When Facebook's Terms Of Service Decide What Kind Of 'Speech' Is Okay, Activists Get Silenced
from the that's-a-problem,-isn't-it? dept
The Atlantic is covering the fact that Syrian loyalists have been able to abuse Facebook’s “abuse” policy to make various Syrian opposition Facebook pages disappear based on very questionable means. A number of activist pages have simply been wiped out, and even when the folks behind those pages appeal, the appeals get denied. Facebook has, effectively, wiped out much of the key information source for Syrian opposition activists. And this comes even as Facebook itself touted the fact that people in places like Syria were using Facebook to speak up and make themselves heard:
By giving people the power to share, we are starting to see people make their voices heard on a different scale from what has historically been possible. These voices will increase in number and volume. They cannot be ignored.
Well, until Facebook deletes those very pages based on questionable reasons. An example is given of a photo of a man sitting in a chair with a young child on his lap. The man turns out to be an activist who was later killed — but for reasons known only to Facebook censors, the entire post was deleted by Facebook, claiming that it violates their policies.
This is why it’s often important for people to have platforms that they themselves control — though even then there are points of weakness and attack. You can host your own site, but people will go after upstream providers, including hosting companies and registrars. And service providers who have more open policies get hounded into creating “abuse” policies that appear to make sense at first… even though those abuse policies themselves are open to abuse.
For example, there were plenty of really good reasons why Twitter beefed up its abuse police last year, after a bunch of people had very legitimate complaints about how they were dealing with incredibly abusive behavior on Twitter. But, of course, it’s that kind of “abuse policy” that itself is now being abused by those in Syria seeking to stifle dissent.
And that’s where this gets so tricky. When we see people use these platforms in such abusive ways, it’s quite natural to want to see policies in place that let those abusive actions be stopped and taken down. But with such a process in place, you’re almost guaranteeing that it will be abused as well, and legitimate speech — such as that of these Syrian activists — gets removed and deleted (including important historical documentation and discussions that are now gone forever).