When your face doesn’t fit: Facebook censorship

3:27 pm - August 2nd 2010

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contribution by Elly

Facebook has closed down two groups in recent months, run by progressive sexuality organisations. The Pansy Project, an art project challenging homophobia, had its FB group removed in May. Most recently Our Porn, Ourselves the feminist-informed sex-positive project for women, had its FB group closed last week.

Between them these two groups had amassed thousands of members, and used their presence on the ubiquitous social-networking site to promote events, link to websites and communicate with a range of individuals and activists. So their closure damaged their campaiging.

The reasons given for the censorship have been vague.

In both cases the company referred to their ‘terms of use’, suggesting both organisations had violated them. Paul Harfleet, director of The Pansy Project, acknowledged that his work, using photos of pansies planted at the scenes of homophobic attacks, includes the language of the attackers, which could have been picked up by facebook computers, monitoring for obscene, violent or offensive language.

In the case of Our Porn, Ourselves, there is no reason that stands out for the ban, as its founder, Violet Blue, was carefully monitoring the site for any content that might go against FB’s terms and conditions.

So why were these two groups removed? I think the evidence points to political motivations. If The Pansy Project group was removed due to its reference to the language of homophobes such as ‘queer’ and ‘fag’, why don’t other groups using derogatory terms get removed? Groups such as ‘slap a slut week’ or ‘raped by the ugly tree’? Or groups celebrating that well-known non-violent activist Raol Moat?

Members of Our Porn, Ourselves have experienced harassment from Porn Harms and other anti-porn activists, and it could be that Facebook was responding to pressure from them to remove the group.

I am not suggesting that Facebook has a thought-out policy for censoring left-wing, progressive, or sexually radical organisations or individuals. Rather that its apparently ‘neutral’ terms of use are subject to be implemented in such a way that leads to censorship of these types of organisations and individuals.

This you tube video by pro-sex feminist activists gives some context to how Porn Harms (a key anti-porn campaign based in the U.S) operates. It states that Porn Harms’ website is registered under the name Patrick Truman, ‘a right wing crusader with some long history’. He was once chief obscenity prosecutor in the first Bush Administration.

The tactics used by Porn Harms on Facebook, their own websites and in direct contact with Pro-Porn activists both online and in person, is in my view, worth examining closely.

Personally, I do not use FaceBook. But its vulnerability to being manipulated by certain politically motivated groups should be monitored, at least as hard as it monitors the words and images we use to describe and promote our activities.

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Reader comments

Well Facebook was part-funded by the CIA when it was set up it’s no surprise.

Strange-but-true hyperbole aside, it’s been said before: Facebook is a private business and it has its own rules and regs regarding freedom of speech. It’s not like campaigning outside Parliament or going on a march. Thus it is free to delete or keep whatever it deems fit. I don’t particularly like it and don’t use it (anymore) for that reason (as well as the total weirdness of their privacy policy). Yes, it looks bad but maybe complain to the bigwigs in charge and they’ll let it back.

Facebook also deleted a group called “David Cameron has a big orange face” which is a verifiable fact, so y’know…. I think they have some over-zealous policy enforcers working for them, perhaps.

The Pansy Project website itself is lovely.

I guess that as with most of these things, someone complained to Facebook about the groups, citing whatever examples they thought most effective, and Facebook acted accordingly. Since Facebook has a strict no pornography rule, Our Porn, Ourselves probably fell foul of that due to the title.

Here is the risk with putting so much emphasis on applications controlled by others. The net is (basically) free from control, but using platforms within that are commercial, governmental or whatever exposes you to censorship from those who disagree with you, but are too timid to argue (or too sure of themselves to consider they could be wrong). Facebook and its ilk are not truly free, as the Mary Whitehouse’s of our day can still influence them. Basically, if Elly’s summation about the motives behind the loss of these groups is correct, then it shows how the ‘priesthoods’ of believers in any point of view (here I’d expect an alliance of reactionaries, probably of a religious bent, and feminists of a particular frame of mind) can manipulate those hosting services.

Hurry up, Diaspora!

@cjcjc It is, isn’t it? Which makes the fact it was removed without real explanation so frustrating.

