The Perils of Policing Facebook Pages

Categories: Tech
First it was the Islamic extremists. Now it's Mark Zuckerberg who is repressing Salman Rushdie.

On Monday, Rushdie took to Twitter to complain that not only had Facebook shut down his page, apparently thinking it wasn't really his, but that the company then told him he couldn't use the name under which he has written many prize-winning novels because the passport he sent as proof of his identity bore his given name: Ahmed Salman Rushdie.

When he complained, Facebook ignored him, which was when the tweeting began. That got Facebook's attention, and Rushdie got his page restored.

Meanwhile, Facebook has allowed the page "Death to Salman Rushdie" to live on, in all its enraged, illiterate, fundamentalist splendor. Rushdie "deserves to die .... a death wrost [sic] than the death of a dog ..... he must be executed," according to the page's introduction.

Late in the day on Monday, I used Facebook's complaint process to give the company a heads-up on that page, checking the "violence of violent behavior" option, but the group was still there as of Tuesday morning. Maybe it's because the person running it didn't use a fake name. Or any name.

All of which simply highlights the impossibility of policing a social-media site with a purported 800 million members, and countless pages and groups.

I say "purported" because although Facebook might have seemed alert and industrious in deleting Rushdie's page, just take a look at how many Miley Cyrus pages there are -- personal ones, not fan pages. And, hey, look, it's Sharon Osbourne! And Sharon Osbourne! And... Sharon Osbourne!

Plug just about any celebrity name -- or even fictional character -- into Facebook and it'll usually yield at least a few fake personal pages. The company does what it can, but the task is ultimately impossible.

Maybe Rushdie should have just joined under the name Sal Bass.

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

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