When Facebook Decides To Silently Delete Journalism

from the down-the-memory-hole dept

There's been an awful lot of discussion about the role of Facebook on journalism these days. I'm actually a lot less concerned than many who have been complaining that Facebook's growing importance is somehow "dangerous" for the future of news. The simple fact is that a huge percentage of people (especially young people) currently get their news via Facebook. But, at the very least, we should be concerned when Facebook starts to play the role of the arbitrary editor, simply deleting stories it doesn't like.

Jim MacMillan, a photojournalist who is currently the Assistant Director for the Center for Public Interest Journalism at Temple University happened upon a somewhat tragic scene last month, of a 68-year-old woman struck and killed by one of those "Duck Boats" (the rickety half bus/half boat things that are -- for reasons I still don't get -- popular with tourists). The story made headlines in part because of claims that the woman was too focused on her mobile device to notice that she was walking in the road against the traffic light.

MacMillan just happened to be there, and while he notes that he's been out of the "breaking news" photojournalism business for years, he recognized an opportunity and snapped a few photographs and posted them to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter:
The reason that I only linked to the Twitter version is because the other ones are gone. According to MacMillan, Facebook silently deleted the other two with no explanation:
I posted the photo to my Instagram account and clicked the button to share to Facebook. But while discussing the incident with a colleague last night, I scrolled back and discovered that both posts had been deleted.
MacMillan notes that he was careful to post a photo that did not show the actual body, but rather the police putting up the tarp:
In the most recent incident, I saw the victim’s body between the right, rear wheels and it was clear that she was dead, but I posted a more sensitive picture of police on the other side of the vehicle and captioned it only to say: “Police hang a tarp after a person was caught under ‪#‎RideTheDucks‬ boat at 11th and Arch just now. Looks very serious.”

We do things like this to eliminate the possibility that loved ones will learn of the death from anyone but official sources and to spare viewers the traumatic effects of graphic imagery whenever possible. In other words, I was operating conservatively within standard practices of photojournalism.

That was my best effort to be sensitive to the victim while responsible to the public's right to know that there had been another fatal accident involving a Ride the Ducks boat.
As MacMillan notes, it's particularly ridiculous that Facebook didn't even inform him of this or give him any chance to respond or protest the silent deletion of his journalistic work:
But why would Facebook take down this image? Who might have complained? And shouldn’t I have been offered the opportunity to respond?
In an update, MacMillan notes that people from Facebook are claiming they have no record of a takedown at all -- leading MacMillan to wonder if he really posted them at all if some sort of technical glitch may be to blame. Yet, he also notes that the way it got onto Twitter was because he has an IFTTT recipe that reposts all his Instagram/Facebook posts to Twitter. The fact that the image is on Twitter certainly suggests he did, in fact, post them to Facebook. Either way, there are legitimate concerns about how Facebook's policy works in terms of taking down stories. The company has certainly had problems in the past, and this is going to be a concern going forward. You're relying on someone else's platform, and they can do what they want with it.

While I'm less worried than many others about Facebook's impact on journalism, it does seem like the company really ought to very, very clear and transparenty how it handles taking down content. Many other sites make sure that they, at the very least, inform users of any takedowns and even provide clear processes for challenging the decision. Here, assuming MacMillan is correct, the content was just removed. If the content really was just removed, it should call into question the credibility of journalism found on Facebook.

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  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 12:52pm

    Time for a new social media site

    For lack of a better name, call it In-Your-Face-Book - nothing added, nothing taken away! You post it? You own it! Any DMCA notices and such get forwarded to the poster. The site? It is just a neutral entity! Right to be forgotten? See the poster - we have nothing to do with it!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 1:00pm

      Re: Time for a new social media site

      There have been attempts at this, like Diaspora, but they haven't caught on. I tried to leave Facebook and go to Google+ when it opened, but all my luddite friends and family members stuck with AOL... I mean Facebook.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 1:05pm

    FUD

    By far the simplest explanation is a glitch in the posting. That he uses IFTTT to syndicate to Twitter but the internal sharing to Facebook suggests the culprit. It’s entirely reasonable that the Instagram servers triggered the IFTTT callback but then a bug caused the posting to be rolled back or otherwise fail to show up on Instagram. (IFTTT likely uses the Instagram real-time API which receives information about new uploads pretty much immediately.) The Facebook connection when using the share option inside Instagram happens after it is posted, so that’s how it could show up on Twitter via IFTTT but not Instagram or Facebook.

