Facebook Removes Moroccan Secularist Group and its Founder

Note: The group has once again become accessible after several days, as pointed out in the comments.  El Ghazzali created a new profile for himself, and was able to do so without incident. Facebook did not respond to any requests for explanation.

Over the past few years, Facebook has come under scrutiny a number of times for its seeming hypocrisy on what types of groups it deems inappropriate. Although the site's terms of service (TOS) ban everything from nudity, to speech deemed hateful, to using a pseudonym to open an account, they are selectively enforced. In mid-2009 Facebook officials stated that they would not delete Holocaust denial groups outright despite pressure from Jewish groups, but only a few months earlier deleted accounts of users who posted photographs of themselves breastfeeding their babies.  There are numerous other examples.

The TOS appear only to be enforced when enough users report a group as inappropriate, and once a group is removed, its creators often find it impossible to get it back. Users whose personal accounts are removed sometimes create a new account, only to find it deleted again soon afterward.

Moroccan activist Kacem El Ghazzali was recently subjected to Facebook's TOS when a group he had created, entitled “Jeunes pour la séparation entre Religion et Enseignement” (youth for the separation between religion and education), was promptly removed.  El Ghazzali emailed Facebook, but received no response.  Two days later, his personal account had been deleted from Facebook as well (the movement also has a blog, hosted on Blogger).  He says that while the group was live, he received emails from Muslims who opposed the group, as well as other groups he had created.

The homepage of the "Jeunes pour la séparation entre Religion et Enseignement" Facebook group

The homepage of the "Jeunes pour la séparation entre Religion et Enseignement" Facebook group

El Ghazzali won't speculate as to why Facebook removed his group, but it should come as no surprise. Two years ago, when a young Moroccan engineer named Fouad Mourtada was arrested for creating a fake profile of Moroccan Prince Moulay Rachid, many speculated that Facebook had turned his information over to the government (Facebook neither confirmed nor denied the accusation).

El Ghazzali's group, and his account, both appear to have been well within both U.S. law and Facebook's TOS.  Why then, did Facebook delete them?  Was it under pressure from another country's government, or did enough people simply report the group that Facebook automatically removed it?  In any case, why doesn't Facebook offer recourse for its users to report accounts and groups removed in error, as other sites such as YouTube and Blogger do?

Since his account and groups do not appear to be in violation of Facebook's TOS, it seems that Facebook is now policing speech, possibly at the behest of a foreign government.


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