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Facebook blocks certain news articles; transparency?

Censored_section_of_Green_Illusions_by_Ozzie_Zehner

Users of Facebook were unable to share certain news articles from publications like The Wire and Faking News. Some of these were without an error message, while another one displayed messages like “The content you’re trying to share includes a link that our security systems detected to be unsafe, , please remove this link to continue”. A user trying to post a Faking News article got the error, “the action attempted has been deemed abusive or is otherwise disallowed.”

For The Wire, a particular article titled When Mr. Modi Went to London disappeared from Facebook despite over 1,000 Facebook shares, while some others were unable to post it, but was back in a couple of hours. A Facebook spokesperson told MediaNama that “the content was mistakenly captured by our spam filter and has now been restored. We are sorry for the error and inconvenience caused.” When we tried posting The Wire and another article to Facebook, it worked. However, it is unclear if other content was also blocked for the same reason.

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While Facebook has a certain set of guidelines for posting content, the ones given here do not offer help on the nature of the content that is allowed and not allowed to be posted. End users who don’t always read terms and conditions (me included) while signing up might be jolted when Facebook disallows the posting of some kinds of content.

Note that earlier in March this year, Facebook had shed light on its content policy. It also noted that there was a team which evaluated all these requests. According to it:

Allowed: Facebook removes or blocks content which abides by its “Community Standards” but may violate regional or national laws (read: governments and courts). Interestingly, in its content policy, public figure information and hate speech can be posted as long as the discussion is “open and critical” of people in the news or those who have a large public audience based on their profession or chosen activities. Also, it is okay to post above for educational value. Even “broad discussion and social commentary” on terrorist organisations are allowed. It also mentions that there might be some cases where “blocked” local content remains blocked only to users of that region but accessible worldwide and may not be “removed entirely”.

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Not allowed: Facebook disallows direct threats, self injury, bullying and harassment, praising terrorist organisations, nudity, discrimination attacks (of any kind), sexual violence and regulated goods. Threats and hate speech directed towards public figures are also not allowed.

MediaNama’s take: Obviously there are restrictions to free speech when it comes to policies of organisations. Despite the fact that a user has to agree to Facebook’s terms and conditions when they sign up (meaning that they have to follow its rules), the organisation needs to be more transparent when it comes to content blocks, which will let users make informed decisions about posting certain kinds of content. As a side, here’s Edward Snowden giving tips on how to protect yourself from the NSA.

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Other content blocks:

Indian Atheists group blocked twice: Last week, the Indian Atheists’ public Facebook group was blocked for over 3 days but now seems to have been reinstated. An admin of the group told MediaNama that apparently, the group was visible to users outside India and that Facebook had not provided it any reason whatsoever for its decisions to block, unblock or hide content. The group had faced the same issue in June where Facebook blocked the group for 48 hours, after which it was reinstated, with all the content intact. Other blocks here.

Church vs State post flagged in the US: In the same week, Ars Technica reported that a post arguing for separation of church and state was pulled from Facebook and its admin was told that the post did not follow Facebook’s community standards. According to the report, the comment on the post about a local high school not using the pledge of allegiance was neither hatred inciting nor harassing.

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In related news, a US court ruled that Facebook could block content without explaining why after a Sikh group filed a lawsuit challenging the social media giant for blocking its page, as indicated by this ET report.

Also read: Facebook’s India content take downs triples in first half of 2015

Image Credit: Ozzie Zehner

Written By

I'm a MediaNama alumna from 2015-16 (remember TinyOwl?) now back to cover e-services like food and grocery delivery, app based transport and policies, platforms and media in India.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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