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Facebook Responds to Activists

This post was originally posted at jilliancyork.com and is a follow-up piece to a number of others concerning the treatment of activists on the Facebook platform. For some background, the following posts are suggested reading: On Facebook Deactivations [1], Facebook will reinstate your content, but only if you're Sarah Palin [2], and Facebook Deactivations: No Appeals [3].

I’ve been writing about Facebook woes for nearly four months, so imagine my surprise yesterday when I received an e-mail from a Facebook staffer in response to my blog posts. Since I don’t have said staffer’s express permission to use his name or post his e-mail in its entirety, I will instead post the most remarkable excerpts with my own notes.

In reference to your most recent post concerning the exclusion of the term ‘Palestinian’ from Facebook Pages, I wanted to contact you personally and ensure you that this was a result of an anomaly in an automated system. This system’s intended purpose is to verify and authenticate Profile names and a previously unseen bug was applying these same rules to Pages. We are in the process of fixing this bug, if it hasn’t been rectified already.

As I noted yesterday morning, the problem had quickly been fixed. I’m not quite sure I believe that this was a “bug,” considering it only seemed to apply to “Nazi,” “Palestinian,” and “Al Qaeda,” however, I’m glad they’ve fixed it. Interestingly, there’s that automated system issue again. What I can infer from this note is that, likely due to user reports, the word “Palestinian” was somehow deemed inappropriate for Facebook Pages.

Additionally, we understand our product forms a valuable resource to many in the human rights and global advocacy community, and please don’t hesitate to e-mail me directly in the future with any specific problems of bonafide activists and organizers.

That’s wonderful news. I hope he means it, unlike his fellow Facebook staffer Barry Schnitt, who
left a comment on Rebecca MacKinnon’s blog [4] with the same invitation, then failed to respond to several e-mails sent from users with concerns.

It’s worth mentioning that this is not all that different from how other social media companies get to activist concerns quickly. There have been several situations in which an activist has contacted me, or someone else in the field, and one of us has utilized our contacts to quickly reach someone at a social media company and rectify the problem. As we all realize, however, this is neither practical nor sustainable.

In the e-mail, the staffer also alludes to reading my blog and being aware of my upcoming paper on policing content in these spheres. I’m glad–my goal in writing these posts has been to get Facebook’s attention, and it has apparently worked. The next step, of course, is to make sure that we can keep their attention and ensure that activists who use the platform are safe.