    Nothing nefarious. Many apps nowadays practice “optimistic updates” where they show the expected result of an action before it has been committed to the server. The effect is a much more responsive app, but it can also mask persistence errors if not handled properly. Did he actually look to see if it had gone to Facebook?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 1:25pm

      Re: FUD

      "Did he actually look to see if it had gone to Facebook?"

      That was my first thought as well. Is there anyone who actually saw it on Facebook to confirm that it was in fact deleted.

      Is Instagram owned by Facebook? If the post is missing from both and they're not controlled by the same people, I'm more inclined to believe that something else happened.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 1:06pm

    it should call into question the credibility of journalism found on Facebook.

    That's really funny. Does anyone not question the credibility of journalism found on Facebook?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Goyo (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 1:13pm

    Of course Facebook is going to play the role of the arbitrary editor if they think it is in their interest. When you give a lot of power to someone you can expect them to use it.

    It may be true that a huge percentage of people currently get their news via Facebook, but that does not give Facebook journalism any credibility to call into question now that they deleted a random post from a random photojournalist. That's not the issue here. If you give Facebook a power comparable to mainstream media, you will get from Facebook the same you get from mainstream media. What else would you expect?

    Stallman has been saying "see what could happen if you rely on someone else's platform, avoid it" for a long time, but he is just an extremist...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris ODonnell (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 1:19pm

    I've clicked post on FB plenty of times and had nothing happen. With their volume, even a .001 defect rate is going to be a lot of lost posts every day. Odds are this is just a technical glitch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jim MacMillan, 18 Jun 2015 @ 1:42pm

    Correction:

    Nope. I never said that: "leading MacMillan to wonder if he really posted them at all."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      PRMan, 18 Jun 2015 @ 1:50pm

      Re: Correction:

      Well, DID you ever see them on Facebook or Instagram? Is it possible this was some sort of technical glitch?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Jim, 18 Jun 2015 @ 2:33pm

        Re: Re: Correction:

        Yes, I saw it on Instagram. Yes, I am learning of possible technical glitches. While I normally press the button to dupe to FB, I can't swear that I ever went back there to check.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 18 Jun 2015 @ 3:19pm

      Re: Correction:

      Nope. I never said that: "leading MacMillan to wonder if he really posted them at all."


      Clarified. I meant that you wondered if it ever got posted, but didn't mean to imply that you thought you hadn't tried to post it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 5:09pm

        Re: Re: Correction:

        Random observation: this is why news outlets do a disservice to their readers when they kill off their community comments sections.

        The subject of a post had an issue with part of the story and mentioned it publicly. The author acknowledged the issue, made a clarification/correction, and stated as much. Publicly, right here in front of everyone. That's transparency.

        TD may be 'just' an opinion/analysis blog, but it does journalism a hell of a lot better than The Sunday Times.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Jim, 19 Jun 2015 @ 5:55am

        Re: Re: Correction:

        thanks

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 3:18pm

    When does a post post?

    I've had several times checked FB's feed in the morning; then checked 8 hours later to find posts labeled as having been posted 12 hours earlier. NONE of them showed up in my morning check.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2015 @ 5:13pm

    In other news ... people get their news from facebook.

    Are they lazy or simply do not know better?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Stosh, 18 Jun 2015 @ 10:06pm

    "credibility of journalism found on Facebook"

    Is this the new definition of an oxymoron?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Howard, 19 Jun 2015 @ 1:49am

    Facebook is broken a lot

    I've had one thing formally removed from my facebook, but several things have disappeared. Sometimes they come back hours or even days later. I think the site is just really flaky.

    "Duck Boats" (the rickety half bus/half boat things that are -- for reasons I still don't get -- popular with tourists)

    I went on one of those in London, England. The river level was really high and quite choppy.

    I enjoyed it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jun 2015 @ 5:53am

    Simple solution: Don't Use Facebook

    I think the problem with Facebook is that we expect too much from it.

    It's a private company for pete's sake, however permissive they may be at one time or another they have no legal obligation to allow arbitrary speech.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    VDC Photo, 19 Jun 2015 @ 12:05pm

    Other Deletions

    I have been in a similar situation myself.

    A few years back I was photographing a murder scene and had posted a photo of the body covered by a tarp.

    Someone had reported the photo so it was subsequently taken down, and my account was suspended for 3days basically saying that my content was inappropriate and that I was blocked.

    Facebook is very finicky about news.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Siti Rodiah, 5 Oct 2015 @ 11:41pm

    Obat Dalam Untuk luka Operasi Caesar

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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