25 April 2013 - 4:15pm | posted by | 30 comments

Facebook accused of UK political censorship

Facebook is facing allegations of political censorship after a post critical of NHS privatisation which featured the story of a cancer sufferer's campaign to raise awareness by taking his protest to Downing Street was removed, raising fears its procedures are open to abuse.

Blogger Kerry-Anne Mendoza from Bristol, who runs the Scriptonite Daily blog, published an article charting the story of artist and college lecturer Mark McGowan, who is being treated for bowel cancer, and his #wheresdaddyspig journey from his treatment centre at Kings College Hospital to Downing Street.

To raise awareness of privatisation opposition, McGowan pushed a toy pig for four miles using only his nose - designed to represent pigs at the trough of the NHS - and presented a petition, signed by his children, at the door of 10 Downing Street.

Mendoza wrote an article about the event and published it on her blog, but she was taken aback after posting it on her Facebook page and being alerted by other users that Facebook began warning them that the post was spam and the content may be unsafe.

After the piece received more than 1,000 shares, all trace of it suddenly disappeared on Facebook.

"The article was removed from Facebook, from everywhere it had been shared" said Mendoza on her blog. "It was removed from every personal wall, groups and page where it had appeared. It disappeared from the wall of any user that had posted it.

"The comments and conversations underway on people's pages were erased. It was like it had never happened."

Mendoza explained that from then on anybody who tried to post the link received a pop-up from Facebook telling them that the link had been blocked for spam or unsafe content.

Another blogger, Tom Pride, claimed Facebook took the same action on his blog, except in this case he said he was made aware of a complaint coming directly from a staff member at JobCentre Plus after he posted a satirical piece in criticism of the Department of Work and Pensions.

The blogger wrote in a post published on Thursday: "Yesterday Facebook suddenly decided to flag this blog as spam - effectively censoring it by scaring away anyone who might want to link to it or share it on Facebook.

"That was obviously a surprise but I was even more surprised when a member of staff from JobCentre Plus openly boasted to me that it was she who had reported the blog to Facebook as spam after she got annoyed by this particular satirical blogpost critical of ATOS and the DWP."

The satirical blog also received more than 1,000 Facebook shares before it was flagged as spam by the social networking giant.

The blogger added: "Censoring political satire is a very dangerous game for Facebook to be playing and - even if it turns out to have been a mistake - automatically blocking links to website on the word of someone working in a government department is a real threat to freedom of expression and speech."

Mendoza said that several of her readers had complained to Facebook but had received no explanation for the incident.

"I was confused and saddened that Facebook would take this step," she told The Drum. "The blog generates lots of sharing and discussion. This article in particular raised awareness about a significant issue. For the piece to be blocked and all comments and shares related to it amounts to censorship.

"It's not only worried me but a significant number of other Facebook users who read and appreciate the blog."

At time of publication, The Drum was awaiting confirmation from Facebook on why the posts were removed and blocked from the site.

A Facebook blog post from Caroline Ghiossi in 2010, an associate on Facebook's user operations team, about Facebook's spam prevention systems said that users sometimes "misunderstand" the systems and incorrectly believe Facebook is restricting speech. It said Facebook was trying to be more transparent but could not divulge details on how its systems work.


25 Apr 2013 - 16:53
lawre87148's picture

Yesterday every time I tried to share ANY post regarding the NHS there was a 'security check' everything else I shared was just fine. Today I tried to share a story about a man taken to a closed court following 'remarks' he made at an ATOS assessment and hey presto another security check. However when I shared a story in the Telegraph regarding today's GDP figures there was no problem with that at all.

Welcome to England proudly twinned with North Korea.

30 Apr 2013 - 21:19
rubyw63616's picture

@lawre87148 It's happening here in Scotland too! I get the same messages when trying to post Black Triangle posts.

25 Apr 2013 - 16:54
cla5h21251's picture

In the interests of balance, I got this from a person who works as a computer programmer - "the topic went viral so quickly that security programming(not people) picked up on it as potential spam. hackers and spammers use machines to do tasks and the captchas are a security measure against this. Programmers use them as well as other security measures to protect websites from attack and possible SQL injection which could destroy a whole site or expose all private use info etc".

