The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Business

February 13, 2014

New gender options for Facebook users

MENLO PARK, Calif. — You don’t have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them.

Facebook said the changes, shared with The Associated Press before the launch on Thursday, initially cover the company’s 159 million monthly users in the U.S. and are aimed at giving people more choices in how they describe themselves, such as androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual.

“There’s going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world,” said Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison, who worked on the project and is herself undergoing gender transformation, from male to female. On Thursday, while watchdogging the software for any problems, she said she was also changing her Facebook identity from Female to TransWoman.

“All too often transgender people like myself and other gender nonconforming people are given this binary option, do you want to be male or female? What is your gender? And it’s kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are,” she said. “This really changes that, and for the first time I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know what my gender is.”

Facebook, which has 1.15 billion active monthly users around the world, also allows them to keep their gender identity private and will continue to do so.

The change to the gender selection option is seen as a major step toward acceptance for people who don’t self-identify as male or female, but the high-profile development seemed senseless to those who believe in two genders, no more.

“Of course Facebook is entitled to manage its wildly popular site as it sees fit, but here is the bottom line: It’s impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves - male and female,” said Jeff Johnston, an issues analyst for Focus on the Family, an influential national religious organization based in Denver.  “Those petitioning for the change insist that there are an infinite number of genders, but just saying it doesn’t make it so. That said, we have a great deal of compassion for those who reject their biological sex and believe they are the opposite sex.”

Masen Davis, executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, said it may be hard for some people to understand the importance of having the ability to select from multiple genders online. But he said many transgender people will be thrilled with the change.

“We applaud Facebook for making it possible for people to be their authentic selves online,” he said.

In the past decade, the transgender movement has become much more organized and outspoken, demanding the kind of civil rights and respect already sought by gay activists. During this time, the transgender umbrella has been growing well beyond transsexuals to encompass a wide variety of gender identities.  

The move by Facebook came after years of lobbying from users, some who started Facebook pages to petition for the change. Google+ offers male, female and “other” as choices, but transgender advocates said Facebook’s many specific options puts the platform well ahead of any other online community. About 1 percent of Google+ users identify as other.

The idea of expanding gender choices percolated at Facebook for about a year and started to come to fruition during an in-house brainstorming four months ago, project manager Lexi Ross said.

Transgender activist Nori Herras-Castaneda, a spokeswoman for the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose, said her community has been waiting for this to happen for a long time.

“We always talk about how gender is a spectrum,” she said. “I can see a lot of people being extremely happy about this.”

At this point, Facebook targets advertising according to male or female genders. For those who change to something neutral, ads will be targeted based on the pronoun they select for themselves.  Unlike getting engaged or married, changing gender is not registered as a “life event” on the site and won’t post on timelines. Therefore, Facebook said advertisers cannot target ads to those who declare themselves transgender or recently changed their gender.

Users also can separately indicate whether they want to be referred to as he, she or they.

Facebook came up with its range of terms after consulting with leading gay and transgender activists, and the company plans to continue working with them.  Facebook started the options in the U.S. and plans to take it global after working with activists abroad to come up with terms appropriate in other countries.

Herras-Castaneda said she did expect some anger.

“Any time the transgender community makes advances, there is backlash, and this is a very big advance, so yes, we’ll face some problems, no doubt,” she said.

At Facebook, staffers said the expanded options were never questioned, from CEO Mark Zuckerberg on down.

“Really, there was no debate within Facebook about the social implications at all,” said Alex Schultz, director of growth. “It was simple: Not allowing people to express something so fundamental is not really cool so we did something. Hopefully a more open and connected world will, by extension, make this a more understanding and tolerant world.”

 

1
Text Only
Business
  • Business US stocks edge lower after a six-day rise

    Stocks edged mostly lower Wednesday, breaking a six-day winning streak, as investors were disappointed by the latest round of earnings from U.S. companies.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sales of new US homes plunge 14.5 percent in March

    The number of Americans buying new homes plummeted in March to the slowest pace in eight months, a sign that real estate’s spring buying season is off to a weak start.

    April 23, 2014

  • 3M plant expansion to create 22 jobs

    An $18.7 million expansion at the 3M Co. manufacturing plant in Nevada will create 22 new jobs, a company official said Wednesday. “We started 43 years ago as a small manufacturer,” said Todd Cantrell, plant manager, in a meeting with employees. “We are now the largest 3M plant in the state of Missouri and one of the largest of all 3M plants.”

    April 23, 2014

  • First lady announces one-stop job site for vets

    First lady Michelle Obama has announced a new online effort to link soldiers leaving the military with jobs that match their skill sets.

    April 23, 2014

  • Advocates vow to revive Navajo junk-food tax

    Facing a high prevalence of diabetes, many American Indian tribes are returning to their roots with community and home gardens, cooking classes that incorporate traditional foods, and running programs to encourage healthy lifestyles.

    April 23, 2014

  • Feds seek $211K in fines from Minn. company

    Federal safety regulators are proposing $211,000 in fines for a Minnesota agriculture company that authorities say repeatedly failed to make sure workers weren’t exposed grain dust hazards in Montana.

    April 23, 2014

  • Business US stocks edge lower after a six-day rally

    The stock market slipped Wednesday after rallying for six straight days as investors worked through another round of quarterly earnings reports from U.S. companies.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • GM, lawyers fight over bankruptcy protections

    General Motors Co. and a battalion of trial lawyers are preparing for an epic court fight over whether GM is liable for the sins of its corporate past.

    April 22, 2014

  • Comcast 1Q earns surge on upbeat NBC results

    Comcast Corp. said Tuesday that its first-quarter net income rose by 30 percent as ad revenue surged at broadcast network NBC, helped by the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Jimmy Fallon’s elevation as host of “The Tonight Show.”

    April 22, 2014

  • Valeant, Ackman make $45.6B Allergan bid

    Valeant Pharmaceuticals and activist investor Bill Ackman have unveiled details of their offer to buy Botox maker Allergan, proposing a cash-and-stock deal that could be worth about $45.6 billion.

    April 22, 2014

Poll

A Missouri Senate committee has adopted a state budget provision that would prevent public colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition rates to students living in the country illegally. Do you agree with this?

Yes.
No.
     View Results
Facebook
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
NDN Video
SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher Video Shows Possible Syrian Gas Attack Cubs Superfans Celebrate Wrigley's 100th Raw: Cattle Truck Overturns in Texas Admirers Flock to Dole During Kansas Homecoming Raw: Erupting Volcanoes in Guatemala and Peru Alibaba IPO Could Be Largest Ever for Tech Firm FBI Joining Probe of Suburban NY 'Swatting' Call U.S. Paratroopers in Poland, Amid Ukraine Crisis US Reviews Clemency for Certain Inmates Raw: Violence Erupts in Rio Near Olympic Venue Raw: Deadly Bombing in Egypt Raw: What's Inside a Commercial Jet Wheel Well Raw: Obama Arrives in Japan for State Visit Raw: Anti-Obama Activists Fight Manila Police Motels Near Disney Fighting Homeless Problem Michigan Man Sees Thanks to 'bionic Eye' S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers