Facebook Censors Citizen Activism Website

by on Jun.20, 2011, under general

Facebook strives to be the center of our social world – but is it also becoming its censor?

Via a friend, it appears that Facebook blocks links to the site http://www.j30strike.org/, a worker’s strike in London protesting austerity measures by the government.

See for yourself. Go to your Facebook profile and try to post the URL to your wall, or to share a link on that domain. Facebook refuses to let you post it, and has for the last few days.

It’s worth noting that J30Strike isn’t child porn. It isn’t incitement to terrorist attacks. It isn’t a ticking time bomb. It’s none of the sort of clear and present dangers usually cited as cause for censorship. It’s a website advocating for and educating about peaceful democratic activism.

The catchphrase of the critical legal studies movement is “all law is politics.” It’s important to realize that Facebook is politics too. With this move, Facebook is taking an active stand against democratic activism, and an active stand in favor of austerity. Facebook is Janus-faced; humbly accepting praise for facilitating democratic activism in the Middle East while, at the same time, blocking it in the West.

e: I should note that Facebook is now returning a message that says “this link could not be posted because it has been flagged as abusive or spam.” Let’s assume, for the moment, that this message is in earnest (and not the darker, more conspiratorial conclusion that that this is mere pretext). It doesn’t change my concern. If Facebook structures its technological architecture such that activist websites can be removed by a few folks reporting it as abusive, then it has the same abhorrent, centralized, censoring effect. You don’t need to have Peter Thiel pulling the strings for it to be a bad thing, as long as the effect is the same. Especially if such censorship can’t be remedied despite many people (over the last few days) notifying Facebook, through the appropriate channels, that the site is legitimate.

e2: it appears that the bit.ly link to j30strike is also blocked from being posted; the tinyurl.com link was just blocked as well within the last few hours.

e3: while again there is no hard evidence that Facebook’s leadership ordered this particular link blocked, this chummy video chat between Zuckerberg and Cameron about spending cuts doesn’t look so great in context.

e4: a friend sent a screenshot showing that if you try to share this post on my blog Facebook blocks it because the auto-imported metagraf includes the censored link. Now, obviously this is an effective tactic from a spam-blocking standpoint (again, assuming best intentions from Facebook here). What’s amazing is the way that, in cases like this, it shuts down metaconversations as well. Not only can you not share J30Strike; you can’t even share sites that link prominently to J30Strike in order to discuss it!

e5: I want to emphasize again that it this is troubling no matter why it is happening. If Facebook officials specifically sought out and blocked J30Strike, that’s troubling in a very obvious sort of way. But even if this censorship occured bottom-up (where enough people voted it as spam to be deleted, and where the avenues of redress and recategorization have been obviously insufficient for a few days) it’s still problematic, because the technology is self-executing. As a friend wrote, “[if that is the case] then it’s a fully automated system which can both censor something and then censor any and all discussion of the censorship itself.”

e6: scattered reports coming in that the J30Strike site can now be posted; will try to confirm, though my point in e5 still stands.

e7: Mother Jones has a story up about this, and I have some additional reactions as well.

e8: MorningStar picks up this post but doesn’t offer link? Pshaw.

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4 comments for this entry:
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    [...] Chris documented a case where links to a blog post of his were blocked for abuse on Facebook. The blog post in question documented a political link that had itself been blocked for abuse on Facebook. [...]

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