25 Apr 2013 - 17:18

@cla5h21251 Makes sense, but doesn't explain how over a thousand existing posts (and conversations taking place on them) suddenly vanished into thin air. Now that is very mysterious indeed... :S

25 Apr 2013 - 19:48
steph40293's picture

@cla5h21251 Topics go viral all the time. That is not valid explanation. I am a programmer. Hundreds of valid facebook members have verified the post is not spam. So they know it is not spam.

25 Apr 2013 - 17:04
blehm13803's picture

Automatic captchas on new posts of links to prevent the spread of spam; Yes. The removal of every single existing link already posted without being vetted at least once by a real person; No! I do not believe that is the way their spam prevention works!!!

25 Apr 2013 - 17:05

Well done mark you a legand x

25 Apr 2013 - 17:14
piles19010's picture

"trying to be more transparent but could not divulge details on how its systems work." Sounds reasonable.

25 Apr 2013 - 17:28

I have been getting capchas for the last couple of days, when I tried sharing anything from either of the bloggers in the article above, also when I tried to share other stories about the NHS. I don't like where this seems to be heading.

25 Apr 2013 - 17:44
cutem68869's picture

I've had capchas and eventual blocking from facebook because I posted about this, and other concerns currently being raised, ATOS, NHS, Welfare Reform, anything that exposes the current coalition for what they are. So no, not really buying into their blurb above..... Feels like censorship to me, especially when I can post and share about fluffy kittens and rude jokes all day long....What is it they say? "Sounds like a duck, looks like a duck, walks like a duck, then it probably IS a duck??? In this case, looks like censorship, feels like censorship, seems like censorship........

25 Apr 2013 - 18:51
cvbro21151's picture

yeah the same thing happened to me when I posted some of my blog posts on facebook. I figured someone has reported it as spam. I complained and they lifted the ban...is strange though.

25 Apr 2013 - 22:07
roywa14984's picture

I've had two spam warnings from Facebook today, both regarding articles which mention facebook censorship. The first was about the Mendoza/Scriptonite case, but the second was an introspective personal blog about one's individual perceptions, which happened to mention this instance merely in passing as an example of individual paranoia. Which was then unfortunately fuelled by precisely the behaviour in question on Facebook's part.

25 Apr 2013 - 23:28
anast79408's picture

As a freelance journalist and co-founder of a group on Facebook which raises awareness about the wrongdoings of this coalition government, I've also experienced the "disappearance" of both links and comments. I'm able to share links from the Guardian and other tabloids, but when it comes to the real nitty-gritty stuff, all disappears without trace or explanation. Today I also tried to share a story about a man taken to a closed court following 'remarks' he made at an ATOS assessment and again, another security check. It's preposterous and a blatant attempt to both silence us of our own opinions and prevent us from educating others regards to our current situation. As part of the Leveson, it was suggested that an act be added to prevent all bloggers and social network users from posting "politically related material", but after emailing my local MP to inquire whether this was in fact true, he failed to respond. I don't believe all of this to be the work of a computer, but the work of those in power, to enable them to continue what they have begun - the destruction of UK society from the bottom upwards, except of course, themselves.

26 Apr 2013 - 09:55
cryst27030's picture
30 Apr 2013 - 21:25
rubyw63616's picture

@anast79408 Well said

25 Apr 2013 - 23:37
mypoe16589's picture

Nye Bevan

Nye Bevan was the man who fought tooth and nail to create the British National Health Service. If it was in the realms of reality to talk to the dead, I would say this to this Welshman." Nye, I had no hand in what your Labour Party has done to your beloved NHS, but one by one the cretins who did this will stand before you and then you can spit in their eyes"

Bevan would burst from the grave If he could witness the chaos In the NHS that he made

They're taking it apart, bit by bit Flogging it off to slick city spivs Ripping off us all, by underhand tricks

Paying off the doctors That keeps them "on side" As they divide up the spoils Which they called PFI

Asking for a fortune For life saving drugs We paid all our charities Now they take us for mugs

Who is making a killing? As they start flogging it off

The Traitors in Parliament With hands in the till

They don't give a fig For the dying and the ill Nye Bevan is crying Deep in his grave

As his cherished creation Goes the American way

A Pox on "New Labour" and all it stands for

Peter Wicks "Power to the People"

25 Apr 2013 - 23:46
mypoe16589's picture

I was eleven years old when in 1948 the NHS was created as part of this land that was fit for our war hero's of 1939/45...I am deeply ashamed of the gutless Brits who stood by and let this happen, I am now in my twilight years(76) and a ex National Service veteran and it pains me to see the lack of spunk in my nation...get off your knees and fight for what your forefathers gave you...

