BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Group says Facebook censored content

BEIRUT: The Facebook group “The Uprising of Women in the Arab world” made worldwide news last month, after a photo campaign asking women to post messages of support for the campaign went viral.

In the course of the last month the group, administrated by Diala Haidar and Yalda Younes from Lebanon, Lebanon-based Farah Barqawi from Palestine and Sally Zohney from Egypt, has attracted 30,000 new supporters, with the total now standing at more than 63,000.

Though Facebook groups such as “We are all Khaled Said” have played a key role in social movements across the region over the past two years, the administrators of the “Women’s Uprising” group Wednesday accused Facebook of censorship and of scheming to shut the group down.

Among the thousands of photos posted since the start of the campaign on Oct. 1, one has proved unexpectedly controversial.

The image shows a young Syrian woman, Dana Bakdounis, her short hair unveiled, holding up her passport to show the photo, in which she wears the veil. Beneath it is a hand-written message which reads “I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years I wasn’t to feel the wind in my hair and my body.”

The photo, first posted on Oct. 21, along with many others showing women unveiled, veiled and in the niqab, was removed without explanation by Facebook on Oct. 25, and the administrator who posted it was blocked from her account for 24 hours.

The photo was also removed from Bakdounis’ page, where she had uploaded it herself, and she too was blocked from accessing her account, though this block was later lifted.

Convinced the photo had been removed by mistake, an admin reposted it on Oct. 28, but the photo was once again removed, and the admin blocked for seven days. On Oct. 31, Facebook reinstated Bakdounis’ photo without providing any explanation.

The group’s administrators, who have recently been joined by Rana Jarbou from Saudi Arabia, began a Twitter campaign in support of Bakdounis, encouraging people from Facebook to follow on Twitter.

But they received a message from Facebook Wednesday morning which read: “You have posted a content that violates Facebook Community Rules, the post says: Follow us on Twitter @UprisingOFWomen. Support Dana with hashtag #WindToDana.”

Four of the administrators’ accounts were suspended, Barqawi’s and Zohney’s for 24 hours and the two Lebanese administrators, Haidar and Younes, for three days and one month, respectively. Jarbou received a warning stating that her account might be closed down if she continued to violate Facebook’s rules.

“The repeated temporary blockades on the admins’ personal accounts with no clear motive or explanation show a direct attack on the Uprising of Women in the Arab World’s Page,” read a statement issued by the page administrators Wednesday. “It also raises serious questions about the true intentions behind FB’s policies, and whether Dana’s ‘controversial’ image is a mere excuse to shut down the voice of the Uprising of Women in the Arab World.”

A report Wednesday on the online news site the Daily Dot quoted a Facebook spokesman as saying that the photo was originally removed because it showed personal identification, and was reinstated once it was determined that the user had posted it herself.

But Haidar, who says she and the other admins have yet to receive any explanation from Facebook, questions the truth of this.

“If that was the case, why did they ban the photo from the girl’s own profile?” she said. “There is something majorly wrong with the administration of Facebook in tackling this issue. The person in charge of the content of the links and the photos ... they don’t ban [a photo] just because there are reports – they look at it. So there must be someone who’s really annoyed with the content of our photos.”

Facebook Friday lifted the three-day ban on Haidar’s account, claiming that “it was all an error and a mistake,” Haidar says. “They haven’t done the same for Yalda’s account – she still has 28 extra days.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 10, 2012, on page 3.
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