Censored by Facebook and I don't know why

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UPDATED Today I got banned from posting on Facebook and I don’t know why, but it has left me feeling very unsettled about this brave new world we find ourselves in, one where a few large technology corporations have ever more power over our lives and liberties.

I’ve been a full-time newspaper journalist for almost 22 years, and this is the first time I’ve been censored. Facebook has managed to do something that the government agencies I’ve critically covered could never dream of doing, shut me up, and it did so without even having to explain why or face any accountability for how it uses the power it wields.

Here’s what I do know: Yesterday, I was notified by Facebook that some piece of content on the page I created two years ago for my book, The Tribes of Burning Man, had been flagged for violating its terms of services, specifically the ban on bullying. That was very strange because the page has been fairly dormant for months, and when I reviewed all the posts, I didn’t see anything that might even vaguely be considered bullying. Shameless self promotion? Sure. Links to stories that had sometimes critical coverage of Black Rock City LLC. Yeah. But there wasn’t even any harsh language or communications targetted at any individuals, let alone bullying.

Facebook didn’t indicate which post had been flagged, it just let me hit an “appeal” button, which I did. Then today, Facebook notified me that my “appeal” -- a strange label for a process that didn’t allow me to make arguments or even know what I was defending -- had been denied, my page removed, and that my personal posting privileges were suspended for 12 hours while I review Facebook’s terms of service.

The list of suspects who might want to sabotage me is a long one, considering the work I do and particularly my recent critical coverage of the technology industry, including venture capitalist Ron Conway’s cozy relationship with Mayor Ed Lee and the tax breaks that have been given to Twitter, Zynga, Airbnb, and other tech corporations. Or maybe it was someone in the Burning Man world unhappy with how I’ve covered the leadership of that event, a subject that I’ve returned to recently for a story in next week’s paper.

Who knows? All I know for sure is that I’ve been cut off from a communications medium that has made itself increasingly central to our lives through its ubiquity and the strategic partnerships it has made with a wide variety of other corporations that offer essential services such as transportation, housing, business development, and access to job opportunities and government officials.

But I’m going to spend some time this week trying to get to the bottom of this, and I’ll let you know what I learn -- as well as offering some thoughts on what it means to have unaccountable corporations mediating our social, professional, and civic interactions with little regulatory oversight -- in next week’s paper.

UPDATE 5/30 11am: This morning, just as I was preparing to head down to the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, my Tribes of Burning Man page reappeared without explanation. Still no replies from Facebook, neither to my user inquiry nor my journalistic contact, but I decide to delay by trip down the peninsula by a day to see whether I hear back. Stay tuned...

UPDATE 5/30 11:45AM: After a second email inquiry to the Facebook press office, in which I said that I planned to show up at its headquarters with a videographer tomorrow if I didn't hear from someone today, I got this response (I'm still waiting to hear back with answers to the many follow-up questions this raises): "We made a mistake removing content, and have restored it. Our dedicated User Operations Team reviews millions of pieces of this content a day to help keep Facebook safe for our nearly billion users. Our policies are enforced by a team of reviewers in several offices across the globe. This team looks at hundreds of thousands of reports every week, and as you might expect, occasionally, we make a mistake and remove a piece of content we shouldn’t have. Sorry again."

Comments

even tho it is quite obvious to the rest of us.

I live my entire life without FaceBook and suspect that you can too, but you have to realize that, as reasonable as you think your views are, they are extreme left-wing views in the eyes of almost everyone in this country.

Maybe you need to get out and mix with some more normal people, if you truly do not see yourself as a communist extremist?

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

@Guest - So glad you can live your entire life in anonymity. Not standing behind your words is a great way to have your viewpoint taken seriously. But it's totally worth it for the bullying, ain't it?

Posted by Guest Bully on May. 30, 2013 @ 1:45 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 31, 2013 @ 8:26 am

As the cretinous anal cyst we allude to with the term "bestemor" has above remarked, I was banned from SFGate after having been a regular contributor there for over a year.

The mechanism for my banishment was apparently repeatedly made duplicitous allegations of improper content; and all handled through some judgement free software. On SFGate, one might call out a troll for engaging in racist innuendo by derisively paraphrasing their comment, but end up by having such comment being reported by *them* as offensive. Too many such complaints -- often made by the same troll using multiple identities -- would result in the comment's removal, and too many comment removals resulted in being banned.

You can count yourself somewhat lucky in the sense that you were told of being banned, since on SFGate they simply mask your comments so that nobody can see them except you.

I had a discussion about this with Peter Warfield and he pointed out how nowadays we have this perception of internet fora as being the new arena for our First Amendment rights -- and yet the reality is that our ability to speak may in fact be more limited than ever before.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 29, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

cannot understand why you were banned and, in the very same post, refer to another poster as a "cretinous anal cyst".

That's EXACTLY WHY YOU WERE BANNED. Abuse.

