Why these anti-corruption activists are accusing Facebook of blocking their accounts

Image: Bogdan Cristel/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Activists often accuse Facebook of yielding to government pressure and deleting dissenting or controversial content. 

It happened in September in Myanmar, where activists said the platform pulled several posts about a flare of violence against the Rohingya minority group. 

And it allegedly happened again in Romania, ahead or during a massive anti-corruption rally. 

Campaigners say over 100 accounts of journalists, activists, and influencers have been either blocked or severely restricted after they posted about the protest, which took place against the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD). 

The PSD is pushing legislation which critics say could weaken the country’s crackdown on endemic corruption. Several officials, including the leader of the PSD Liviu Dragnea, are under investigation for corruption and theft of cash from state projects, some of which are funded by the European Union. 

Florin Badita, activist and founder of the main Facebook page for the anti-corruption movement, Corupția ucide (Corruption Kills), shared with Mashable a spreadsheet of people who said they were affected by Facebook’s alleged censorship. (Mashable is not sharing it to protect the people’s identities and email addresses). 

That includes a 101-year-old philosopher, Mihai Sora, who said in a Facebook post that he’d been “reported” as spam and blocked, and Facebook agreed to unlock his account only when he sent over a copy of his ID.  

Anytime activists tried to post something on Facebook, this is the message that appeared on the page, according to Badita: “We’ve removed this post because it looks like spam and doesn’t follow our Community Standards.

Dragos Stanca, who works at the Romanian marketing firm ThinkDigital, reported Facebook’s response on the issue. The company seems to blame a technical glitch for the blocking:

Mashable has reached out to Facebook for comment and the company shared the same statement: 

“A number of pages were temporarily blocked due to an error in our automated systems. As soon as this was brought to our attention we disabled those blocks. We apologise for any inconvenience caused by these pages being unavailable for a few hours”.

However, activists think this is a coordinated attack from pro-government forces that exploited Facebook’s automated “Report” function. 

“What they [Facebook] forgot to tell, or they are hiding, is the fact that most probably the hacker, the trolls, or whom the government used, exploited the way Facebook automated reporting functions [works], which it does automated blocking if a number of users report a account,” Badita said.

“What we want to know is who coordinated this attack, either as country of origin based from the IP locations, number of accounts used in the attack, [and] what will Facebook do to prevent further attacks like the one that happen[ed] this weekend.”

The Romanian left-wing government is certainly under a lot of pressure. On Monday, the U.S. State Department called on the country’s parliament to “reject proposals that weaken the rule of law and endanger the fight against corruption.”

But the ruling coalition hit back, calling the statement “incomprehensible”.  

Badita maintains pro-government trolls are usually not that sophisticated. “They have a pool of hundreds, maybe thousands of accounts, where they leave comments denigrating anybody that is against them, but they do it in a slow, inefficient way. One comment at a time.”

He accused Facebook of failing “80% of the world”. 

“If for the English language, they are paying close attention, when we talk about other languages, Facebook does a shitty job of removing hate speech, fake accounts, etc.”

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Tags: anti-corruption-activists big-tech-companies campaigners culture facebook facebook-blocking romania

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