern and with enough of these concerns across the country, it might get the company to change their behavior," said Sinas.

Following petitions online and Tweets, Facebook has responded, and allowing Native American using their native names, back onto its site.

Is the hassle worth it? Using a name that stands out on Facebook, and possibly being rejected from the site? Rickert said that it's about more than just social media, it's about the next generation of Native Americans being proud of their heritage.

"My mother's madden name is White Pigeon. I have an aunt who was never married, and one day she told me that it was kind of hard for her to order pizza because they didn't believe that was her last name, White Pigeons," said Rickert. "I think they are making progress from what I understand and I'm happy that  it makes me more happy that their names will be accepted."

In all fairness, with over a billion users, monitoring new accounts and reviewing names is most likely a heavy task in itself.