Facebook: anti-SOPA post was removed in error

Summary:An anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA post was removed from Facebook earlier this week. Facebook says the deletion occurred in error and has apologized, but wouldn't elaborate further.

A girl who calls herself TradeChat online was accidentally censored by Facebook earlier this week. On Thursday morning, the day after the Internet united to protest against U.S. anti-piracy legislation Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), TradeChat (pictured right) posted an anti-SOPA post on her Facebook Page. Facebook quickly removed it, and while the company has apologized, it hasn't explained why the mistake happened in the first place.

TradeChat, who has a successful video blog on YouTube, was not amused. A few minutes after the post was deleted, at 12:00 PM, she posted the following on her Facebook Page: "WOW! >:| facebook removed my post with the state rep's phone numbers because it violated facebook's code of conduct...really???" 8 minutes later, she commented on her post and said Facebook probably made an accident: "I actually think it was a fluke, I think facebook discourages posting any phone numbers on public pages."

Since she has her Facebook Page attached to her Twitter account (you can also do this for your own profile), the message also went out as a tweet. The message was thus potentially seen by her 10,300 Twitter followers and the 14,600 users who have Liked her Facebook Page.

Despite her huge number of fans, I only heard about the issue this weekend, mainly because there was so much SOPA and PIPA news this week that it was next to impossible to wade through it all. In any case, I contacted Facebook on Saturday and received a response today.

"The post was taken down in error," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."

No matter how much further I pressed on, I couldn't get a more detailed answer as to why the post was removed. I do, however, have an idea of what could have happened.

First of all, it's worth noting that Facebook user Tyler Suits posted the following message, just 16 minutes after TradeChat complained about the issue:

To help someone I like:

TradeChat had her post removed from facebook with her state reps phone number listed for the Anti SOPA and facebook said they are against SOPA, dear Zerk, im not paying for Facebook i know that is what you are thinking now.

So, here y'all go: (troll)

