Facebook manages bans with the Polish government

Last week Facebook banned 16 Polish pages due to irregularities. Earlier this week I’ve heard that Facebook plans to ban some 300 more pages in Europe in the upcoming days or weeks.

Did you know that the banned pages can appeal from Facebook’s ban in Poland? Here’s the situation.

Back in November 2018 Facebook and the Ministry of Digital Affairs of Poland signed a Memorandum of Understanding about how to react to controversial situations online. The points of controversy? “Nudity and sexual activity, hate speech and violence”. In the past Facebook was accused of promoting fake-news and banning free speech.

  • Fake news: Just think for a moment about the entire 2016 US elections controversy and the subsequent hearings of Mr Zuckerberg in the Congress and the European Parliament. More? Think the Brexit referendum in 2016. Have you seen Brexit the movie?
  • Free speech: Remember the story when the Flemish Tourism Organisation (Toerisme Vlaanderen) complained their beloved painter Rubens was banned from Facebook because his paintings were “promoting nudity”? Worse, frequently far-right organisations were accusing Facebook of censorship for taking down their websites allegedly for promoting hate speech. Well, if you live in a democracy, this is not a problem.
The far-right deputy minister for digital affairs

It is a different situation when in your government there are allies of the far-right. Say, Poland, who just appointed its first openly extreme-far-right deputy minister for digital affairs a few weeks ago.

The MoU bottom-line is great: if someone’s post is banned from Facebook, they should have the possibility to appeal to Facebook within 72 hours. Should Facebook uphold its negative decision, or fail to respond, there is a new appeal to the “contact point” in the Ministry.

All looks great! This was the first agreement of its kind in the world, it was praised by organisations who specialise with free speech in the digital age. Except… the first to applaud to the MoU were the Polish far-right organisations, who had history of pages and posts banned from Facebook.

As the system has been in place now for a short while, it is worth outlining this: this is the first system of its kind, where a social media action can be complemented with the authority of a state institution. Clearly an interesting development, my interlocutor – the Digital Affairs Ministry spokesperson – told me there is no political worry here, it is all thought of as support and reaching out to the citizens. What I heard and what was not explicitly mentioned on the phone was that there was no threat of the far-right deputy minister to help the radical or phony organisations…

On another note, it would be logical to take the issue one step up: to give the citizen and Facebook a chance to appeal from the Ministry contact point decision to a court.

As for the risk of being over-taken by the far-right deputy minister, thus far it has not happened. Should there be new developments – I shall keep you posted.

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