S Pill- both organisations have been campaigning to have their groups reinstated to no avail.

6. Shatterface

I suspect whoever complained either misunderstood or misrepresented the conten and whoever banned the sites didn’t look too deeply.

The titles ‘Pansy Project’ and ‘Our Porn’ alone would be enough to get the shackles up of anyone with a thick ear for irony and intent.

Censors never understand how language *works*.

Censors never understand how language *works*.

They may not understand how language works but they contribute to how it works in my view. The fact that groups such as ‘slap a slut week’ are accepted but ‘The Pansy Project’ is not is interesting in terms of how language works, don’t you think Shatterface?

@4 I’ve had it bookmarked for longer than I care to remember, it better be worth it.

@5 You need to kick-start a socialnetwork shitstorm. I’ve no idea how, but the twittersphere(?) get very cross about This Sort Of Thing. Maybe they could just restart the groups and take it from there? If they were as popular as you say then there should be no prob getting the numbers back. But again, Facebook is private property at the end of the day (as is this very blog – see comments policy) so there word is law when it comes to that particular playground.

(obviously I mean “their word” not “there word” in that last comment. sigh…)

Mr S Pill The twittersphere(?) get very cross about This Sort Of Thing

… But it depends what ‘This Sort Of Thing’ is, doesn’t it Mr S Pill?

Some people in ‘the twittersphere’ as in the liberal middle classes, do not like pornography and do not mind it being censored. And, I hate to say it, but I think some of them don’t really care too much about homophobia, either.


I dunno about porn but to say people aren’t bothered by homophobia is a nonsense – surely you remember the Jan Moir outrage the other month? Started by Stephen Fry on… Twitter. Maybe you should sign him up to your campaign.

12. Shatterface

‘The fact that groups such as ‘slap a slut week’ are accepted but ‘The Pansy Project’ is not is interesting in terms of how language works, don’t you think Shatterface?’

Unfortunately Slap a Slut week clashed with Punch a Prick Week this year. You’d have thought they would have learned the lesson from last year when it ran up against the Kick a Cockweasel Festival.

But yes, censorship shapes discourse. Obviously Facebook aren’t operating a level playing field here, whether by ignorance or design.

@8 – it really had better be worth it, after all the money they took :p.

Really, federated services are the only sensible way to deal with these kinds of services on the Internet. Relying on a big central provider to give you what you want is just doomed to failure. I had high hopes of google’s wave, but that seems to have died a death.

No @earwicga I haven’t been reading Jezebel. But I read the Psychology Today article they linked to at the bottom of the page. I don’t see this as a ‘women’s issue’ as they frame it though. I see it as a censorship of radical positions around sexuality.

I remember the Jan Moir outrage Mr S Pill, yes. I don’t know how much it was about homophobia, how much it was about celebrity culture, anti-Jan Moir, or anti-Daily Mail fever though.

Sounds like Face book is nothing more than a tory front.

Glad I don’t post there.

I didn’t realise tory fronts had so many scandalous photos.

Oh, wait. Silly me…


Oh come on, you may not like twitter or the “liberal middle classes” (who they?) but the Jan Moir shitstorm was all about homophobia. It was actually reassuring to see.

Anyway – getting a bit off-topic here. I just reckon you (or the groups involved) should get viral with the facebook censorship thing – which, I assume, this article will help with.

”’The Pansy Project” – BRING IT BACK NOW!!’ Facebook group with 1,823 members

Paul Harfleet (The Pansy Project) on Twitter http://twitter.com/thepansyproject

Facebook has also barred the creation of groups with Palestinian or Palestine in the title, and Dominic Scaia’s account has been suspended more than once because he posts pictures of his chest! Deletions of accounts which contain pictures of breastfeeding are common too.

Actually, there were 5 groups recently censored. The two you mention, plus three other “liberal” groups: Boycott BP (ultimately restored), the PFLP Solidarity Group, and the Free Ricardo Palmera group.

I’m sure Facebook takes down pages all the time, but an unambiguous pattern has emerged wherein pages that attract ire from a political rightist group gets taken down more quickly. Way more quickly than, as you note, pages supporting outright hate and violence.

