Facebook Forced to Defend Accusations of Political Censorship
Facebook has been forced to defend itself against accusations that the site is involved in political censorship of its American users, after a ‘mistake’ led to a political meme about President Barack Obama being deleted and its poster prevented from making any further posts over a spurious charge of breaking the site’s terms of service.
As Will Oremus from Slate reported yesterday: ‘Allegations of liberal media bias are old hat. Facebook just handed the right wing a new rallying cry: social-media bias!’
The story relates to a Facebook page called Special Operations Speaks, which posts political content from a military special forces perspective and is known for its anti-Obama opinions. A political meme (and image with caption designed for people to copy and share online) was posted on this page with the text “Obama called the SEALS and THEY got Bin Laden. When the SEALS called Obama THEY GOT DENIED”, alongside two images of Obama and Bin Laden. The point being made here is a criticism of Obama over the so-called ‘Benghazi-Gate’ story that the White House had information about the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi before it took place, but didn’t take the proper action to bolster security.
Without getting into nit-picking about the validity or otherwise of the point being made by this meme, it clearly does not break Facebook’s terms of service. But when it was posted on the Special Operations Speaks page it was soon deleted, and the page admin was sent a take-down notice claiming that the image violated its statement of rights and responsibilities. When the image was later re-posted to the page it was deleted again, and Facebook also froze the page’s account for 24 hours to prevent anything else from being posted.
It took an outcry from the right-wing blogosphere, led by sites such as Breitbart, before Facebook admitted that it was wrong to delete the image. “I assure you that removing the image was not an act of censorship on our part. This was an error and we apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused.” Facebook employee Andrew Noyes told Breitbart.
What is clear, however, is that this error was not some kind of software glitch. Images like this only get deleted by Facebook after a person has viewed them and deemed them unacceptable – computers aren’t capable of making those kinds of judgement on their own. So a Facebook employee somewhere had decided to censor this image because they didn’t like it. What worries me is this – how many times has this happened before, and how often might it be continuing to happen, without the public outcry causing rethink? It seems to me that most people would probably just accept the take-down notice, or complain about it to friends and family without being able to get the wider media to pick up the story.
If something similar to this has ever happened to you, or on a page you are associated with, then please do let us know.