Social media sites face quandary over activists' use
Monday, March 28, 2011
Two days after using Flickr to display photos of police officers from Egypt’s feared state security force, Hossam el-Hamalawy watched in disbelief as they vanished from the popular social networking site.
“I thought I was being hacked,” said el-Hamalawy, a prominent Egyptian blogger and human rights activist who had uploaded the headshots of the police from CDs found by activists early this month at the State Security Police headquarters in Nasr City. He later learned in an email from Flickr that the photos were removed because he had not taken the images himself, a violation of the site’s community rules.
“That is totally ludicrous,” he said. “Flickr is full of accounts with photos that people did not take themselves.”
Flickr is among the social media networks, like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, that are increasingly being used by activists and pro-democracy forces especially in the Middle East and North Africa. That new role for social media has put these companies in a difficult position: how to accommodate the growing use for political purposes while appearing neutral and maintaining the practices and policies that made these services popular.
YouTube was one of the first social media networks to wrestle with content posted by a human rights advocate that conflicted with its terms of service. In November 2007, it removed videos flagged as “inappropriate” by a community member that showed a victim being tortured by police in Egypt. They were uploaded by Wael Abbas, another Egyptian blogger. After a public outcry, YouTube staff members reviewed the videos and restored them. The company, owned by Google, now has as process in place to deal with such questions.
Facebook has remained mostly quiet about its increasing role among activists in the Middle East who use the site to connect dissident groups, spread information about government activities and mobilize protests. But Facebook is being drawn into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has been pushed to defend its neutral approach and terms of service to some supporters of Israel, including an Israeli government official.
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