Facebook, Google Censor Human Rights Activists
by Shabnam Assadollahi
There are, not surprisingly, times when those who persecute others attempt to stop people from exposing their actions and informing the world about what they are doing. Over the years, this has varied from personal insults, hate posts and even "internet response teams" which create many Twitter "bots" or fake profiles on Facebook with the aim of discrediting genuine human rights activists. Although this has at times also been an issue with Twitter, at least Twitter's response has been reasonable and the accounts of activists have never been suspended. This is not the case with Facebook, and often with other social media.
The most recent outbreak of violence in Gaza seems to have brought forth many who are violently opposed to any who support either side. On Facebook, for instance, there are pages such as "Death to Israel," which, despite many complaints about their offensive nature, Facebook has refused to take down. On the other side, some supporters of the Islamic Republic of Iran appear to have taken advantage of this outpouring of negative emotion against Israel. They seem to have mobilized the support of those opposing Israel and Judaism, and the results for many human rights activists have been distressing, unfair and unresolved.
Instead of investigating these issues further, and providing those trying to expose human rights abuses and the people who perpetrate them with a proper explanation of why these accounts were suspended.
One account closed down belongs to me, Shabnam Assadollahi, an Iranian-Canadian human rights activist and author. I have also been invited on countless television and radio shows to expose the horrendous human rights violations in Iran. Since July 27, 2014, my public Facebook account has been suspended. Closing down social media accounts appears follow false and unsubstantiated claims, in this instance, most likely from supporters of Iran's current regime who are trying to silence our exposing their abuses and them -- their expanding sham trials, their brutal treatment of prisoners, their accelerated rate of hanging of people from cranes -- and close us down.
I have also written extensively on other areas of human rights both internationally and within Canada, and have been the grateful recipient of awards, including the "Hero Award" in the United States, presented by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in 2011, in recognition of human rights work; "The Leading Women Building Communities Award" in 2012, from The Honourable Laurel Broten, Ontario Minister Responsible for Women's Issues, and two Recognition Awards, given by MP, Royal Galipeau and Councillor Bob Monette, for Human Rights Advocacy and for Extensively Helping Newcomers and Refugees Resettle in Canada. I was also awarded the "2012 TESL Ontario Sparks of Excellence Award" in recognition of "outstanding educational experience in teaching and mentorship."
Sadly, Facebook seems to have joined and Google (and its YouTube) in the dangerous habit of punishing the "firefighters" instead of the "arsonists." Although one can understand that often it might be difficult to tell which is which, in the last few years closing down the "firefighters" rather than the "arsonists" seems to have become a pattern. It is not my place to name here the list of other people, who often risk their lives to expose human rights abuses, who have been closed down by insufficient investigatory work on the part of social media. One, however, the courageous filmmaker Imran Firasat, on June 26, had seven versions of a film trailer in seven different languages removed by YouTube. The trailer was to his latest film, exposing a prevalent human rights abuse. Let us just say that Facebook's history -- and Google's -- of closing accounts without thoroughly examining who is making charges against them, and why, is as harmful to the victims of human rights abuses, who are already besieged, as it is irresponsible.
Facebook's Community Operations personnel simply said they needed to receive credentials proving the account indeed belonged to me. After this was easily done, Facebook still insisted that the account would remain closed. A lengthy correspondence ensued, and Facebook was contacted separately by several other people, more familiar with the intricacies of radical dictatorships, to advocate on my behalf. None of us has received any response from Facebook since August 5, 2014.
Apart from the personal inconvenience, emotional strain and the amount of time spent on pursuing this issue, several serious questions really should be asked about the procedures of Facebook, Google and other social media.
First, why, when Facebook now has all the evidence provided to it, has it still not reopened this public Facebook account?
Second, it must now appear to those whose false claims were taken at face value and acted upon immediately by Facebook, that they have been successful. How many more human rights activists will they be allowed to target, while the abusers of human rights come out victorious?
Third, shouldn't Facebook and Google have a clear and transparent process, whereby all allegations are provided to those who have been the target of false claims? If indeed the reasons given by Facebook were truthful and all their requirements have been met, why are accounts not re-opened? Is Facebook withholding information about why this happened and, if so, why is the owner of the closed account not entitled to know, at least for the purpose of rebuttal?
This is a widespread problem. Many others have already been unfairly targeted; some have had their accounts reopened, others not. Facebook's platform is used for many good causes, and that is to its credit. But we believe a review should be carried out to ensure that accounts are not suspended unless allegations and their sources have been investigated properly, and that, if incorrectly suspended, not only are they restored immediately but that apologies are made for these errors.
Those who support Iran's regime, and others who wish to suppress having their human rights violations exposed, should not be allowed to prevail. That, in itself would be a violation of human rights. Facebook should start by restoring this account immediately, and investigate how it was allowed to happen in the first place, so that all care is taken by those who run the social media that those trying to correct abuses will not be confused with those committing the abuses ever again.
Ms. Shabnam Assadollahi
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