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Facebook fudges policy in page-purging pickle

Aus net filter bad - gay pride threats, er... we'll get back to you

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Facebook yesterday vigorously denied suggestions that it responds selectively to complaints, or that it favours the blocking of politically progressive links over the slightly more reactionary. Still, there are red faces today at Facebook Central over the strange and divergent fate of two controversial pages.

First up is the case of Bet we can find 1 million Australians who say NO to the Internet filter. According to the Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) page, admin Gour Lentell discovered his publishing rights on this page were blocked just over a week ago due to an unverified violation to the Terms of Use.

With over 29,000 members and a good level of debate and discussion on the issue of the filter, this might be considered just the sort of page Facebook are keen to host. However, Lentell claims he has no idea why the page has been blocked, telling EFA: "For the life of me I cannot see how the page violates the terms of use.

"As the admin of the page, any post I make automatically appears in the personal news feeds of all page fans, a responsibility I have attempted to take seriously."

His only explanation is that he may have fallen foul of complaints from individuals who favour the internet filter.

A spokeswoman for Facebook told us that the real reason may have had more to do with the page’s success than with any particular complaint levelled at it. She explained: "Once a page starts to attract a significant following, Facebook admin will want to know who or what is behind the page branding."

This is in order to prevent a group opposed to, say, major brands such as McDonald’s or Nestlé from setting up spoof pages to denigrate those products. She was adamant, however, that Lentell should have received a notification from Facebook admin explaining that he was being blocked pending this checking process, and was at a loss to understand why this had not been made clear to him.

So much for internet filtering. The second controversial site was available on Facebook until yesterday evening, surviving dozens of complaints, perhaps for no better reason than that Facebook admin don’t read Serbian.

There have been no Gay Pride events in Serbia since violent protest against a Gay Rights demo in that country in 2001. That situation is likely to change soon, with a Serbian Gay Pride march planned to take place in Belgrade later this year.

This is too much for some red-blooded sections of the Serbian population, who set up a Facebook page entitled (in Serbian) "Gay parade - Never in Serbia". The page sparked vigorous debate, with comment divided between condemnation of the proposed march, and condemnation of those individuals making the negative comment.

However, if Google translator is to be trusted, some of the comments went way beyond Facebook’s acceptable use policies. One commenter eloquently expressed the view: "No peder’s welcome in Serbia."

Another threatened that if the parade went ahead "no good will follow", while a banner on the page warned: "We are waiting for you."

According to Facebook regulars, complaints had been lodged against this page several days previously – but it had not been removed. However, a little over an hour after we asked Facebook about their policies in respect of taking pages down, this page disappeared – along with all threads condemning Facebook for not removing it, or even discussing it. ®

Bootnote

Making for a trio of slightly odd censorship decisions, a reader writes in to alert us to the blocking of a Facebook ad campaign designed by Toronto Public Health. Under the strapline "Check your package", the ad featured a fully covered close-up of a male torso. Its aim was the wholly laudable one of alerting young men to the dangers of testicular cancer.

This was too much for Facebook, which reportedly found the headline "unacceptable", didn’t like the fact that the image focused "on a specific body part, particularly a man’s crotch" and considered the words "Men 18-35 are at risk" as being "threatening to the user". They added: "We don’t allow age callouts under any circumstance."

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