Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift tribute acts were among protesters outside the London offices of Facebook parent company Meta claiming they have received an “unfair” ban from the site, which they say is damaging their careers and livelihoods.
Celebrity impersonators including George Michael, Britney Spears, Adele and Freddie Mercury stood in unity on Tuesday to protest against Meta’s community standards, which do not allow accounts that “impersonate or falsely represent” a person, brand or business.
Meta says it allows fan and tribute act Facebook pages and Instagram accounts if users state they are not “speaking in the voice of” that person or brand.
However, the campaigners claim that the rules have resulted in some of the tribute acts losing their accounts, which had garnered thousands of fans and followers used for promotion and ticket sales, and damaged their livelihoods.
Standing outside the offices in King’s Cross on Tuesday, Kelly O’Brien, who is a tribute act for country singer Parton, famed for her 9 To 5 track, was holding a sign which read: “Let us work 9-5.”
The singer from Hertfordshire told the PA news agency: “We are protesting the pages of tributes and impersonators across the UK and the world, about having pages unpublished, it happens daily, it happens constantly and we just want to make a living.
“We want to work, we want to entertain people and we’re unable to do it without this platform, it’s very, very difficult.
“In the last year, I’ve had six accounts taken down, sometimes they get put back for a few weeks, and they go down again, and then they come back and they go down again, so Meta need to put some rules in place that protect and support us tributes, because it’s just not happening.
“This is a million-pound industry, we’re filling up half the theatres in the UK and I’ve been doing this for 16 years, this is not a joke, this is my full-time job, this is what I do.”
Violating the community standards puts any tribute act or professional impersonator using Facebook or Instagram at risk of being banned from the platform.
The policy states: “We don’t allow people on Facebook to pretend to be someone well-known or speak for them without permission.”
Ms O’Brien said: “I have Dolly’s approval, her family has been in touch, they know what I do. She loves (that) I pay homage to her, she’s in full support and everybody says on their pages, ‘this is a tribute’.”
Meanwhile, Swift tribute artist Katy Ellis, from Chester, who was sporting the US singer’s ringleader costume from the Red tour, held a sign referencing her popular track I Knew You Were Trouble, which read: “I knew your politics were trouble.”
The singer told PA: “I think if somebody was impersonating somebody in a dangerous way, taking their identity, yes, that’s dangerous, but we do all state that we are tribute acts and we are not trying to be that person, just when we’re on stage.”
Spears impersonator Lucy Rose Smith from Norfolk, sporting a version of the infamous bejewelled green blue costume worn during a performance at the VMAs in 2001, held a sign directed at Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg and also made reference to her 2003 hit Toxic.
It read: “Zuck, your politics are toxic.”
She told PA: “We are professional impersonators and it’s our full-time job, so for us it’s a very big deal, half of our workload has completely disappeared basically.
“I’ve had to restart my pages three times now. I’ve had to restart Absolute Britney, try new versions of it to see if maybe putting different words in my titles work.
“So, it’s a lot of time and effort, a lot of money been wasted and I’ve had a lot of shows cancelled, a lot of clients lost and a lot of fans gone, so it has affected me massively.”
Meanwhile, Lee Raymond from Norfolk, an impersonator for the late Grammy Award winning singer Michael held a sign which read: “We want freedom, lift the ban,” referencing his 1990 song Freedom!.
Adele impersonator Natalie Black from Yorkshire also held a sign, referencing her 2008 hit Chasing Pavements, which said: “Should I give up or should I just keep chasing Meta.”
The singer, who has been an Adele impersonator since 2011, told PA: “We need some recognition from Facebook that it’s a tribute industry and we need to be able to operate our business, it’s like everyone else on Facebook.
“That’s the reason that we set up a business page in the first place and that’s why we spend money putting adverts on to help sell tickets, and no-one is under any illusion when they buy a ticket to a tribute show that they’re actually going to go see the real Adele at the local theatre, they’re well aware that it’s a tribute show.
“We should be allowed to prove that we run as a business, submit some information that we’re self-employed running as a business and then get some kind of verification, use the word tribute in the title, they could bring in rules if we had our own name in the title of the page and the word tribute, maybe that would not be picked up on the algorithm that we’re impersonating.”
A tribute act for late Queen singer Mercury, Luke Anthony from London, donned the memorable yellow military-style cropped jacket he wore during Queen’s 1986 Wembley Stadium performance.
Holding a sign which referenced the rock band’s 1984 anthem I Want To Break Free, it said: “I want to break free from your poorly thought through politics.”
A Meta spokesperson said: “We’ve always allowed tribute acts on Facebook and Instagram, and we know our platforms play an important role in helping these communities connect with fans.
“Our technology sometimes makes mistakes and we’ve reinstated a number of pages and accounts that were wrongly removed for impersonation.
“We understand how frustrating this can be, which is why we encourage tribute acts to make it clear in their bio or profile that they’re not the real individual.”