25 Apr 2013 - 23:52
oneda31816's picture

And there's us thinking it was Rupert Murdoch controlling the global news agenda . . . . Zuckerberg, detention after class.

26 Apr 2013 - 07:56

How come Facebook can censor these left wing stories as spam so quickly, but no matter how many I report for spam I still get those stupid giveaway posts that have hundreds of thousands of shares and are blatantly a con in my feed?

26 Apr 2013 - 08:03

Yep my commets posts and links have gone too. Getting captcha and blocking has occured momentarily. As the other person said. Britain/North Korea Ffs!!

26 Apr 2013 - 08:48
fiona39876's picture

as face book doesn't think that videoing a dog being dragged by its tail and thrown off a building to be graphic violence, the censorship of this doesn't surprise me, it is however a company that has its own rules and doesn't need to answer to anyone as to why it chooses to show something or chooses not to, if you don't like it dont use it would be the answer they give.,

26 Apr 2013 - 09:59
cryst27030's picture
26 Apr 2013 - 10:38
grevi62700's picture

Having shared those items yesterday, I've just been on my Fb Timeline to check they are still there and find I can access all the blogs mentioned. As an experiment, I've just tried reposting the blogs by cutting and pasting the URLs rather than clicking 'share' and again, no problem. My friends can see and access them via my posts too. So, why can crappy 'giveaway' links and fluffy kittens go viral and these blogs not? The problem is explained by looking at the source of the original posts. Facebook is a 'closed system'. Wordpress sites and such like obviously originate outside Facebook. Anti-spam algorithms kick in when there have been spamming issues with particular URLs in the past. Wordpress and others are in this category and so are automatically filtered for statistically excessive activity. The 'giveaway' links (although referencing an outside URL) originate within Facebook's closed system and so escape filtering. In essence, if you cut and paste the URL there is no security issue because the act of doing so confirms you are a human and hey presto. What is happening to some of us IS a result of wonky algorithms that usually work to our advantage.There is plenty to be angry and indignant about at the moment. Deliberate, orchestrated Facebook "censorship" really isn't one of them. Hope that helps.

28 Apr 2013 - 16:08
sheba17981's picture

@grevi62700 Nice one for that G :)

26 Apr 2013 - 10:55
Yodelay Keir's picture

@anast79480 Think you might have nailed it, whatever automated system FB has in place could have some form of authority ranking system for the host domain of the story, so big brand news domain fine no problem- try sharing from a smaller blog and uh oh we don't know this domain and do not trust it.

@Martinbean - Shows you exactly what FB is all about Martin, a revenue generation exercise based on highly targeted audience demographics and user interactions.

What I find most concerning is the response from FB - or rather lack of.

Will have to test out what kind of terms and source domains trigger spam responses in FB.

26 Apr 2013 - 13:27
noel_young's picture

Thank goodness we've got the Drum to carry on spreading the (bad) news

26 Apr 2013 - 19:56
ether54195's picture

where is the petition link?

26 Apr 2013 - 22:02
Tomrr94874's picture

More to the point, do you think there's a chance that the Conservative party have moved on from employing trolls and started employing/encouraging members to flag posts as spam? How many human beings marking things as spam do you think it would take for the alorithms to think they're spam and pull them down? Do you think they're clever enough to then detect certain recurring keywords in flagged articles (eg "privatisation" and "NHS") and pull them? Shall we test it, by flagging as spam anything that bangs on about immigrants or dole scroungers?

27 Apr 2013 - 16:04
fbook16190's picture

It wasn't censored. The link to the article was on my page and the friends page I shared it from, working perfectly throughout the protest. It remains there now, working properly still. As usual, paranoia looms large when Facebook doesn't work the way you think it oughta.

3 May 2013 - 22:10
tegan19756's picture

It's disgustingly worrying that Facebook will censor stuff about this political issue.. I hope it's a mistake, or that Facebook publicly apologizes and stops doing this. Free speech, free internet, free NHS!


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