Hell, crackdown by the evil Facebook! Shutting down student protest! In cahoots with the authorities! Even Evgeny Morozov is onto it:
"Over 50 political accounts deleted in Facebook purge" http://goo.gl/YmBWD
— Evgeny Morozov (@evgenymorozov) April 29, 2011
Look folks, this was a problem waiting to happen. Here’s why.
Take the story on the UCL Occupation blog:
There appears to be a purge of political Facebook groups taking place. Profiles are being deleted without warning or explanation.
Am I supposed to trust a rant that mixes up the Facebook terminology in the very first sentence? Therein – I think – is the root of the problem.
The accounts that have been purged are Profiles – i.e. organisations that behave as people on Facebook. The UCL Occupation one – still in existence for now – is still up, but a bunch of other have been deleted. Some more are listed here at Open Democracy.
In short there are three main ways to be on Facebook:
- With a profile – intended for real people, with a name
- With a group – a small to medium size group of people discussing something
- With a page – ‘Like’ something to get news updates from it
As far as I can determine no groups or pages have been deleted, only profiles, and all the profiles were not individual people, they were being used by organisations. Not only is this stupid (as I’ve previously explained here) but it violates the Facebook terms of service. So no leg to stand on if one is deleted.
Now was the reaction of Facebook right? Probably not – the owners of the profiles could have been contacted, suggestions made to convert the accounts into Pages etc. Just deleting profiles generates a strong counter reaction. Someone undoubtedly informed Facebook of the breach, and got the accounts shut down. Facebook, as a company, has form for these sorts of things – it’s to hegemonic to care about individual users.
But – frankly – I have often done the same, and I’m sure many people have. When political opponents of mine have bee using profiles rather than pages I report them to Facebook. I of course don’t report accounts of organisations I agree with, and just send them a friendly message to warn them.
In conclusion, there are errors on both sides here. The accounts in question broke the terms, and Facebook behaved insensitively, but we should not have expected anything else. The lesson: if you do want to use this unpleasant, money making, American walled garden for your political protests, at least learn to use it properly before you start out!
[UPDATE – 1.5.2011] By the look of it my take on events was more or less correct.
[UPDATE – 2.5.2011] I’ve now found The Guardian’s take on the story, and it’s even more inaccurate than the initial UCL blog post. It’s not that complicated folks!
[UPDATE – 5.5.2011] I had not seen it before, but Facebook now even has a tool to make the conversion for you. So no excuse!