As Eric Bakovic described here last year, Facebook uses they as a singular pronoun when the gender of the user is not known, leading to news feed items like: "Pat Jones added Prince to their favorite music." That's never been the most elegant use of singular they, since readers of these items tend to know the gender of Pat Jones, even if s/he hasn't told Facebook about it. Even more awkwardly, Facebook also uses themself when a reflexive pronoun is needed, as in: "Pat Jones has tagged themself in a photo." Well, now after some cross-linguistic difficulties, Facebook is trying to stamp out singular they by being more demanding about gender specification.
Reuters reports that pronoun trouble arose after Facebook moved beyond English and added 15 new languages in recent months. Singular they/their/themself might be inelegant or even ungrammatical in English, depending on your point of view, but it's downright impossible in languages where gender marking on singular pronouns is obligatory. As Facebook product manager Naomi Gleit explained on the company blog: "We've gotten feedback from translators and users in other countries that translations wind up being too confusing when people have not specified a sex on their profiles."
Confronting complaints of ungrammaticality from speakers of English and untranslatability from speakers of other languages, Facebook will now be more in-your-face about choosing a gender identity. If you haven't filled the information out on your Facebook profile, you'll now get a prompt asking if you want to be referred to as him or her. But they're not getting too insistent on sexual dimorphism, since users can still opt out of the gender choice, in response to what Gleit calls "pushback in the past from groups that find the male/female distinction too limiting."
Stay tuned for further developments from the online front of the grammar-and-gender wars.
(Hat tip, Greg Howard.)