Facebook Struggles With Role in Revolutions

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Although Facebook played an essential role in the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the company doesn't really want to talk about its role in mobilizing activists in these countries.


First, it doesn't want to be perceived as "picking sides" and leading countries like Syria to impose restrictions on use. Also, it hesitates to change its policy requiring users to sign up with their real identities. The New York Times reports:

… Facebook shut down one of the most popular Egyptian Facebook protest pages in November because Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who emerged as a symbol of the revolt, had used a pseudonym to create a profile as one of the administrators of the page, a violation of Facebook's terms of service.

With Egypt's emergency law in place limiting freedom of speech, Mr. Ghonim might have put himself and the other organizers at risk if they were discovered at that time. Activists scrambled to find another administrator to get the page back up and running. And when Egyptian government authorities did figure out Mr. Ghonim's role with the Facebook page that helped promote the Jan. 25 protest in Tahrir Square, he was imprisoned for 12 days …

… In a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, Mr. Durbin said the recent events in Egypt and Tunisia had highlighted the costs and benefits of social tools to democracy and human rights advocates. "I am concerned that the company does not have adequate safeguards in place to protect human rights and avoid being exploited by repressive governments," he wrote.

Elliot Schrage, the vice president for global communications, public policy and marketing at Facebook, declined to discuss Facebook's role in the recent tumult and what it might mean for the company's services.

Facebook is obviously in a tough place from a business perspective, but this seems like one instance where it should be a priority to be on the right side of history.


Read more at the New York Times.

In other news: Comedy Group Spoofs 'Real Housewives' With Civil Rights Icons.