Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Facebook Responds

I’ve been writing about Facebook woes for nearly four months, so imagine my surprise yesterday when I received an e-mail from a Facebook staffer in response to my blog posts. Since I don’t have said staffer’s express permission to use his name or post his e-mail in its entirety, I will instead post the most remarkable excerpts with my own notes.

In reference to your most recent post concerning the exclusion of the term ‘Palestinian’ from Facebook Pages, I wanted to contact you personally and ensure you that this was a result of an anomaly in an automated system. This system’s intended purpose is to verify and authenticate Profile names and a previously unseen bug was applying these same rules to Pages. We are in the process of fixing this bug, if it hasn’t been rectified already.

As I noted yesterday morning, the problem had quickly been fixed. I’m not quite sure I believe that this was a “bug,” considering it only seemed to apply to “Nazi,” “Palestinian,” and “Al Qaeda,” however, I’m glad they’ve fixed it. Interestingly, there’s that automated system issue again. What I can infer from this note is that, likely due to user reports, the word “Palestinian” was somehow deemed inappropriate for Facebook Pages.

Additionally, we understand our product forms a valuable resource to many in the human rights and global advocacy community, and please don’t hesitate to e-mail me directly in the future with any specific problems of bonafide activists and organizers.

That’s wonderful news. I hope he means it, unlike his fellow Facebook staffer Barry Schnitt, who
left a comment on Rebecca MacKinnon’s blog with the same invitation, then failed to respond to several e-mails sent from users with concerns.

It’s worth mentioning that this is not all that different from how other social media companies get to activist concerns quickly. There have been several situations in which an activist has contacted me, or someone else in the field, and one of us has utilized our contacts to quickly reach someone at a social media company and rectify the problem. As we all realize, however, this is neither practical nor sustainable.

In the e-mail, the staffer also alludes to reading my blog and being aware of my upcoming paper on policing content in these spheres. I’m glad–my goal in writing these posts has been to get Facebook’s attention, and it has apparently worked. The next step, of course, is to make sure that we can keep their attention and ensure that activists who use the platform are safe.

11 Comments

  1. I am still waiting for Barry Schnitt to respond to my comment , I have still hopes ;)

  2. Algorithms as “accidental” censorship. Lots of parallels here to the #amazonfail incident, where an algorithm (never explained, but probably user generated) grouped any books featuring positive portrayal of homosexuality into a hidden ‘adult’ bin. Anti-homosexual books were not banned.

    User generated censorship by hacking algorithms (deliberately or not) is not going away, and I think the “it was a glitch” argument is not impressive.

    More discussion of accidental censorship and algorithms here:
    http://commons.globalintegrity.org/2009/11/accidental-censorship-how-policy.html

  3. Barry Schnitt will not respond to your comment Rafik. He just can’t address it without conceding that their way of handling abuse-reporting is fundamentally flawed. They don’t want to have that conversation, that is why you will not hear back from Schnitt or anyone in Facebook about it.

  4. Between this occurrence and the #flotilla issue with Twitter earlier in the summer, this is the second time now in a short period of time that automated filtration systems for social networking have inhibited some (dare I say) essential speech on pressing issues in the Middle East. While in each of these cases the companies were able to remedy the blockage, the fact that these “automation errors” are occurring more frequently over a variety of social networks is becoming a troubling concern.

  5. Hi Jillian,
    I have “met” you on twitter, when someone I knew via my blog mentioned it to you. I just wanted to let you know that Onnik (I assume you know him via global voices) helped me to restore my Scary Azeri blog fan page on facebook this morning…He had to email someone and fortunately, got a helpful and quick response. It is a great result, but of course, very frustrating that none of my official complaints resulted in ANY reply whatsoever.

  6. Bravo Jillian! terry

  7. That’s great news.
    Bravo Jill!

  8. You have done good job thanks – Facebook is violating Human Rights and constitutional rights also.

  9. How about *not* using Facebook? If you’re concerned with freedom, safety or privacy go for something decentralized and open. Of course, your network might be full of chumps(1) “forcing you” to hang out on Facebook. In which case, y’all get what you deserve.

    http://mattmckeon.com/facebook-privacy/

    Conspiracy theories around Facebook, grounded on nothing more than Zuckerberg’s Jewish origins are tiresome. Especially coming from people who wouldn’t know an exploit if it bite them in the face, and who view corporations as omnipotent and algorithms as bullet-proof. These theories are certainly not new. I remember hearing them as early as 2006. Heck, a group of lawyers in Pakistan called for his head, because he is an enemy of Muslims (but then again, who isn’t?).

    1) Exhibit A: “You have done good job thanks – Facebook is violating Human Rights and constitutional rights also.”…

    • Samira, for some activists it’s a matter of reaching larger populations.

      Frankly, I’m impatient waiting for Diaspora — a decentralized, open platform — to get their act together and get their platform running. I donated money to them a few months ago (as did thousands of others; they far surpassed their goal) and so far? Crickets.

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