UK arts funding is still under the gun as protesters and artists alike continue to speak out publicly against the budget reductions. While debate rages, Facebook has recently deleted over 50 profiles belonging to UK organizations protesting for the arts. Though these accounts were against Facebook’s Terms of Service, the magnitude is surprising.
Organizations that had their profiles deleted include ArtsAgainst Cuts, London Student Assembly and Goldsmiths Fights Back. According to an April 29 post on OurKingdom, an organization for “Power & Liberty in Britain,” “Profiles are being deleted without warning or explanation. In the last 12 hours, Facebook has deleted over 50 sites … the timing – on the royal wedding and May day weekend – is deeply suspicious.” The post continues,
It is a scandalous abuse of power by Facebook to arbitrarily destroy online communities built up over many months and years. These groups provide a vital means for activist groups to communicate with their supporters.
The principle problem is that these Facebook profiles aren’t strictly in keeping with Facebook’s Terms of Service. These organizations created ‘Person’ profile pages rather than business or group pages. Facebook justifies the deletions (with a statement published on arts protest group UCL Occupation) by saying that these pages were, in effect, fake people:
Facebook profiles are intended to represent individual people only. It is a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to use a profile to represent a brand, business, group, or organization. As such, your account was disabled for violating these guidelines.
They go on to suggest that the groups switch their profiles to pages and provide a link to do so. That’s fine — it’s entirely within Facebook’s right to delete the profiles. But such the wholesale deletion of a swath of profiles oriented toward a specific cause seems a little weird. Facebook is perceived as a public resource, for better or worse. Any group should have the ability to use its communication channels and organizational abilities. But the moments when the control the company has over those now-international channels becomes clear are pretty frightening — they chose to disrupt the communications of arts protest groups, and can’t really be impugned for doing so.
But couldn’t Facebook have contacted these sensitive groups privately before deleting their profiles? The groups were only notified after pushing for an official response from the company, and even then the message is terse and purely technical. The mass deletions amount to a political action, whether Facebook likes it or not, and deserve some kind of greater explanation.