Roger Ebert's the Latest Victim of Facebook's Censorship Problem

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When Facebook temporarily shut down the Facebook page of arguably the most well-known film critic in the world today, it was surprising but not at all uncharacteristic of the social network, which can't seem to find a consistent method of policing its site. Earlier today, the Facebook page of Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert was removed for violating the company's "terms of conditions" following a controversial tweet about Jackass star Ryan Dunn who died Monday in a car crash after posting a photo of himself drinking with friends an hour before the accident.

The tweet provoked a strong reaction from Dunn's friends and fans, most notably Jackass costar Bam Margera who tweeted "I lost my best friend, I have been crying hysterical for a full day and piece of shit roger ebert has the gall to put in his 2 cents." Ebert defended his tweet saying "He drank, he drove, 2 people died," though police have thus far only cited speed as the cause of the accident (autopsy results may take a week). Either way, the debate spilled over onto Ebert's Facebook page where some applauded the critic for addressing the issue of drunk driving while others used strong language to excoriate him (among the less profane remarks: "let the guy rest in peace, you really need to be an asshole the day of his death?" wrote a commenter). Then, approximately five hours ago, Facebook removed the post and Ebert received a notification others will find familiar:

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It was an odd decision given that, by any reasonable standard, the commenters were debating a legitimate issue: the dangers of drunk driving versus the due sensitivity given to the relatives of the recently deceased. And sure enough, it turned out to be a mistake. When contacted by MSNBC a Facebook spokesperson said ""[t]he page was was removed in error" and the company was sorry "for the inconvenience." Sure enough, Ebert's page was restored with all the heated profanity intact. 

The trouble is, there's no indication that Facebook is planning on reforming its broken censorship system. According to Facebook's FAQ page, a "Facebook administrator looks into each report thoroughly" when deciding whether to remove an offending item. It seems odd that a human being wouldn't think twice before deleting Roger Ebert's page. Yet a similar uproar occurred in April when Facebook deleted a photo of two fully-clothed men kissing, which it later apologized for. All it took was a third-party actor to flag the item as inappropriate and Facebook deleted it. Similarly, the website of Ars Technica was shutdown in April after a third party incorrectly claimed that Ars Technica had infringed on its copyrighted work. We've contacted Facebook asking if the company is considering reforming its censorship policies in light of the Ebert mishap. We'll update if we receive anything.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.