Sunday, May 1, 2011

Facebook deletes British activist group pages on Royal Wedding Day

So, what do you get as a wedding present for the couple that has everything? Well, William and Kate requested that people donate to charity in lieu of giving them yet another golden dhow, although I should note that my wife and I did that first. They probably heard about our wedding from mutual friends.
This golden dhow was given to Princess Diana as a wedding gift by the Emir of Bahrain. Extrapolating back from recent events, it seems safe to assume that the dhow was purchased with funds from US Foreign Aid, is an honorary member of the US Fifth Fleet, and was tempered with the blood of pro-democracy protesters.
Okay, so you could donate to charity. But what if you have an opportunity to give a personal and symbolic gift? One that translates the inequality and entitlement symbolized by monarchy into a decidedly twenty-first-century context?

If you're Mark Zuckerberg, you can delete the facebook pages of fifty activist groups involved in organizing protests against austerity measures in the UK. If you're unfamiliar with the austerity measures and protests, the issue is basically that the current British government is committed to minimizing taxes for corporations and the very wealthy. Then, they notice that they don't have enough money and demand cuts in things like education. For the past few months, there have been peaceful marches and protest throughout England, but particularly in London, which have not always been appropriately handled by the police.
A "Police Medic" uses his . . . um . . . +2 baton of healing? . . . at a protest of the 2009 G20 summit in London.  But seriously, all he is doing is ensuring a continued need for the services that he gets paid to provide . . . with taxpayer money.  Hey, you use the tools you have!  Image from Flickr is clearly out of context here, but you get the point.
So, it's pretty much exactly like what is happening in the United States, except for the fact that no one outside of Wisconsin is sufficiently motivated to protest.

Since the incident, Facebook has issued a partial explanation, claiming that these accounts were deleted because of a violation of terms of service. Specifically, Facebook's policy is that groups should be represented by "pages," whereas "profiles" are only for individuals.

Now, it's not hard to find a ton of profiles on Facebook that are also not individuals, but have not been deleted. Does this mean that Facebook was specifically targeting these protest groups?

Probably not really.

My best guess as to what actually happened is that someone in the British government provided a list of profiles violating this policy to Facebook. So, while whoever provided the list was certainly politically motivated, Facebook probably just acted on the information given to it.

So, lesson one here is that if you have a political group that you are organizing on Facebook, make sure to set it up as a "page." You don't want to give your political opponents an easy way to disrupt your network.

Lesson two is that if you are a political group that is likely to piss off government or corporate authorities, you should try not to rely too heavily on centrally controlled tools like Facebook. Facebook can be great for reaching out to large numbers of people, but ideally, you should also maintain connections through networking tools that are more distributed. While I don't think that Facebook acted with a particular political agenda in this case, they certainly are capable of doing so, and you don't want your group to be at the mercy of any corporation.

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