Facebook Officials Keep Quiet on Its Role in Revolts

Business Day ~ Media & Advertising

Protesters took photos and video at Tahrir Square in Cairo. Facebook has become one of the main tools for activists to mobilize protests and share information.

By JENNIFER PRESTON

With Facebook playing a starring role in the revolts that toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt, you might think the company’s top executives would use this historic moment to highlight its role as the platform for democratic change. Instead, they really do not want to talk about it.

Egyptian youths posted video they shot in Tahrir Square. Social media tools like YouTube and Twitter also played major roles.
The social media giant finds itself under countervailing pressures after the uprisings in the Middle East. While it has become one of the primary tools for activists to mobilize protests and share information, Facebook does not want to be seen as picking sides for fear that some countries — like Syria, where it just gained a foothold — would impose restrictions on its use or more closely monitor users, according to some company executives who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal business.

And Facebook does not want to alter its firm policy requiring users to sign up with their real identities. The company says this requirement protects its users from fraud. However, human rights advocates like Susannah Vila, the director of content and outreach for Movements.org, which provides resources for digital activists, say it could put some people at risk from governments looking to ferret out dissent.

“People are going to be using this platform for political mobilization, which only underscores the importance of ensuring their safety,” she said.

Under those rules, Facebook shut down one of the most popular Egyptian Facebook protest pages in November because Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who emerged as a symbol of the revolt, had used a pseudonym to create a profile as one of the administrators of the page, a violation of Facebook’s terms of service.

Full feature at nytimes.com/media & technology

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