Home Facebook Censoring User Messaging: Spam Prevention or Unaccountable Control of Conversation?

Facebook Censoring User Messaging: Spam Prevention or Unaccountable Control of Conversation?

Facebook and MySpace have replaced email for a substantial number of young people. Facebook, though, appears to believe that some things are better off not discussed in conversations between its members.

We’ve found two instances of words that will get a Facebook message blocked and we presume there are others. The company says it’s spam control, but it seems creepy to us.

If you ever get the itch to use the word “yuwie” or perhaps make reference to “wadja.com” – don’t bother. “Some of the content you included in this message is not allowed by Facebook,” is the message you’ll get in response. Both of the above are small social networks, but you can’t even send a message about how something disgusting (like yuwie.com’s site design) made you say “yuwie, that smells bad!” On principle, the whole thing stinks.

Obscenity isn’t blocked by Facebook, I was able to send a message that said “John McCain is a f*cking Nazi” (asterisk free) with no problem.

The “pro-white” message board American Rennaisance News complains though, that links to their site couldn’t be sent in messages last month. That’s no longer the case today and you are now free to send links to their disgusting content around Facebook however you please.

Facebook’s Reply

What does Facebook have to say? “That domain has been blocked from the site,” Director of Communications Brandee Barker told us about Wadja.com. “Facebook has measures in place to protect users from spam and other unwanted contact. When we detect that certain content is being used to spam or harass, as in this case, we may block it so that it can no longer be posted or sent.”

Wadja certainly isn’t shy about leaving comments on any blog post they can find about mobile social networks and the company felt compelled to issue a press release last month about new steps it was taking to protect its own users from spam. The site has received a number of good reviews from reputable mobile industry blogs, though.

The only other mention on the entire web we can find of Wadja having spam problems is a lone Tweet from a nice Greek man who complains that “?? Wadja ????????????? ???? ?????????? ?? ?? spam – ????? ???????? ??? email ??? ??? ????? ???????? ??? ?????????????…” – or “The Wadja pola facing problems with spam – many messages in my email supposedly from girls who are interested …” How different is that from MySpace until just a few months ago?

American Renaissance News apparently got itself unblocked somehow in the last month. What’s the avenue of appeal at Facebook for a blocked domain? What constitutes harassment? I was able to say “plaxo.com” no problem – might there have been a time when I couldn’t and how did that happen?

It appears that Facebook is doing what any spam filter might do, but there’s no visible way for spam to be seen by recipients or to train the spam filter. Doesn’t this seem awfully arbitrary?

Should my friends and I not be allowed to discuss repugnant political views or spammy social networks or things that are “yuwie” on Facebook?

So much public communication now goes on through these privately owned channels that if free speech is going to mean much in the future there is going to need to be at least some transparency around decision making by the major social networking platforms.

Why This is Important

Should users be subject to Facebook’s fickle free speech standards? While the company is engaging in heated discussions about data portability, a solid foundation in support for free speech seems a prerequisite for being taken seriously. For a company that speaks so loudly about the importance of user privacy to check the text of messages between its members and block content for arbitrary reasons seems pretty…yuwie if you ask me.

Perhaps users appreciate this kind of control by Facebook, though, and would rather some random fringe groups get any mention of their names blocked than run the risk of getting unwanted messages.

We weren’t able to send the text of the message above to friends on Facebook either – until we put asterisks in for vowels in the words yuwie and wadja.com. We were able to post the contents on this post as a note in Facebook, no problem. It all seems pretty arbitrary and that’s not an appropriate tone for a communications platform.

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