Facebook criticised for pulling article with West Papuan pic

Facebook warning
The Facebook “warning” over the blocked West Papua news item. Photo: PMC Screenshot

By RNZ Pacific

Facebook has been urged by media freedom advocates to restore an article it pulled ostensibly because the piece violated its rules on nudity.

The article, published by the International Federation of Journalists, reported on concerns raised about media freedom in Melanesia by the Pacific Journalism Review in its latest edition.

The IFJ’s item “highlights the growing need to address media freedom in the region, particularly in Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and West Papua”.

READ MORE: Melanesia: Facebook algorithms censor article about press freedom in West Papua

The director of the Pacific Media Centre, Professor David Robie, attempted to share the IFJ’s item with several Facebook media groups, but each time immediately received a blocking message from the social media platform.

Facebook said the post went against its “community standards on nudity or sexual activity”.

The algorithm-dictated objection related to an accompanying picture of a West Papuan protest featuring two men in traditional Highlands garb, partly naked.

Dr Robie has received no reply from the social media giant to his repeated attempts to file a challenge over the decision.

Standards breach ‘warning’
His Facebook page now bears a standards breach “warning” that is to remain in force for a year.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders called on Facebook to restore the article, and be more transparent and responsible about respect for the free flow of information.

“This utterly absurd case of censorship shows the degree to which Facebook’s arbitrary algorithms pose serious threats to the free flow of information and, by extension, to press freedom,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

PJR Cover 26(1)
The cover of the July edition of Pacific Journalism Review.

“As Facebook has imposed itself as a leading conveyor of news and information and, as such, is bound by the requirements of responsibility and transparency, we call on its regional desk to immediately lift the censorship on this article.”

In his correspondence to Facebook, Dr Robie complained of the the arbitrariness of the removal on the postings and the “flawed” Facebook process for filing an objection.

“I am a journalist, media freedom defender and media academic and strongly object to such a notice when this is an arbitrary message (based on algorithms not common sense) related to news and current affairs in the public interest.

“Anybody with common sense would see that the photograph in question was not ‘nudity’ in the community standards sense of Facebook’s guidelines,” Dr Robie said, condemning what he called the “tyranny” of the platform’s algorithms.

“There is no proper process to challenge or appeal against such arbitrary rulings,” he complained.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

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