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Facebook gags verbal dissent group

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Facebook has silenced a 20,000-strong campaign group dedicated to the seemingly innocuous goal of stopping the site from forcing people to use the verb "to be" in their status updates.

The group, entitled "Campaign to lose the mandatory 'is' from facebook updates!", disappeared overnight on Wednesday without any warning to its creator, London-based Nick Shaw. He immediately wrote to Facebook administrators for an explanation, but has yet to get a response.

Shaw explained the motivation behind the campaign to El Reg: "Facebook has now become an international service and I have a few friends who find it difficult to update in their native language.

"That and it's a bit annoying talking about oneself in the third person all the time," he added.

For Facebook refuseniks, the status update field allows users to let their friends on the network know what they're up to, so long as you can be it. For example, "Mark Zuckerberg is working out whether he'll be able to afford a Boeing 767 party jet".

Hundreds of campaigns – some important, most trivial – organise themselves with Facebook groups. One was credited with bringing about a major climbdown on student fees by banking giant HSBC last month.

The "lose the 'is'" group had attracted thousands of supporters in just over a month. Other much smaller groups argue the issues from both sides too. "Besides furthering the campaign we had a nice community of really rather funny and interesting people," Shaw said. "Now we have 20,000 people with no idea what's going on and no idea how to get back in contact with them. Social networking indeed."

We contacted Facebook's spinners in the US to ask why the group had been deleted. The best response the public relations SWAT team could muster was links to the site's code of conduct and terms of use. We trawled through both (they're a hoot), and the only relevant passage was this, in the latter: "The Company may terminate your membership, delete your profile and any content or information that you have posted on the Site... for any reason, or no reason, at any time in its sole discretion, with or without notice."

So there you go, Nick. Facebook's baby corporate consciousness can throw its toys out of the pram at even the most benign dissent on its pages. And members can just shut up. ®

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