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Facebook under fire over Israel, transgender bullying

Mod squad overlooks teen bullies' page, took peace activists' down

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Facebook was under fire again yesterday from various groups for alleged inconsistency in its moderation – too quick, it was claimed, to take down material supporting non-mainstream causes, too slow to react in other cases.

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First up, according to gay newspaper Pink News, was a homophobic Facebook group called The New Anti-Gay Movement. Its administrators boasted: "This page is for those of us [sic] against ALL gays, man and woman alike. Those of us who are tired of seeing them flaunt it like it is a badge of honor and acceptable. Spread it like wildfire. Suggest to all your friends."

In response to calls for the page's removal, the Facebook mods initially responded: "By definition this page does not in any way or form count as 'hate speech'. While there is a very thin line, this is on the proper side of it. It does not promote violence, intimidation, harassment or other misconducted [sic] actions."

The page did not survive long, attracting, at last count, some 15 or so adherents before Facebook canned it. Accusations of foot-dragging in this case – unlike an earlier page advocating violence against a pro-gay demo in Serbia, which survived several weeks of reports before being dismissed – may therefore be slightly premature.

More controversial is a complaint from FreedomOneWorld, a campaign partly orchestrated by reputable UK campaigners War On Want – and supported by such ne'er-do-wells as Billy Bragg and Jews for Justice in Palestine – that their Facebook page had been taken down. The group also said that links to their website had been blocked by Facebook.

As Billy Bragg wrote on the now-resurrected page: "The link that I posted to the OneWorld Freedom for Palestine site here yesterday has mysteriously disappeared. Are facebook actively censoring the debate about peace in the Middle East?

"When I click on the link that I posted yesterday this is the message I got: 'Sorry the link you are trying to visit has been reported as abusive by Facebook users'. I'd like to know what in the video was considered abusive and by whom."

Last up – and arguably most serious – is a tale of ordinary everyday bullying and incitement to violence. If the first two campaigns challenged Facebook moderation by presenting them with politically subtle argument over the nature of protest and free speech, the third, which appears to have taken Facebook rather longer to respond to, was a page entitled: "i'm a women [sic] LOL JK i'm the guard from poundland".

The page, apparently originating among a number of young persons in the Newcastle-on-Tyne area was little more than an attack on a security guard, working at extreme discount store Poundland, who also happened to be transgender.

Typical of the comments put up were: "anyone got a photo of the ugly tranny? Put it on here and have a giggle."

Another poster wrote: "a heard it wasn't even human but a reptile."

Various posters urged others to take photos, which were duly posted.

The page survived for a number of weeks, apparently unreported. This changed on Wednesday, when a piece by journalist and blogger Paris Scarlett Lees exposed the page to the transgender community and led to a flurry of reports both to Facebook and the local police, who are now investigating those who posted. Given that the page could be construed as going well beyond opinion and into the realms of incitement to violence, Facebook appear to have taken no action to remove it until after we spoke to their press office yesterday afternoon.

In response to the above, Facebook refused to be drawn on individual cases. A spokeswoman told us: "While we can't comment on individual cases, users and content on Facebook can be removed for a variety of reasons including bullying or harassing others, using fake details or posting content which contains nudity."

The above includes every item of content added to the site, from profile images, to photos or messages, all of which can be reported by people using the site.

All reports are prioritised before being dealt with by Facebook's user operations team, and then addressed in order of significance: so a report of grooming or harassment would be dealt with before a report of an account which has been locked out.

The spokeswoman concluded: "Content which breaks Facebook's rules, such as the pages you flagged, will be removed for breaching Facebook's terms as set out in our statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

"We encourage people to report anything they feel violates our policies using the report links which are on every page across the site. Our highly trained team of expert reviewers will then prioritise reports, remove any content or people in violation and escalate issues to law enforcement when appropriate." ®

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