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Taiwan: Facebook's Deactivation of User Accounts Triggered Free Speech Concerns

A Taiwanes activist posted an article protesting against Facebook's suspension of his account.

On June 1st, Facebook suspended the accounts of several Hong Kong activists, causing speculation that the suspension was related to the 23rd anniversary of Tiananmen Protest in the absence of any other clear information or explanation from the company. Coincidentally, several Taiwanese activists and politicians also had their accounts suspended on the same day, which triggered Taiwanese users’ concern over the limitation on free speech.

Ho Tsung-hsun, the activist who has long devoted to social movements in Taiwan, posted an article [zh] describing the incident on the citizen journalism platform Peopo. According to Ho, after he saw the notice page of deactivation on Facebook, he clicked the FAQ link and tried to look for the reason of the suspension. Facebook listed four general reasons for account deactivation which Ho claimed he violated none of them.  He complained that the deactivation has seriously impacted his social movement campaigns [zh]:

  我從臉書網址根本找不到任何可以了解原因的連結,而我在臉書耕耘幾年的資料與開設社群就這樣無故消失,對工作與人際交際產生不便影響。

I couldn't find any link which provides explanation to the deactivation on Facebook. The information I've collected and the Facebook groups that I've created and maintained all disappeared, which has caused inconvenience to my work and interpersonal relationship.

Ho told the Global Voices Advocacy that he complained to Facebook, but only got an email which was generated by the automatic replying system. He wrote again and claimed that he would take further action. The suspension was eventually lifted at 9 pm on June 1st. But till now, he hasn't received any apology or explanation from Facebook.

A Taiwanese political Facebook fan page “Xien Ma Tong” (掀馬統)[zh] was also disabled and reactivated on the same day. The fan page was created to ridicule the Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou. Another Facebook fan page “New Taiwan GoGoGO“[zh] which relates to a Taiwanese television station also reported that the messages could no be posted though the page was still being there on Facebook. Liu Jian-Kuo, a legislator from the Democratic Progress Party also said his Facebook account was suspended without any warning from Facebook.

Taipei City Councilor Ho Zhi-Wei has written an official statement to Facebook, expressing his concern over Facebook's unreasonable account deactivation which has resulted in hindrance to free speech.

Global Voices co-founder Rebecca MacKinnon has communicated with executives at Facebook, requesting an explanation of the deactivation incidents in Hong Kong and Taiwan. They say that these incidents were due to a global technical problem that has since been fixed. Here is a statement she received from Facebook spokeswoman Debbie Frost:

  “To protect the millions of people who connect and share on Facebook every day, we have automated systems and a dedicated team that reviews reports made by users in order to maintain a trusted environment and protect the nearly billion people that use our site.  In this instance, we mistakenly took action on a number of accounts and temporarily suspended them. When this happens, we try our best to resolve the situation, apologize to those affected and make any necessary changes to  our processes to help prevent such mistakes happening again. We have already remediated the majority of these accounts, and expect to complete the process soon.”

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