It does seem Facebook is dolling out censure based on more than its just of terms and conditions….

Thanks earwicga and maymaym for telling us about the Palestine and the BP and the Free Ricardo Palmer groups.

As far as I can see, if this was the result of a ‘wordsearch’ by computers it would have to be a pretty sophisticated programme to pick up on these key words and not other ones such as ‘rape’ and ‘murder’ and ‘slut’. But I am neither a programmer nor a Social Network Site CEO. I think maymaym is more likely to be right about the ‘pattern’ on FB that relates to power relations in the wider world.


Yup, it is a becoming a right wing belt way. As soon as the right wing zionists compain they cave in.

Sally I agree its influenced by Right politics of censure. But saying ‘Zionist’ may not be the most accurate way of looking at it. I don’t know much about right wing politics but I think they are influenced by all sorts of vested interests.

If they are stopping sites with Palestinian or Palestine in the title, believe me they will be under attack from zionists.

I know, Zionist Feminist Homophobes. What a combination! But it’s not about labelling the ….’ists’ for me it is about making sure people know about the censorship and the processes by which radical groups of any perspective are policed online and offline. If it was a Jewish group or a Christian group, or, heaven forfend a feminist anti-pornography group that was being closed down, it would still be worrying.

I came across some openly racist groups on Facebook with violently racist postings. Which were in open violation of FB’s terms of use. I complained numerous times over several months but nothing happened.

It was only when I told them that they could potentially be prosecuted under race hatred legislation that the groups suddenly dissapeared. (I have no idea whether they could or not but it seemed to work)

Shows us something about their priorities doesn’t it.

yes Graham it does. Or at least about the ‘default’ position of many organisations which is to bow to pressure from restrictive and oppressive forces. I have no particular issue with FB any more or less than any other corporation. Though when I saw the photo of the young punk that invented it, as the film about his ‘journey’ is out soon, I did feel like committing an act of political incorrectness against his little white nerd face.

Can’t you keep your complaining to Facebook rather than inflicting the misery of that site on the rest of us who couldn’t give the slightest shit?

Hi scepticisle. No I can’t. Soz.

Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene! (Official petition to Facebook)

Some of you are wonderfully barmy.

Just searched for Palestine on FB – 3,400 results.

Why must those protesting be right-wing incidentally? Unless you have sally’s worldview (right wing = evil, Nazi, troll who wants to inflict pain on everyone except themselves and for some reason Israel, and possibly Glenn Beck), then right wingers tend to object to censorship and the imposition of others views on them equally much. Indeed, many of them think such behaviour is classically left-wing (which just goes to show projection works both ways).

Perhaps you’d get further admitting that their are left-wing zionists, right-wing environmental nutters (who have some very scary ideas indeed) and a broad-based coalition of illiberal types, ranging from the religious to the generally moralistic to the ‘I know best for everyone’ idiots, all of whom want to stop us having fun in our own way. Making this a right-wing/left-wing issue is bloody stupid, since the majority of both actually oppose censorship of ideas. This is simply a liberal/totalitarian divide, and totalitarians are the same whatever their supposed political philosophy. And if you grasp that, you can make common ground with the ‘other’ wing against them. At times, the knee-jerk blame it on the ‘other’ wing reaction is simply doing the bigots’ and the ban-stubators’ (sorry, always liked that word) work for them, by forcing the ‘others’ into a position where they are defending the idiots, rather than joining with you to attack them.

Basically, if you see the enemy as the mainstream right-winger (believes in liberalism, perhaps more focussed on economic than social, but agrees with both; ideologically believes state is not effective way of being liberal), you are ignoring the enemy all around, who regardless of views on state or economic/social balance, is not liberal and is not happy for others to be liberal either.

i agree Watchman. I only referred to ‘right-wingers’ in my post when referring to the guy who runs the Porn Harms site. Who is definitely right wing.

The feminism issue is interesting here as feminists who oppose porn seem to be quite happy with censorship. I wouldn’t call them ‘right-wing’ necessarily. But I do think they are ‘totalitarian’!

