The importance of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter is evident. The latest example is what appears to have happened in the last couple of days in the UK with Facebook removing dozens of profiles from its site, causing an outcry from campaigners trying to organise anti-austerity protests this weekend.
The Guardian reports:
The deactivated pages include UK Uncut, and pages created by students during last December’s university occupations.
A list posted on the Stop Facebook Purge group says Chesterfield Stop the Cuts, Tower Hamlet Greens, London Student Assembly, Southwark SoS and Bristol Uncut sites are no longer functioning.
Administrators for the profiles say hundreds of links between activists have been broken in the run up to the May Day bank holiday. When users click on URL links the message “the page you requested was not found” now appears.
Online news site Ekklesia reported that:
The social networking site Facebook is facing massive pressure from campaigners, civil liberties activists and journalists tonight after suspending a series of UK-based ‘political’ accounts.
In what University College of London students, UK Uncut and others are calling a ‘purge’ – coinciding with police action against radical and dissenting groups on the day of the royal wedding – more than 50 Facebook pages have been put out of operation.
Among those affected have been Save NHS, Rochdale Law Centre, Tower Hamlets Greens, Bootle Labour, Bristol Bookfair, Westminster Trades Council and London Student Assembly.
Specifically anti-cuts and student protest groups are also targeted. Only progressive or radical groups seem to have been impacted.
At first Facebook refused to comment, but after grassroots digital action and national media reporting (including the Guardian newspaper and Channel 4 television news), the company responded to protesters by suggesting that their action related to a a technical “violation of terms issue” relating to the “wrong” kind of page.
A spokesperson told Channel 4: “The reason all of these profiles came down at once is simple. Facebook’s security tools constantly work to maintain our real name culture by removing profiles that are ‘fake’ or don’t belong to an individual person, but rather a campaign, an animal, or an organisation.”
But critics say this does not explain the apparently selective effect of the action.
It appears there’s been cooperation between the State and a major online networking site to address perceived or actual threats surrounding the Royal Wedding.
The issue for me is not so much whether Facebook should ever interfere with an activist page. Sometimes there may be good reasons, and every online social media site, including Red Alert, must have some rules and standards and make them clear to everyone.
But what if what appears to be arbitrary censorship and take downs occur, which may have political motives? Affecting the ability of citizens to lawfully protest and object to government policies, or dare I say. Even the Monarchy? That’s the issue. How do you guard against that?