UPDATE: Click here to read the response to this post by Facebook's Barry Schnitt, Director, Policy Communications, followed by reactions from others, including Rafik Dammak whose account suspension is discussed in this post.
Privacy is only one many problems eroding users' trust in Facebook. Don't forget Facebook's inconsistent and untransparent approach to account deactivation and page takedowns. I recently wrote about how Hong Kong democracy activists have had pages disabled or deleted with no explanation. Robert Scoble recently reported on how a Texas radio show recently had its Facebook page disabled, and that he gets "a new email from someone who has gotten removed from Facebook every week." [This sentence has been corrected thanks to "Wrldvoyagr" in the comments section, below.] Scoble continues:
They need a more mature approach toward customer service. People and content are still getting deleted by spam filters which no one understands or can explain to me and there isn’t good place to go to appeal content deletions. This the problem with not having a federated system that runs on our own servers. Facebook has too much control over our digital lives and that power to delete content really freaks me out.The problem is especially upsetting for Facebook's international users, particularly those who come from countries where there is heavy censorship and political repression. Rafik Dammak, a Tunisian student living in Tokyo and who is an upstanding and active member of the global Internet community and represents non-commercial Internet users on one of ICANN's councils, announced last week that his Facebook account was suspended without warning. "They don't bother to give rationales, we have to "trust" them," he later wrote on Twitter. Rafik did e-mail email@example.com to complain, (Updated/corrected details:) Rafik says he was chatting with a friend on Tuesday when suddenly a message popped up telling him to log back in. When he did so, received this generic message (click to enlarge) which began: "Hi Rafik, Unfortunately your account has been permanently disabled for violating Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities [link added]. We will not be able to reactivate it for any reason, nor will we provide further explanation of your violation or the systems we have in place. This decision is absolutely final." The e-mail then continues on with instructions about how to flag abusive content.
While Rafik has no way of knowing for sure why Facebook deactivated his account, he has some theories. In an e-mail exchange, he and Nasser Weddady, a Mauritanian activist based in Boston, described a concerted "abuse-reporting" campaign being carried out against Tunisian exiles, activists, and other Facebook users who the people conducting the campaign don't like. Rafik pointed to a couple of Facebook pages (here and here) which he says are devoted to targeting and organizing abuse-reporting efforts against specific Facebook users. France 24 has a report in French about those groups here. Here's how Nasser explained it to me:
This phenomenon seems to have been first triggered by the mass protest over things like the Danish Cartoons and Mohamed's portrayals. But the novelty now is the extent at which some pro-government elements in Tunisia resorted to this tactic to shut down dissenter groups or individual user accounts, most to seem to be targeted on account of their political views but that is not always the case hence the name in Arabic: Moubid which means insecticide. This is how it works:In early May Curt Hopkins wrote an article on ReadWriteWeb about how Facebook's move over the past year to make people's accounts and pages public by default had made it easier for such harrassment to occur. While he quotes Facebook representatives who insisted that they don't deactivate accounts without human review, it's clear that something remains seriously wrong with their system.
- A user with a large following designates a group as "subversive"
-spreads the news to his following by inviting other users with the explicit request to pass it on in order to create a snowball effect
-Facebook agrees to shut down the group most likely based on the number of complaints
As you can see, it is a double abuse: an abuse by users who embark on witch hunts just because someone said those accounts or facebook groups are bad, and an abuse of facebook's opaque policy on designating groups as violating its users agreement.
There was a similar phenomenon during the last Gaza war, when pro-palestinan users accounts and groups were targeted by pro-israel groups and individuals in a similar way as in Tunisia. While, it is very difficult to prove that the Tunisians learned that technique from the pro-israel advocates, the first malicious precedent we know of in the Middle East is that one.
This larger context also helps explain the extent to which moderate and cosmopolitan Muslim Facebook users who believe in free speech and who are generally against censorship were so alienated and upset by the fact that Facebook allowed the "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" page - which on the several occasions when I looked at it was full of obscene and gratuitous anti-Muslim hate speech - to stay up for more than a week. It's well known that Facebook quickly takes down other racist and anti-semitic pages. Yet they allowed a page full of nastiness and hate against the Muslim faith to stay up. We also know from this interview given by one of the page's administrators to Radio Free Europe that Facebook admins were in touch with the page's creators and "not in a negative way," as administrator Andy Freiheit (a pseudonym) put it.
Many things remain seriously wrong in Facebookistan.
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