I thought it might be a good idea to make a Facebook “page” for Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet—a straight-forward thing to do, right? Apparently not, since it seems the very word Palestinian may “violate or page guidelines or contain a word or phrase that is blocked” (click images to enlarge, I’ve added the red circles for clarity).
Perhaps it’s an even-handed attempt to reduce Middle East tensions online? Well, even-handed it’s not, since Israeli Refugee ResearchNet works fine. (The red text at the top indicates that the page would have been created had I checked the tick box at the bottom left–which I didn’t, because I didn’t really want to create the page, just highlight the blocking filter.)
Are Palestinians the only group so blocked from making pages? Well, not really… after a little fiddling around, I discovered that al-Qaida Refugee ResearchNet and Nazi Refugee ResearchNet are filtered too.
It does seem a bit odd, however, that a population of up to 12 million people, receiving more than a billion dollars in international aid each year, recognized by the UN, and enjoying a degree of formal diplomatic recognition from the United States—is placed in the same filtered category as Nazis and al-Qaida.
I’ve sent an email to Facebook customer service—we’ll see what they say.
Well, I’ve had the first reply from Facebook, from what looks like the no-Palestinians-here-please bot:
Unfortunately, we cannot process this request. Your Page name must comply with the following standards:
- Accurately and concisely represent a musician, public figure, business or other organization
- Not contain terms or phrases that may be abusive
- Not be excessively long
- Not contain variations of “Facebook”
If you believe your Page name fits within these guidelines, please respond to this email and we will re-evaluate your request.
Since PRRN clearly meets requirements #1, 3 and 4, that leaves only #2–”Not contain terms or phrases that may be abusive.” I’ve responded to the email, and suggested that they remove the Palestini-o-filter. Let’s see what happens.
For those of you have mentioned that there are Facebook “groups” containing the word Palestinian–yes, I know that. The filter above is on the “page” creation interface (which is different from a “group”).
A reminder: we’re talking about Pages here, folks. Not Groups, nor Fan pages—they’re entirely different things. I’m closing comments on this until I receive an explanation from Facebook, or follow up with them again.
As Gawker points out, the current filter on the Pages creation interface is bizarrely inconsistent:
We tried too, and came up against the same problem. But here’s the weird part: The words “Palestine” and “Palestinians” both make it through Facebook’s filters with no problem, and “Palestinian” is fine for Facebook group titles. So it’s not that Facebook is deliberately partaking in some worldwide anti-Palestinian conspiracy; rather, it appears that their automation process has decided to block the word “Palestinian”—and only the word “Palestinian”—from page titles—and only page titles.
This isn’t the first time that Facebook’s automated content-blocking has run them afoul of activists in the Israel-Palestine conflict. As Owen Thomas reported in 2009, overzealous users and overworked content monitors have led to “mysterious deletions” of seemingly innocuous content relating to the crisis. And that’s not even mentioning Facebook’s very spotty record with respect to censoring content and “squelching dissent.”
Zuckerberg has said he thinks Facebook is an important tool in developing empathy and trust across cultural divides in the Middle East—but it’ll be hard for the site to do that if it’s arbitrarily—albeit innocuously—preventing words like “Palestinian” from being used.
I’ve received a message from Facebook (via the PRRN blog comments, not in direct response to my earlier email) explaining that the filter was a mistake:
I work for Facebook and wanted to explain what happened here.
We have an automated system that checks for obviously inaccurate profile registration names. For a short time, this was inadvertently applied to Page creation names. Once we were alerted to this, we moved to fix the problem immediately. It’s now fixed. We apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused.
If you have additional questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
I’m not quite sure why “Palestinian” was singled out but other national terms weren’t, but they seem to have fixed the problem and we’ll leave it at that.