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

Hey there now. Just because Lilli is a self-important, arrogant, pompous, egotistical, horse's ass who insults anyone who happens to have a different opinion than him is no reason to kick him off of SFGate. Sheesh.

Oh and Lilli, you were a person who made comments on articles. Saying that you were a "regular contributor for over a year" makes it sound like you were either A) a paid employee who wrote stories or B) created content which people came to the web site to see. Sorry to burst your bubble, but you just aren't that influential.

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

They both delusionally think they have influence when, in fact, they are widely regarded as jokes.

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2013 @ 6:43 pm

Lilli isn't funny at all anymore imho. His best stuff was during the Mirkarimi hearing.

People would prompt him with the polls showing 70% anti Mirkarimi and he would freak out every time. Since then his stuff has lost the edge, not funny at all and actually pretty tiresome.

Posted by Troll on May. 29, 2013 @ 8:06 pm
Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 29, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

hotel tax on his AirBnB lease violations, then surely he could take a mere "unfriending" on FaceBook in his stride.

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

What Lucretia means is that she's the wicked witch of the web. She got that right. But she gives herself too much credit. I doubt that she's gotten anyone "unfriended", much less his little dog.

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

It's not really that complicated. There are also a lot of other forums on which Steven can publicize his book - Redroom being one which caters only to authors.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 29, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

Well then perhaps you can enlighten me, LS. I've sent messages through the feedback channel it provided, I sent messages to various "report a problem" channels, and I've reached out as a journalist through the only avenue Facebook offers, an email address, and I have yet to get replies to any of them. Tomorrow, I plan to just show up at Facebook headquarters and see what happens.

Despite your snarky suggestion, this has nothing to do with my book (as I mentioned, the page that was taken down was largely dormant and I'm not doing any active book promo anymore) and everything to do with corporate accountability, which is an increasingly urgent issue we all face. If I'm wronged by the government, there are many avenues available to air my grievances and get answers. These corporations seem to want all the benefits of personhood and none of the responsibilities, and if you can't understand why that's a problem then there's nothing I can do to help you.

Posted by steven on May. 29, 2013 @ 4:23 pm

People that try and use long words and fancy language to look like they are smarter than the average person are quite hilarious

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

He has his flaws, of course. Just saying that isn't one of them.

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

Don't you fools know that Facebook sucks. What you say stays on forever and longer. Mark Fuckenberg gets richer and you get screwed. Drop Facebook and remember everything you say or do on the web, cellphone stays forever and is searchable.

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

I hope you do get to the bottom of it. Sounds creepy to me. I'm hoping for complete transparency...that shouldn't be too hard to come to, unless someone's trying to hide something and they say: oops--it was a mistake".

Posted by Daniele E. on May. 29, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

If only it was that easy to get you banned from publishing, life would be so much better

Posted by NOT_Eric_Brooks on May. 29, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

I abandoned updating my FB page about half a year ago.

I just got bored.

I decided to let it drift through cyber space like the worthless piece of junk it is.

I check it out maybe once a week to see what bits and scraps it's picked up in its wanderings.

Last week, for example, I was amazed to find I 'like' Sarah Palin.

Posted by pete moss on May. 29, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

Hey, this was forwarded to me on Facebook ... where I promptly shared it! HAA ha ha!!!!!

Posted by Guest on May. 29, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

Steven, you are a great writer and reporter. It troubles me that Facebook has done this action without a proper explanation. It could be that powers greater than FB employees are pulling the strings on blocking you. You are too professional in your work, and Freedom of the Press and First Amendment rights are being eroded by corporations who can't take the heat. Ron Conway and his cohorts need to be examined more closely for the influence they have on some public officials.
Christina Olague's defeat in November has caused me to be even more skeptical of what happens in Room 200 and at the Ethics Commission. GOOD LUCK!!

Posted by TLBarry on May. 29, 2013 @ 11:31 pm

Yes, Steve, you absolutely need to find out if Ron Conway used his influence to get you blocked on Facebook.

Because that makes so much sense on so many levels.

Just one thought however...just because Facebook didn't get back to you within 24 frigging hours doesn't mean that they are being unresponsive. It just means that, back on planet earth, the people reviewing these things need a little time to do so. Do those accountable government agencies always get back to you within 24 hours?

But the Ron Conway theory is so cool. Go with it!

Posted by Troll on May. 29, 2013 @ 11:48 pm

Steven: how much do you pay to use FB....oh nothing!!

Guess what? You have a choice: don't use the service if you don't like the terms that govern your interaction

I guess in your "public utility" model, Facebook is so pervasive that the company should be nationalized and regulated?

Posted by Guest on May. 30, 2013 @ 8:39 pm

Nothing, but we depend upon your use to keep us in business, so we clearly post our terms of use and respond to you when you have questions about violating it. No need to get all Hugo Chavez, corporate accountability and response to customers and stakeholders has always been a vital part of supposedly "free market" competition.  

Posted by marke on May. 30, 2013 @ 9:11 pm