Facebook under fire after removal of UK 'political' accounts

By staff writers
29 Apr 2011

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.

The company says it has now sent information about how accounts can be restored or tranferred, but many are still down, users say they have lost hundreds of 'contacts', and some say that the instructions they have been issued with do not work.

Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group, which works against secrecy and for freedom of information and digital rights, has written to Facebook with detailed requests to seek a resolution of the situation.

Political and student activist Guy Aitchison told Ekklesia: "We're looking at dozens, possibly hundreds of political Facebook accounts disappearing in the space of 24 hours, including student groups, local UK Uncut groups and trade union campaigns.

"It's possible many were technically in violation of Facebook's terms of use - which isn't difficult - but to take them all down at once without warning on a day when the authorities are cracking down on all forms of protest is deeply suspicious."

He added: "Activists are only too aware of the dangers of relying on global corporations like Facebook for their ability to communicate and organise, but until we see a large-scale migration to self-hosted, open source platforms, a presence there is indispensable."

"Facebook should reinstate these accounts immediately," said Aitchison. He also called on the company to "provide an explanation and apologise to the communities affected."

In central London today there was an effective ban on protests or alternative perspectives on the royal wedding anywhere near the main thoroughfares.

Media companies involved in coverage are also being required to clamp down on satirical material using footage of the event through their contracts with Buckingham Palace and royal representatives.

A number of allegedly 'suspicious' campaigners were arrested yesterday, ahead of the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, and there has been an effective mainstream media black-out on reporting Republican events - including the successful 'Not the Royal Wedding' street parties in London, Edinburgh and elsewhere.

While the details remain unclear, pre-emptive arrests of activists have been reported as far apart as Edinburgh and Cambridge. At least fourteen people were arrested in Camberwell, south London, yesterday, after police raided a grassroots community centre used by activists and people with alternative lifestyles.

The police reported forty-five arrests in the vicinity of the royal wedding this morning, including at least ten people with anti-monarchy banners. It is not yet clear what grounds were given for their arrests.

Regarding the Facebook developments, UCL students said on their web page: "We don’t know for certain, but this purge of online organising groups could be linked to the wider crackdown on protest by authorities in Britain. Either way, it is a scandalous abuse of power by Facebook to arbitrarily destroy online communities built up over many months and years."

They continued: "Ultimately, the anti-cuts movement in the UK will need to start organising through self-hosted, open source platforms to avoid reliance upon the very corporate power structures we are aiming to challenge."

Among the pages known to have been deleted are those of: Open Birkbeck, University of the West of England (UWE) Occupation,Chesterfield Stopthecuts, Camberwell AntiCuts, IVA Womensrevolution, Tower Hamlets Greens, No Cuts, ArtsAgainst Cuts, London Student Assembly, Beat'n'Streets, Roscoe ‘Manchester’ Occupation, Bristol Bookfair, Newcastle Occupation, Socialist Unity, Whospeaks Forus, Ourland FreeLand, Bristol Ukuncut, Teampalestina Shaf, Notts-Uncut Part-of UKUncut, No Quarter Cutthewar, Bootle Labour, Claimants Fightback, Ecosocialists Unite, Comrade George Orwell, Jason Derrick, Anarchista Rebellionist, BigSociety Leeds, Slade Occupation, Anti-Cuts Across Wigan, Firstof Mayband, and Don’t Break Britain United, Cockneyreject, SWP Cork, Westminster Trades Council, York Anarchists, Rock War, Sheffield Occupation, Central London SWP, North London Solidarity, Southwark Sos, Save NHS, Rochdale Law Centre, Goldsmiths Fights Back, and Occupy Monaco.

An updatable list is being maintained by the Open Rights Group here: http://wiki.openrightsgroup.org/wiki/FB_takedowns

[Ekk/3]

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