After More Accusations of Censorship, Facebook Evaluating Changes to Cause-Oriented Pages

Facebook introduced Community Pages in early April as an alternative to its regular Pages, with the main differences being that Community Pages don’t have owners, and are not able to publish to users’ news feeds, post videos and provide links to other sites, and do not include the discussion tab.

While this product change is months old, the result is understandable but off-base cries of censorship today.

Facebook originally created Pages to be for public figures such as politicians, businesses, nonprofits and other official organizations, but people started using them for everything else, from their favorite TV show lines to funny one-liners, favorite cuisines, and everything else. So it added Community Pages, intending them to be for concepts that nobody owns. And it restricts Community Page functionality in order to prevent random owners of these concept Pages from spamming or otherwise taking advantage of their unwitting fans — people who Liked a Page because they thought the idea was funny, or whatever, but weren’t looking to see massive amounts of updates in their news feeds from the Page owner.

The problem is that legitimate organizations that want to use Pages for promotional purposes, as Facebook intends, sometimes end up getting forcibly converted to Community Pages. Examples of this have been occurring since April — and Facebook fairly quickly introduced a way to appeal this miscategorization, to help rectify incorrect conversions

Yet issues keep coming up, partly because of how Facebook defines “causes.” Grassroots activist Pages “Boycott Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics” and “Boycott BP” both had key functionality turned off recently, according to a post by political site Politico on Saturday. From the article:

As the number of Facebook members signed up for the “Boycott Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics” page neared 78,000 in recent days, Facebook personnel locked down portions of the page — banning new discussion threads, preventing members from posting videos and standard Web links to other sites and barring the page’s administrator from sending updates to those who signed up for the boycott.

The article doesn’t say so, but this is the exact description of a conversion from a Page to a Community Page — something that Facebook does many times on any given day, in an effort to keep the Pages product from turned into a spammer playground.

Facebook has since reconverted Boycott BP back to being a fully official Page, as its administrator noted via an update to its fans; the company explains to Politico that the Page had had its news feed access blocked due to the overly aggressive policing of an automated anti-spam system. However, the Target Page has not been officially re-enabled (although it appears functional now), and fans have created a separate Page to continue their campaign.

The thing is, according to Facebook’s own policies, both of these Pages — and all other cause-based Pages of any political or nonpolitical bent — should be Community Pages. For example, Boycott BP appears to be run by a person in Louisiana, not any celebrity or organization that Pages are intended for, so it’s not clear why the Page has been turned on (at least from a Page policy perspective).

The exact wording on Facebook’s Create a Page page says as much: “Generate support for your favorite cause or topic by creating a Community Page. If it becomes very popular (attracting thousands of fans), it will be adopted and maintained by the Facebook community.” When Facebook says “adopted and maintained by the Facebook community,” the company means that the creator will not be able to control their Page. The text goes on to cite an example of a “cause” appropriate for a Community Page topic — “recycling.”