Facebook: Inside the (Warped) Mind of a Censor
Readers will know that I’m endlessly fascinated by secrecy, censorship and political repression: both the processes themselves and the thinking of those who implement them. That’s one of the reasons the bout of social media censorship I’ve faced is so intriguing. Why did they censor it? Not the reason they gave, but the underlying reason. Who made the decision, and was the decision influenced by an outside party? The reason all this is compelling is it helps those who fight against these evils to understand their structure and those who create it.
Access Now, is a Canadian NGO whose mission is to protect those in danger of online attack. They are also affiliated with Citizen Lab, which identifies malware used to attack human rights activists. Access Now’s helpline responded to my appeal for assistance after Twitter and Facebook punished me for publishing images of the eight Israeli commandos whose failed Gaza operations nearly started an all-out war.
They approached the social media companies seeking clarification about the circumstances of my lockdown (in one case) and suspension (in another). In the case of Facebook, what it learned is fascinating. This is the message from the Access Now staff member:
Regarding the Facebook case, they indicated that the post violates their standards…for posting content that exposes the undercover status of law enforcement personnel…
So what are the particular rules on this subject? This section titled “Image Privacy Rights” warns users not to post:
Content that exposes the undercover status of law enforcement personnel if:The content contains the agent’s full name or other explicit identification and explicitly mentions their undercover status, orThe content contains images identifying the faces of the law enforcement personnel and explicitly mentions their undercover status.
In the course of the failed operation, the Sayeret Matkal unit killed 7 Palestinians, including a commander. In response, Hamas fired 400 rockets into southern Israel. This tit-for-tat came very close to commencing all-out war. Does this sound like a normal law enforcement operation?
Further, how long after such an undercover operation do these Facebook “privacy protections” remain in place? When do soldiers or police who’ve engaged in an undercover operation lose those privacy rights? Do they retain them for a month, a year, forever? Note that the Gaza operation ended weeks ago. Apparently, Facebook believes the unit’s identity must be protected indefinitely.
If that’s the case, let’s examine the assassination of Mahmoud al Mabouh by a twenty-seven-person Mossad assassination squad. They operated undercover, but were exposed by Dubai’s CCTV internal surveillance system. Dubai police disseminated pictures (see displayed image) of most of the Israeli operatives, which were subsequently published everywhere on the internet, including Facebook. By its own logic, these images should have been suppressed. But they weren’t. Why? Because to do so would have made Facebook look like fools. A million horses had fled the barn. How would they get them all back inside? Would you lock the barn door after they left?
The only difference in this case is the two entities which released the images: in one case Dubai police and in the second, Hamas. Facebook and most of the world recognized that an Israeli murder in Dubai was an illegitimate act and the authors of it deserved to be outed. But Facebook refuses to grant Gaza similar status. Israeli soldiers who engage in similar acts somehow deserve immunity for them. Why?
For those of us following the tortured process of watching Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg defend hiring a GOP opposition research outfit to sling anti-Semitic charges against George Soros, the logic above will appear familiar. These are petty, small-minded people who can’t be bothered to use their brains to think about the difference between reality and their rules.
9 thoughts on “Facebook: Inside the (Warped) Mind of a Censor – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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A reasonable person can read Facebook’s rules and agree that you violated them. Another reasonable person could strictly interpret the same rule, and limit it’s application to law enforcement only (police departments).
I don’t think any reasonable person would say the the Facebook ‘censor’ has a ‘warped mind’.
That’s not fair, and your own comment rules state, ” Do not question anyone’s mental health “
Yes it is extremely fair to say that FB and Twitter personnel have warped minds if they can’t tell the difference between repression and occupation and police enforcement. Or would you say that Nazi soldiers enforcing their will in territories they conquered were also bone fide law enforcement officers or the US in Vietnam.
What I don’t agree with Richard about is that they “can’t be bothered to use their brains to think about the difference between reality and their rules.”. It is worse. They are complicit in and except the rules of imperialism which is that terrorists are always the oppressed and never the oppressor.
Tony-The military is being used for law enforcement; one could say this to litigate. I agree with your last sentence. Facebook from the top does not convey a sense that it’s for the common good of the too large territory it rules. Perhaps it’s immaturity. Perhaps they created a Frankenstein. Perhaps it needs regulation. I don’t know.
@ Potter: Facebook and all social media should be public utilities or else fall under some similar rubric to that. THey should be regulated for the public good in addition to private profit. Just like radio and TV stations.
I agree. It’s going to take awhile probably given the present government disfunction.
@ Fast Lane: No, a reasonable person, just about any reasonable person (that is, except you) could only interpret “law enforcement” to apply to police. No reasonable person could expand the defintion to include heavily-armed commandos backed up by F-16 fighter jets and helicopter rescue ships.
As for the Facebook censor: you simply haven’t been reading the atrocious press Facebook is getting on every front including censorship. Do a Google search and you’ll find scores of articles just on the censorship issue alone.
Adhere to this comment rule: do not question or interpret comment rules on my behalf. I made them, I interpret them. Be my guest and create your own rules at your own site and implement yours however you wish. I get to do that here, not you.
Facebook’s rules are written for layman, not jurists.
The primary reason for Facebook not wanting to allow it’s users to identify undercover operatives, is to shield Facebook from Torts and Wrong Death lawsuits by individuals, families and governments..
Broadly interpreting the rule that you ran afoul of, minimises the likelihood of the injury and death of undercover operatives, and reduces the likelihood of lawsuits against Facebook.
@ Fast Lane: That’s ridiculous. People and organizataions sue Facebook every day. That’s why they have a legal department. No judge or jury in the U.S. would hold Facebook liable for invading the privacy of any of those 8 IDF commandos.
That’s why people have brains: to be able to distinguish between a undercover officer who’s infiltrated a drug cartel (and deserves such protection) and an IDF commando who’s just invaded a foreign country and murdered its citizens (who doesn’t). Apparently, you & Facebook censors don’t have them.
But it is nice to see that members of the Hasbara Brigade defend censorship and murder. Those are YOUR values and that tells us all who you really are.
You are now done in this thread. Do not comment further here.
Somehow Israel has the right to invade, sabotage and kill at will,and have the territory and it’s people under siege for years now. This is military occupation. That’s the root of it. The people of Gaza and their leaders in this cage are not allowed to resist? Calling this resistance terrorism and a threat to Israel’s security is absurd when Israel is a player gambling it’s own security. Making this point, exposing this over and again is also resistance and very necessary. Facebook can censor for sure, My feeling is that like any of the media, there is a bias and you are at their mercy. I don’t like Facebook, haven’t participated from the start. But they need a lot of scrutiny, by us and by lawmakers.