Thursday, June 26, 2008

Political reverse abuse on Facebook

In the past year, more and more people in Hong Kong from the political circles have been using Facebook -- from setting up their own personal account to make friends, to using the social networking platform to set up causes, invite people to join groups or come to events.

But in recent months, more and more cases of what I would call "reverse abuse" are observed. The victim of the most recent case is Albert Lai, Vice Chairman of the Civic Party, Chairman of The Professional Commons, and a possible candidate in the Legislative Council election later this year. He received an email on early Monday June 23 morning HKT, saying that his Facebook account has been "disabled for persistent misuse of the site."

That was it. No prior communications, warning or notifications, checking of facts, or telling the accused what he or she might have been alleged of doing that would have violated what rules. Surely it is understandable that in the users' terms Facebook must have "reserved" the final right to decide on things like this, and the users on signing up to the service would have "agreed" to these terms. But still, one would think that the users which are what a community like Facebook is building its value upon would enjoy more due process than this.

I understand Albert has not been doing much in his account recently -- posting a lot of messages to people or groups, poking a lot of people (or any), inviting a lot of new friends (he has under 1,000 friends). Coincidentally, his political party (Civic Party) just announced on the previous day (Sunday, June 22 2008) that it endorsed a number of people to run in the Legislative Council election, including Albert himself. To cut it short, Albert and I cannot think of any other reasons but political sabotage, although we cannot have access to the evidence (e.g. complaints made to Facebook) to prove it.

And this is not the first time something like this happening in Hong Kong, in our short "Facebook history." Raymond Wong Yuk-Man, famous media personality from the opposition League of Social Democrats, and also a possible candidate in the election this year, also had his Facebook account suspended about two months ago. Similar suspension also happened to the Facebook property of Christine Chan, a local university student who was controversial for her supported for Tibetan self-determination.

And in all of these cases, Facebook reinstated their accounts after several days' suspension, after the accused sent messages to Facebook administrators asking for restoration. Albert's account came back on June 25. Some added in their messages to Facebook that these possible complaints must have been part of a deliberate political smearing campaign.

There is a total lack of transparency in the whole process, and no one knows what investigations took place and under what criteria Facebook made their decisions to suspend and restore accounts. This is unfair to users, and indeed doesn't make Facebook itself look good. These suspension are reported in the local press frequently, and Facebook having no local presence would never have any response, and the impression made as always is that Facebook is being manipulated by organized smear complaints.

Facebook must establish itself to handle matters of these natures, even though understandably being in the U.S. they may not know what politics are going on in Hong Kong or elsewhere. But in a globalized world of Internet service provision, this is no longer an excuse. In particular for Hong Kong, knowing that we are entering an election in the coming months, Facebook is well-advised to take account of the political figures using it, tell them more clearly what they can or cannot do, and become more prudent when handling complaints made against these figures' accounts.

But, as a start, Facebook, give us someone to talk to first, please!


At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Facebook has earned a bad reputation for booting people off their network with no warning.

If you have questions about greater transparency at Facebook, perhaps you can direct the questions to the local representatives of two of Facebook's major investors: Microsoft and Li Ka-shing.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger 訓練班班長 said...

facebook seem have a local server in hk now (, can we trace that from here ?

At 1:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is really not a technical problem. I am 200% agree on that this is a transparency problem.

I have dealt with the FB support people on similar cases. The reply I got was that that involved some "security measures" that couldn't tell me.

I am still wondering how come they didn't put good efforts on this. And also make me wonder they don't understand enough about web 2.0. They are essentially creating a market space for others.


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