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Facebook Sees Dramatic Increase In Requests To Remove Content Around The World

A man peruses Facebook on his phone in Mumbai, India. CREDIT: AP PHOTO
A man peruses Facebook on his phone in Mumbai, India. CREDIT: AP PHOTO

Facebook has become governments’ and law enforcement’s premier source when it comes to protecting national security. While those requests have seen some increase, according to a new Facebook transparency report, governments worldwide have increasingly putting censors on the world’s most popular social network.

Facebook has 1.39 billion active users worldwide, making it of the world’s number two site the primary way to communicate.

Facebook’s report, which looks at government agency requests worldwide from July 2014 to December 2014, sates that requests overall remained the same and saw only a negligible increase — less than half a percent — to just over 35,000 by compared to the first half of the year.

Despite a slight dip, the United States government still makes the most requests, accounting for 41 percent of over 35,000 requests made worldwide. India ranks second having made 5,473 user data requests — about a third of U.S. government requests. Facebook honored 45 percent of India’s requests, and 79 percent of those from the U.S.

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The amount of restricted content jumped 11 percent by the end of 2014, with international governments adding more than 1,000 content categories that violate local laws, Facebook reported. Those restrictions, which can translate into blocked access to a certain page or media links posted to the site, primarily come from countries with a history of media censorship, India and Turkey, which have 5,832 and 3,624 respectively. Russia increased its content restrictions to 55, which Pakistan’s decreased to 54, according to the report.

Online censorship has been on the rise with governments passing laws that restrict internet access, blocking or banning content deemed morally or politically controversial. According to a 2014 Freedom House report, 41 countries have introduced or successfully passed legislation that criminalize some types of online speech, restrict content or enhance government surveillance between 2013 and 2014.

Facebook said its biannual report aims to keep users abreast of how government behavior and how their data is used.

“We publish this information because we want people to know the extent and nature of the requests we receive from governments and the policies we have in place to process them,” said Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management, in a blog post. “We challenge requests that appear to be unreasonable or overbroad. And if a country requests that we remove content because it is illegal in that country, we will not necessarily remove it from Facebook entirely, but may restrict access to it in the country where it is illegal.”

Facebook suffered stern public criticism for its relationship with government surveillance agencies, such as the National Security Agency, as well as the network’s seemingly unpredictable rules that govern banned or inappropriate content.

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Facebook also rolled out new guidelines for users alongside its transparency report that outline what content is allowed on the site and what might get blocked. No changes were made to the site’s policies, but the guidelines serve to better illustrate what unacceptable behavior and content on Facebook look like.