Facebook drew controversy for their “real names” policy, attracting protesters at their Menlo Park facility earlier this year when the policy inadvertently targeted Native Americans, LGBT persons and those with online alter egos. It even caught those with initialized first names (think film director M. Night Shyamalan and Watergate scandal mastermind G. Gordon Liddy). As one of the leading tech companies in the world, one might ask the question: why is Facebook’s naming policy so strict?
Facebook claims that their name policy protects users, but some may raise some false flags. The latest targets of the Facebook real name policy? People named “Isis” and an Australian of Vietnamese descent named Phuc Dat Bich (a few letters short of an offensive pejorative, which is pronounced Phoo Da Bic). A San Francisco-based engineer, Isis Anchalee, had her Facebook account closed because her first name is also the shorthand of the Islamic state group ISIS, who claimed responsibility for the recent Paris attacks and other atrocities across the globe.
“Facebook thinks I’m a terrorist. Apparently sending them a screenshot of my passport is not good enough for them to reopen my account,” Anchalee said on her Twitter account. Isis, a name that has been around since ancient Egypt, literally translates to “the throne” and was also the name of the Egyptian goddess of the sky and nature. While Facebook did apologize specifically to the LGBT community in late 2014, Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox said that the real name policy “protects users from impersonation and trolling by people hiding behind fake monikers.”
Bich has had his Facebook shut down multiple times dating back to January 2015, according to The Huffington Post. “I find it highly irritating the fact that nobody seems to believe me when I say that my full legal name is how you see it. I’ve been accused of using a false and misleading name of which I find very offensive. Is it because I’m Asian? Is it?” Bich said on his profile (which has since been taken down). “Having my FB shut down multiple times and forced to change my name to my ‘real’ name, so just to put it out there. My name. Yours sincerely, Phuc Dat Bich,” he said.
However, Bich (alleged real name Tin Le) admitted that the whole thing was a prank, even though he posted what seemed to be an Australian passport with the fake name. “Facebook needs to understand that it is utterly impossible to legitimize a place where there will always be pranksters and tricksters,” he said, noting that social media will always be a place of humor and satire. Many social media users often fall for satirical content, specifically content from The Onion (and more recently, Huzlers) where people believe the content to be factual news.
I tried to dig deeper into the phrase, so I spoke with a long-time Vietnamese friend of mine to get some answers: namely if “Phuc Dat Bich” actually meant something. “All three words are words used exclusively for names. I’d say Phuc is most commonly used,” she said. “They’re all from the old Vietnamese language, kind of like the Latin equivalent of English, so you’d never use them in common spoken language unless they’re in conjunction with another word,” she stated, stressing that the context was important.
Le stated that his “Phuc Dat Bich” alter ego was meant as an inside joke that drew the attention of many prominent media outlets. “What started as a joke between friends, became a prank that made a fool out of the media and brought out the best in the people who reached out to me. It didn’t bring out the anger and darkness that we often see on the Internet, but it brought a levity and humanity in a time we need it most,” he said, stating the response was positive. “Out of this ordeal, I’ve concluded not to trust the credibility of the media; it’s twisted by the hungry journalists who mask the truth. It goes to show that an Average Joe like myself can con the the biggest news sources with ease.”
In the end, Le (whose name has also been reported as Thien Nguyen) pitied the fools who fell for his prank. “Well, you’ll just have to have faith and run with what you have. I’m too tired with it all. Call me Mr. T.”