Thanks cjcjc 😉 Facebook’s position on CREATION of groups with Palestinian or Palestine has changed from last month as I was just able to create a group called Palestinians in Palestine (and now I don’t know how to delete it – help would be kindly received!).

36. Bill Bruce

If you read some of the stuff people write on the White House FB page you will clearly see that FB has no auto word/hate detection or the page would be dropped. I suspect FB just responds to pressure from it’s $ source for instructions about who to drop.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    When your face doesn’t fit: Facebook censors porn groups it doesn't like http://bit.ly/ciyzK4

  2. Elly

    RT @libcon: When your face doesn’t fit: Facebook censors porn groups it doesn't like http://bit.ly/ciyzK4

  3. Elly

    http://bit.ly/ciyzK4 Me on @LibCon Facebook and censorship of @thepansyproject and @violetblue 's Our Porn, Ourselves groups #porn #proporn

  4. Better Sex Education

    RT @libcon: When your face doesn’t fit: Facebook censors porn groups it doesn't like http://bit.ly/ciyzK4

  5. NomDeGuerre

    RT @libcon: When your face doesn’t fit: Facebook censors porn groups it doesn't like http://bit.ly/ciyzK4

  6. Paul Harfleet

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/08/02/when-your-face-doesn’t-fit-facebook-censorship/ RE: FB banning of PP group!

  7. Elly

    RT @ThePansyProject: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/08/02/when-your-face-doesn’t-fit-facebook-censorship/ RE: FB banning of PP group!

  8. rachaelwilliams

    Adult industry peeps who've had run-ins with Facebook please read this & leave @quietriot_girl a comment about it here: http://bit.ly/bZOjae

  9. Elly

    http://bit.ly/ciyzK4 Facebook and censorship of @thepansyproject and @violetblue 's Our Porn, Ourselves groups #porn #proporn @maymaym

  10. dm thomas

    RT: @rachaelwilliams Industry peeps who've had run-ins with Facebook please read this & leave @quietriot_girl a comment http://bit.ly/bZOjae

  11. sir jester

    When your face doesn't fit: Facebook censorship http://bit.ly/cwHqez (via @ThePansyProject)

  12. barry leary

    RT @quietriot_girl: http://bit.ly/ciyzK4 Facebook and censorship of @thepansyproject and @violetblue 's Our Porn, Ourselves groups #porn #proporn @maymaym

  13. Elly

    By me on @libcon http://bit.ly/ciyzK4 Facebook and censorship of @thepansyproject and @violetblue 's Our Porn, Ourselves groups @DrPetra

  14. Pomegranate Boutique

    Ridiculous facebook policy. RT @ThePansyProject: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/08/02/when-your-face-doesn’t-fit-facebook-censorship

  15. Paul Harfleet

    RT @PomegranateEB: Ridiculous facebook policy. RT @ThePansyProject: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/08/02/when-your-face-doesn’t-fit-f

  16. David H

    RT @libcon: When your face doesn’t fit: Facebook censors porn groups it doesn't like http://bit.ly/ciyzK4

  17. Elly

    @agnieszkasshoes happy anniversary! Any chance of a RT of this post By me on @libcon http://bit.ly/ciyzK4 Facebook and censorship? Ta x

  18. Agnieszka's Shoes

    http://bit.ly/ciyzK4 Facebook and censorship? super piece by @quietriot_girl on @libcon

  19. Sessha Batto

    RT @agnieszkasshoes: http://bit.ly/ciyzK4 Facebook and censorship? super piece by @quietriot_girl on @libcon

  20. What Happened With Our Porn, Ourselves and Facebook | Our Porn, Ourselves

    […] Facebook Still Hasn’t Figured Out How To Play Fair. It was seen as an act of censorship in When your face doesn’t fit: Facebook censorship. There were more, but you get the idea. It didn’t happen in a […]

  21. alex baby71

    @KhristyCreams This too http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/08/02/when-your-face-doesn%E2%80%99t-fit-facebook-censorship/ so do you see it yet

  22. alex baby71

    @KhristyCreams This 2 http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/08/02/when-your-face-doesn%E2%80%99t-fit-facebook-censorship/ so do you see it yet?

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