Facebook has apologised to transgender and drag queen users whose accounts were deleted for violating its policy on using "real names".

The company now calls for people to "use the authentic name they use in real life" on their Facebook profiles.

Several hundred accounts were flagged by a single user for contravening company policy last month.

Chief product officer Chris Cox acknowledged that the experience had been "painful" for those involved.

"I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbours, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we've put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks," he said.

Mark Snyder, a spokesman for the Transgender Law Center, told the AFP news agency that a planned street protest on Thursday in San Francisco would now become a celebration.

"It was very clear that Facebook was apologetic and wanted to find solutions so that all of us can be our authentic selves online" he said.

He added that it was not just drag queens who had legitimate reasons to use assumed names online.

Judges, social workers, teachers, entertainers and victims of abuse were all justified in using aliases, Mr Snyder said.

Facebook has previously insisted that users of the site use their "real names" in order to avoid abuse and impersonation.

However, it now says that "the spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life".

BBC News