AK, Lisa Murkowski, 907-456-0233 AL, Jefferson Sessions, 334-244-7017 AL, Richard Shelby, 205-759-5047 AR, John Boozman, 479-725-0400 AR, Mark Pryor, 501-324-6336 AZ, Jon Kyl, 602-840-1891 AZ, John McCain, 602-952-2410 CA, Barbara Boxer, 510-286-8537 CA, Dianne Feinstein, 415-393-0707 CO, Michael Bennet, 303-455-7600 CT, Richard Blumenthal, 860-258-6940 CT, Joseph Lieberman, 860-549-8463 DE, Thomas Carper, 302-573-6291 DE, Chris Coons, 302-573-6345 FL, Bill Nelson, 407-872-7161 FL, Marco Rubio, 305-418-8553 GA, C. Saxby Chambliss, 770-763-9090 GA, John Isakson, 770-661-0999 HI, Daniel Akaka, 808-522-8970 HI, Daniel Inouye, 808-541-2542 IA, Charles Grassley, 515-288-1145 IA, Thomas Harkin, 515-284-4574 ID, Michael Crapo, 208-334-1776 ID, James Risch, 208-342-7985 IL, Richard Durbin, 312-353-4952 IL, Mark Kirk, 312-886-3506 IN, Daniel Coats, 317-554-0750 IN, Richard Lugar, 317-226-5555 KS, Pat Roberts, 913-451-9343 KY, Mitch McConnell, 502-582-6304 KY, Rob Portman, 361-576-1231 LA, Mary Landrieu, 225-389-0395 LA, David Vitter, 337-262-6898 MA, Scott Brown, 617-565-3170 MA, John Kerry, 617-565-8519 MD, Barbara Mikulski, 410-962-4510 ME, Susan Collins, 207-945-0417 ME, Olympia Snowe, 207-874-0883 MI, Carl Levin, 313-226-6020 MI, Debbie Stabenow, 517-203-1760 MN, Al Franken, 651-221-1016 MN, Amy Klobuchar, 612-727-5220 MO, Roy Blunt, 816-471-7141 MO, Claire McCaskill, 816-421-1639 MS, Thad Cochran, 601-965-4459 MS, Roger Wicker, 601-965-4644 MT, Max Baucus, 406-657-6790 MT, Jon Tester, 406-449-5401 NC, Richard Burr, 910-251-1058 NC, Kay Hagan, 336-333-5311 ND, Kent Conrad, 701-258-4648 ND, John Hoeven, 701-250-4618 NE, Mike Johanns, 308-632-6032 NE, E. Benjamin Nelson, 402-441-4600 NH, Kelly Ayotte, 603-622-7979 NH, Jeanne Shaheen, 603-647-7500 NJ, Frank Lautenberg, 973-639-8700 NJ, Robert Menendez, 973-645-3030 NM, Jeff Bingaman, 505-346-6601 NM, Tom Udall, 505-346-6791 NV, Dean Heller, 775-686-5770 NV, Harry Reid, 702-388-5020 NY, Kirsten Gillibrand, 212-688-6262 NY, Charles Schumer, 212-486-4430 OH, Sherrod Brown, 216-522-7272 OK, James Inhofe, 918-748-5111 OK, Tom Coburn, 918-581-7651 OR, Jeffery Merkley, 503-326-3386 PA, Robert Casey, 570-941-0930 PA, Pat Toomey, 610-434-1444 RI, John Reed, 401-943-3100 RI, Sheldon Whitehouse, 401-453-5294 SC, Jim DeMint, 864-233-5366 SC, Lindsey Graham, 864-250-1417 SD, Tim Johnson, 414-276-7282 SD, John Thune, 605-334-9596 TN, Lamar Alexander, 615-736-5129 TN, Bob Corker, 423-756-2757 TX, John Cornyn, 512-469-6034 TX, Kay Hutchison, 214-361-3500 UT, Orrin Hatch, 801-524-4380 UT, Mike Lee, 801-524-5933 VA, Mark Warner, 804-775-2314 VA, James Webb, 804-771-2221 VT, Patrick Leahy, 802-863-2525 VT, Bernard Sanders, 802-862-0697 WA, Patty Murray, 206-553-5545 WI, Ron Johnson, 605-332-8896 WI, Herbert Kohl, 414-297-4451 WV, Joe Manchin, 304-342-5855 WV, John Rockefeller, 304-347-5372 WY, John Barrasso, 307-261-6413 WY, Michael Enzi, 307-682-6268

In the Facebook post, he tagged TradeChat, so it appeared on her Page's Wall. Secondly, TradeChat made another post about SOPA and PIPA the same day at 6:59 PM: "The US government clearly cares more about the rights of HOLLYWOOD than the rights of the people!!! I will be boycotting purchasing any movies, movie tickets or music in response to the shutdown of megaupload, SOPA and PIPA. Who is with me?" It received over 600 Likes and almost 200 comments.

Facebook left both posts intact. What can we learn from this? It seems that Menlo Park doesn't have a problem with phone numbers nor has it been censoring anti-SOPA and/or anti-PIPA posts.

This aligns with the company's overall stance on SOPA and PIPA, as I've covered this month. While Facebook was never going to go dark for SOPA, nor PIPA, users were allowed to use the social network as a medium for voicing their concerns, and Facebook executives also expressed their stance against both bills.

So again, why was TradeChat's original post removed? Here's what most likely happened. Either Facebook users or Facebook's automated systems flagged the post. From there, an employee, exhausted from looking at questionable content, deleted it by mistake. For whatever reason, it could not be retrieved, and in any case, the damage was already done.

I don't think Facebook actually had a problem with the post, and the company has implied as much in the statement it provided to me. I think this falls into the broader category of accidental content removal that unfortunately occurs when you have billions of "things" being shared every day. It happens every once in a while (last month Facebook blocked Snopes.com), although it's impossible to say how frequently.

I would never have found this story if it wasn't related to SOPA and PIPA. It also definitely helped that TradeChat has so many fans. While I can't write about every mistake Facebook makes, I hope that writing about a fraction of them will motivate the company to improve.

See also:

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years, he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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