Facebook apologizes, restores Victoria mayor's 'inappropriate' account
'It told me the name that I've chosen is not appropriate,' says Lisa Helps of use of her real name
Victoria, B.C. Mayor Lisa Helps is back online after she was blocked from Facebook — for using her own, real name.
Lisa Helps said Facebook apologized this morning, restoring the mayor's account and searching for the reason why her name was deemed "inappropriate."
"Facebook is restoring [the] account now. They are very sorry and they are looking at whether there are safeguards for future. They will try to determine whether it was a coordinated effort to have it disabled," Helps wrote in an email.
She first noticed she was locked out of her account on May 20.
"It told me the name that I've chosen is not appropriate," said Helps.
The mayor was forced to substitute her middle name to re-activate her account on May 29 after city staff — and even the Victoria Police Department —tried for 9 days to fix the problem. Helps says she got no response from Facebook despite filling out electronic forms twice. She said Facebook is a key tool she uses to reach the public.
"It's direct access to the mayor," said Helps, who was elected a year and a half ago and has dealt with many controversial issues in that time, from debate over sewage treatment to anger about a tent city in Topaz Park.
She posted her surprise on Facebook on Sunday, explaining to the public why her account had been dead.
Facebook toughened its name policy in 2014, sparking protests and frustration, especially amongst people hiding their real names to avoid online bullying.
The new policy is clear: use your own name.
"Facebook is a community where people use their authentic identities. We require people to provide the name they use in real life; that way, you always know who you're connecting with. This helps keep our community safe," reads the Facebook Help Centre.
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But since Lisa Helps is the mayor's real name, she is not sure why she was shut down. She wonders if she was perhaps targeted by somebody claiming her account was fake.
"As a public figure people like to take swipes at me any way they can," said the mayor.
In the past Helps has had parts of her bike stolen, although at the time she laughed off the suggestion she may have been targeted.
On her Facebook page Sunday there were dozens of responses to her post, with many offering support for her dilemma, chiming in about their own frustrations with the name policy.
"I had to change mine, and send in ID......how can they disallow your real name? That's crazy," wrote Bruce Warren.
Others posted in support using the hashtag #lisahelpsisreal in an attempt to get the attention of Facebook executives.
In 2014, changes to crack down on fake accounts led to an apology from Facebook's Chief Product Officer, Chris Cox, after various communities spoke out.
"We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we're going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were," Cox posted on Facebook.
But it seems there are still hiccups in the policy. Mayor Lisa Helps joked about the blockage, but some people reacted with theories that suggested the incident was more nefarious.
"I've been blocked from my own Facebook account because my real name, Lisa Helps, somehow and all of a sudden did not meet the name policy! - Mayor of Victoria B.C.
"It sounds like detractors bombed the "Fake profile" option to mute your messaging. The down side of Victoria is that there are plenty of social media conversant people with too much free time and not enough ethics or smarts," wrote M Shawn DeWolfe.
While another questioned whether this really was the mayor.
"I call B.S. Be careful people, the tone of this post does not sound like Mayor Helps."
Helps assured CBC that this really was her. She plans to send Facebook a copy of her birth certificate and sort the matter out eventually, if Facebook ever responds.
CBC emails to Facebook have so far not been returned.