Officially, Facebook has remained mum on its role in the protests in Egypt and Tunisia, which grew into full-on revolutions. But this week, reports have surfaced that reveal a somewhat active involvement in the events and outline Facebook’s support of democracy and civic engagement.
Facebook reportedly worked to protect the identity of Egyptian activists, according to The Daily Beast. The news site claims to have obtained e-mail correspondence from Facebook executives and the administrators of the Facebook Page that was the revolution’s digital epicenter — the We Are All Khaled Said Page, which was created in memory of an Egyptian man murdered last summer by police.
The Page mysteriously disappeared as activists prepared to substantiate what would likely be rigged elections in November of last year. It turned out someone had likely notified Facebook that the Page administrator was using a pseudonym, a violation of Facebook’s terms of service.
Facebook stuck to its policy, but Richard Allan, Facebook’s director of policy for Europe, offered a loophole.
“There is no discretion here as the creation of fake accounts threatens the integrity of our whole system,” he wrote. “People must use the profile of a real person to admin the page or risk it being taken down at any time. It is not important to us who that real person is as long as their account appears genuine. So if they can offer a real person as admin then the page can be restored.”
An Egyptian immigrant and activist in Washington, D.C., lent her account password to Wael Ghonim in Egypt, who continued to run the page.
The Daily Beast‘s e-mails reveal that the social network put the key Facebook Pages under protection, the night the protests in Egypt began in late January.
“We have put all the key pages into special protection,” Allan wrote. A team, he said, “is monitoring activity from Egypt now on a 24/7 basis.”
Promoting Democracy & Civic Engagement
In a document filed January 28 with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission — in response to the FTC’s privacy report for consumers, businesses and policymaker — Facebook expounded its role and the greater role of social media in promoting democracy and civic engagement.
“The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University cited Facebook and Twitter as playing key roles in spreading dissent-and up-to-the-minute news-in Tunisia, leading to the removal of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who gained control of the country in a 1987 coup d’etat,” the 26-page document states.
A footnote to that statement also provides an interesting perspective. Referencing the Atlantic article in which that fact appeared, the footnote says the article “…describ[es] Facebook’s rapid response to attempts by the Tunisian Internet censor to compromise dissenters’ Facebook accounts.”
Twitter executives, on the other hand, have spoken publicly about the micro-blogging site’s role in Egypt, mostly downplaying its role in the revolution. And when the Egyptian government blocked the site, its creators declared that the government must let the tweets flow.
Until now, Facebook’s role and perspective on the events in Egypt and Africa were unknown, and although the company has still not openly commented — neither to Mashable nor The Daily Beast — we now have a little greater understanding of the role it played and its stance on the events in the Middle East and Africa.