The strange case of Facebook censoring people protesting a corrupt government
The strangest thing happened yesterday, during the biggest mass protests against the corrupt government in Romania. One of the most well known online personalities, a prolific local vlogger, Marian Ionescu, has seen his Facebook account reported for spamming, and was unable to post on his profile, to tell his friends about his participation to the protests.
He was not alone – in fact, hundreds others have seen their accounts marked as spamming, although all they did was post about their participation in the protests. After Dragoș Stanca asked people if they seen similar behavior, hundreds confirmed that their accounts have been reported for spam as well.
This is strange as it comes with a deeper context. For the past weeks, several accounts of prolific, influential social media personalities have been suspended for various reasons. People like Julius Constantinescu, Dan Alexe, Ovidiu Eftimie, and others have been suspended for up to 30 days for posts that apparently don’t respect the Facebook Community Guideline, although some were penalized for posts made in 2009 – that’s 8 years ago. For some reason, it seems that Romanian Facebook users community has been put under the microscope lens and a sweep of „unruly elements” has been performed.
And everyone starts to be very upset about this. In the past years, Facebook has become more and more ubiquitous, and can now be named the de-facto „agora”, the place where people meet to discuss whatever goes on in the country, from silly things like memes about a goofy thing some actor said to political stances and mobilization for protests against the Romanian government corrupt policies. And for some reason, all the banning in the recent Facebook campaign goes towards what people perceive as „opposition voices” – people who engage in political discussions and are seen as critics of the government.
So naturally words like „censorship” are thrown around, and people feel that what they perceived as a platform to enable free speech is now collaborating with a corrupt government. No official answer has been offered by Facebook to the many inquiries raised by the users affected by this new vindictive facet of the social network. Facebook ignores any attempt to get a real answer from real people.
We are all aware that Facebook is a private enterprise, even if publicly owned. I do understand that the users are not share holders, and their opinion might not matter. But it’s strange to see what we used to perceive as a platform that will guarantee freedom of expression suddenly turning on free speech with foul reports. I understand that the issue might not even be political – it might be a simple technical issue, a bug that would allow a small team of very determined people to report and therefore block any valid account just because they don’t like what they say.
But without an answer from Facebook, we can only suspect that we’re being, in a sense, betrayed. That Facebook is somehow aiding the government to start their own small censorship racket. Of course, we are the fools, for relying so much on the social network. Until then, the Romanians that try to fight corruption are not welcome on Facebook – and they’ll have to go some other places to talk among themselves.
PS: the website was down for some time after I published this post. It seems that some misconfiguration was the issue, and not some foul play, just to make things clear.