Facebook admits ‘mistake’ in blocking Fox News Radio commentator

June 29, 2013
Facebook (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)
Facebook (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

Anyone familiar with the work of Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes would recognize the inspiration behind the thoughts that he recently posted on Facebook. They’re steeped in the events of recent weeks and express contempt for certain currents of opinion:

“I’m about as politically incorrect as you can get. I’m wearing an NRA ball cap, eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich, reading a Paula Deen cookbook and sipping a 20-ounce sweet tea while sitting in my Cracker Barrel rocking chair with the Gather Vocal Band singing ‘Jesus Saves’ on the stereo and a Gideon’s Bible in my pocket. Yes sir, I’m politically incorrect and happy as a June bug.”

According to Fox News Insider, that message got Starnes banned from Facebook. The site sent him this message: “We removed this from Facebook because it violates our Community Standards. So you’re temporarily blocked from using this feature.” A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed the blocking.

Those “Community Standards” are found right here. They outline 10 no-no areas for Facebook users: violence and threats, self-harm, bullying and harassment, hate speech, graphic content, nudity and pornography, identity and privacy, intellectual property, phishing and spam and security.

Unless Facebook covertly added another category — say, “conservative defiance” — The Erik Wemple Blog cannot ascertain which particular rule Starnes’s post defied. After all, the commentator didn’t say that he was sitting “naked in my Cracker Barrel rocking chair,” complete with photograph of the scene. That would have violated the “nudity and pornography” prohibition. Nor did Starnes publish secret Chick-fil-A recipes, which could have put him in contravention of the “intellectual property” provision. And hey, if his post looked like “hate speech,” well then our national dialogue is far less courteous than we thought.

Not that folks couldn’t take offense to what Starnes was saying — he was clearly thumbing his nose at the outrage over the racism scandal involving celebrity cook Paula Deen.

The displeasure of some Facebook users apparently worked its way to the site’s administrators. High-traffic pages commonly kick up what Facebook calls “reports” from users — essentially, complaints that a possible violation of the “Community Standards” may have occurred. Such “reports” appear to have triggered a look at Starnes’s post, then a block.

And later, after further review, Facebook realized it overstepped. From a Facebook spokeswoman:

“As our team processes hundreds of thousands of reports each week, we occasionally make a mistake. In this case, we mistakenly removed content from the Todd Starnes Page, and worked to rectify the mistake as soon as we were notified. We apologize for the inconvenience caused due to the removal of this content, and we have already taken steps to prevent this from happening in the future. Additionally, we have removed any blocks on associated accounts.”

The Facebook page of Starnes was blocked for “a few hours,” according to a Facebook spokeswoman. Starnes issued this tweet about the duration:

Don’t get the wrong idea about the blocking, either. It’s merely an educational measure, says the Facebook spokeswoman:

Our temporary blocks are not intended to punish people who have broken the rules, but to put them in a ‘time out’ phase during which they are provided with educational materials that explain how to use Facebook in compliance with our community standards and statement of rights and responsibilities. These blocks are put into place to help our users better understand our policies and help prevent further misunderstanding of our Community Standards by our users.

The last time that the Erik Wemple Blog covered a Facebook action against a user was last October. In that case, a clever and politically motivated fellow posted a catchy anti-Obama meme that proved popular on the Internet. Facebook’s administration removed it, only to come to its senses later. It said this:

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 Erik Wemple Blog is not alleging a pattern here — merely pointing to similarities between two events.

 

 

UPDATE 9:30 p.m.: Item was updated to add the material about the purpose of Facebook’s temporary blocking.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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