Facebook Removes Moroccan Secularist Group and its Founder

Note: The group has once again become accessible after several days, as pointed out in the comments.  El Ghazzali created a new profile for himself, and was able to do so without incident. Facebook did not respond to any requests for explanation.

Over the past few years, Facebook has come under scrutiny a number of times for its seeming hypocrisy on what types of groups it deems inappropriate. Although the site's terms of service (TOS) ban everything from nudity, to speech deemed hateful, to using a pseudonym to open an account, they are selectively enforced. In mid-2009 Facebook officials stated that they would not delete Holocaust denial groups outright despite pressure from Jewish groups, but only a few months earlier deleted accounts of users who posted photographs of themselves breastfeeding their babies.  There are numerous other examples.

The TOS appear only to be enforced when enough users report a group as inappropriate, and once a group is removed, its creators often find it impossible to get it back. Users whose personal accounts are removed sometimes create a new account, only to find it deleted again soon afterward.

Moroccan activist Kacem El Ghazzali was recently subjected to Facebook's TOS when a group he had created, entitled “Jeunes pour la séparation entre Religion et Enseignement” (youth for the separation between religion and education), was promptly removed.  El Ghazzali emailed Facebook, but received no response.  Two days later, his personal account had been deleted from Facebook as well (the movement also has a blog, hosted on Blogger).  He says that while the group was live, he received emails from Muslims who opposed the group, as well as other groups he had created.

The homepage of the "Jeunes pour la séparation entre Religion et Enseignement" Facebook group

The homepage of the "Jeunes pour la séparation entre Religion et Enseignement" Facebook group

El Ghazzali won't speculate as to why Facebook removed his group, but it should come as no surprise. Two years ago, when a young Moroccan engineer named Fouad Mourtada was arrested for creating a fake profile of Moroccan Prince Moulay Rachid, many speculated that Facebook had turned his information over to the government (Facebook neither confirmed nor denied the accusation).

El Ghazzali's group, and his account, both appear to have been well within both U.S. law and Facebook's TOS.  Why then, did Facebook delete them?  Was it under pressure from another country's government, or did enough people simply report the group that Facebook automatically removed it?  In any case, why doesn't Facebook offer recourse for its users to report accounts and groups removed in error, as other sites such as YouTube and Blogger do?

Since his account and groups do not appear to be in violation of Facebook's TOS, it seems that Facebook is now policing speech, possibly at the behest of a foreign government.

22 comments

  • Why is the group considered atheist! Excuse my French but from it’s title it calls for the \separation\ not the \abolition\ of religion and public education. Isn’t this a form of \secularism\?

    On a side note; the funny thing is that a radical religious family might not their children to learn the \diluted religion they teach them in schools\ and might want to teach their children their own interpretation of their religion at home or a special school of their choice, which is everyone’s right.

  • Alif, you’re right. The group is not particularly atheist, though its founder and most of his other groups are. I’ll amend the title.

  • [...] has garnered a reputation for selectively enforcing its own TOS (see my latest Advox piece, “Facebook Removes Moroccan Secularist Group and its Founder,” from which this piece borrows a few [...]

  • [...] Global Voices Advocacy » Facebook Removes Moroccan Secularist … [...]

  • [...] Global Voices Advocacy » Facebook Removes Moroccan Secularist … [...]

  • [...] Global Voices Advocacy » Facebook Removes Moroccan Secularist … [...]

  • Erm… anyone try to get any comment from Facebook on the matter? There’s nothing in the article that suggests they have been contacted, therefore whilst the deletion on the face of it seems to be spurious, every conclusion drawn here is speculation at best.

  • Cait,

    I wrote: “El Ghazzali emailed Facebook, but received no response.” That remains true, nearly five days later.

    This is not the first instance of Facebook doing something like this, although perhaps I should have outlined other examples in this piece. For more background, see my post here: http://jilliancyork.com/2010/03/13/the-risk-of-facebook-activism-in-the-new-arab-public-sphere/

  • Yes, but you, the writer of this article, say the following, some would say outrageous claim: “Since his account and groups do not appear to be in violation of Facebook’s TOS, it seems that Facebook is now policing speech, possibly at the behest of a foreign government.” (the word “possibly” as a get out clause?) without talking to Facebook or at least putting the story to them in order that ou could say “Facebook has made no comment after repeated questions” or similar.

    I’m on the side of the angels here and a supporter of free speech. What I would like to see is a non-sensationalist story that clearly states the facts of the case as well as a clearly stated response / non response from Facebook to the article’s premis.

  • mimi

    @Cait:

    I emailed Facebook about this. Got no answer either. It’s very possible that what Jillian suggests is actually happening.

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