For some activists active in political dialogue and protests on the hugely popular social networking website Facebook it was not a pleasant day yesterday. They found themselves unable to post on pages on the site that they had been posting on, in many cases, for a long time. However, Facebook says that an anti-spamming program that they implemented caught those posts accidentally and has now issued an apology
According to sources such as the Huffington Post, the culprit here was not Facebook attempting to censor any of these activists. Instead, it was an algorithm that the site had implemented to try and stop spammers from posting nonsense and annoying posts on various websites. However, due to an error, instead of just catching actual spammers the algorithm caught people who were legit and trying to post on politically active Facebook pages.
Several of the posters said that they were informed that they had been caught spamming and would be unable to post anything for at least 15 days. For some, this was particularly surprising. Several of these activists informed Facebook of the problem and then protested the ban. In fact, some of them just created new Facebook pages for activists on all sides of the political spectrum to come together to talk about being banned.
The Huffington Post article quoted a spokesman from Facebook, Andrew Noyes, who said, “Facebook is not – and has never been – in the business of disabling accounts or removing content simply because people are discussing controversial topics. On the contrary, we want Facebook to be a place where people can openly express their views and opinions, even if others don't agree with them. Our systems classify over 10 billion actions (suspicious logins, friend requests, etc.) and pieces of content (messages, Wall posts, etc.) every day. Of course, no system is perfect, and we do sometimes make mistakes."
Facebook had not released any explanation or details about the problem or why the algorithm had captured those posts. They explained to the press that doing this might give ammunition to spammers for them to find away around their safeguards meant to prevent actual spammers from annoying users with spam posts.
Many experts state that algorithms such as the one Facebook uses are necessary. There have to be automated programs that track down and remove spam posts. It would be impossible to have individuals hired by Facebook to comb through the many thousands of postings that occur hourly on the site and remove them.
Facebook does have a way for those who ended up banned to appeal the ban, especially when they happen on personal accounts. However, currently there is not one in place for the 15 day ban that users were experiencing while this problem was figured out for the activists that were banned.