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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 01:00 PM ET, 10/31/2012

Facebook admits error in censoring anti-Obama message


Special Operations Speaks' meme against President Obama. (Special Operations Speaks - Special Operations Speaks)
Larry Ward will concede that he “poked the bear.” As president of the D.C.-based Political Media Inc., Ward administers the Facebook page of a group called Special Operations Speaks (SOS), an anti-Obama group consisting of “veterans, legatees, and supporters of the Special Operations communities of all the Armed Forces.” Essentially hard guys who want the president out of office. “These are the toughest sons of a guns out there and they say what they mean,” says Ward.

On Saturday, Ward woke up and realized he needed to post something on SOS’s page. He checked the news, which was still buzzing with Friday’s report by Fox News that a request for military support from besieged U.S. personnel in Benghazi “was denied by the CIA chain of command.” Ward’s takeaway was that it had become “more evident that Obama was responsible for denying the troops backup.”

Time to cook up a meme. Ward settled on a provocative one: “Obama called the SEALs and THEY got bin Laden. When the SEALs called Obama, THEY GOT DENIED.” It worked. Over the next day or so, the thing had racked up 30,000 shares, says Ward, noting that it “was by far the best meme we’d had to date.”

The meme had a touch of the mischievous in it as well. It tagged the picture of President Obama to his Facebook campaign page, a move that officially alerted Team Obama that its guy had been featured in a photo on the SOS page. In other words, it was guaranteed to antagonize the president’s supporters. And that's pretty much what happened, in Ward’s version of events. The next steps came quickly:

*Likely driven by offended Obamaites, Facebook sent Ward a warning about the meme. Take it down, said Facebook. Ward didn’t comply.

*Facebook took down the image, with this explanation, as discussed on a Breitbart.com story on the matter:

We removed content you posted.
We removed the content you posted or were admin of because it violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

*Ward re-posted the image along with Facebook’s rationale for removing it.

*Facebook took the image down again and froze the account for 24 hours, in effect stifling SOS on Facebook.

After all that censorship and bureaucracy, Facebook is now acknowledging that it was a mistake. Here’s the note that Facebook’s Andrew Noyes passed along to the Erik Wemple Blog: “This was an error and we apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused. They can feel free to repost the image.”

What a privilege!

There’s no question about the inconvenience: SOS is a group that’s trying to influence political behavior through open communication, something that Facebook is in business to defend and promote, not to crush. That it did so with just more than a week left before the election poses more of a crisis than an inconvenience for SOS. As Ward notes, SOS “invested a lot” in the Facebook page and spent 12 weeks building the thing.

As for the meme itself, it might draw a snicker or two from journalism’s fact-checking police. After all, the Fox News report alleged that the CIA “chain of command” had denied military assistance for U.S. personnel in Benghazi, not Obama himself. Whatever — the meme was miles inside the bounds of acceptable political expression, not to mention Facebook’s own standards. It’s almost an insult to the meme to examine it vis-a-vis those standards, but here goes anyhow.

Facebook says “You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.” SOS merely voiced an opinion.

Facebook says “You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” SOS was fully clothed.

Facebook says “You will not develop or operate a third-party application containing alcohol-related, dating or other mature content (including advertisements) without appropriate age-based restrictions.” SOS was kid-friendly.

Mistakes happen, for sure, yet Facebook made three or four in quick succession, evidence that this wasn’t just a goof. “They warned us once. They censored it twice and then they suspended our account,” says Ward. (Under Facebook terminology, a suspension is more severe than merely freezing the ability of the user to post). The social networking site reportedly has automated systems that police its content, though Ward says he received word that the censorship in this case came from a human being, and he cites this e-mail as proof:

Hello,
A member of our team accidentally removed something you posted on Facebook. This was mistake, and we sincerely apologize for this error. We’ve since restored the content, and you should now be able to see it.
The Facebook Team

Brevity doesn’t work here, Facebook. An accounting of just why a perfectly reasonable, catchy and inoffensive post, customized for the Internet, triggered a multi-step clampdown requires more than a couple of sentences. Attempts to get a more detailed accounting of the SOS incident from Facebook have failed.

SOS booster and retired U.S. Navy SEAL Larry Bailey puts the situation this way: “It looks like Obama’s liberal followers in Facebook HQ are terrified of how damaging the Benghazi scandal is for the President. We understand that Facebook can run their site however they’d like, but when they’re trying to quietly squelch opposition to what is a clear leadership failure that resulted in the tragic deaths of some of our nation’s heroes, they deserve the to be called out on it,”

By  |  01:00 PM ET, 10/31/2012

Tags:  facebook anti-obama message, facebook sos benghazi, facebook obama seals, facebook benghazi larry ward, facebook censorship

 
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