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Ukraine: Censoring Facebook? (Updated)

To the dismay of the Ukrainian Facebook community, the account of one of the most popular Facebook users in the country, Mykola Sukhomlyn [new account], aka Николай СУХОМЛИН, was terminated by the social network on June 1, 2011.

On May 17, Mykola Sukhomlyn shared a YouTube video by journalist Oleksiy Matsuka showing Governor of the Donetsk region, Anatoly Blyzniuk, driving a customized S-class Mercedes worth at least 60,000 euro. His post got picked up [ru] by a popular online news source Ukrainska Pravda, which linked to Sukhomlyn’s profile, and was later referenced by dozens of other Internet sites. The next day Sukhomlyn received the first threat.

This is how he recounts [ru] the events in a Facebook note shared by his friends:

На следующий день я получил «приватную рекомендацию» удалить видео, а также «умерить свой пыл по отношению к украинским политикам». Вскоре «советы» начали приобретать менее рекомендательный характер и человек, позвонив по телефону и не представившись, сообщил, что «на меня найдут управу».

В течение недели личные сообщения на Facebook содержали ту или угрозу. На сей раз неизвестные с временных аккаунтов грозились заблокировать мой профиль в социальной сети и принять меры для дальнейшего «недопущения распространения порочащей украинских политиков информации». 1 июня 2011 года профиль на Facebook был удален администрацией социальной сети.

On the very next day I received a “private recommendation” to remove the video as well as to “cool down my fervor for Ukrainian politicians.” Very soon such “advice” stopped being just recommendatory when a man called me on the phone and, without introducing himself, informed me that I “would be dealt with.”

For about a week, personal messages on Facebook contained threats. This time anonymous users from temporary accounts threatened to get my social network profile blocked and take action that would “prohibit [me] from spreading defamatory information about Ukrainian politicians.” On June 1, 2011, my Facebook profile was deleted by the administration of the social network.

According to a popular portal of online activism Maidan.org.ua, Facebook has failed [uk] to notify Sukhomlyn about its intentions and reasons for deleting his account.

Official explanation (Updated)

On June 6, Ukrainian web-based media watchdog Telekritika turned to Facebook for an official explanation about its actions regarding user Mykola Sukhomlyn. The network’s representative in Russia, Yekaterina Skorobatova, told [uk] Telekritika that Sukhomlyn’s profile was blocked due to “repeated copyright violations” about which he had been warned several times. She then added that the video depicting the governor was not among such cases.

On June 7, editor of the website durdom.in.ua Roman Shrayk confirmed [ru] the statement of Facebook, stating that user Mykola Sukhomlyn repeatedly used content from their website while removing copyright notices. This is what he wrote [ru] in a letter to Telekritika:

Я подтверждаю заявление администрации „Фейсбука”. Николай Сухомлин многократно (десятки раз) воровал фотоприколы с сайта durdom.in.ua. Он срезал с них лого и ник автора и размещал как свои. На замечания не реагировал. Комментарии о воровстве поудалял и закрыл мне доступ к своему аккаунту. Меня возмутило такое отношение, и я обратился в администрацию ФБ. Они раз 5 просто удаляли ворованный контент, но Сухомлин не переставал мошенничать. Видимо, после очередной жалобы его аккаунт и был закрыт.

I confirm the statement of Facebook administration. Mykola Sukhomlyn has stolen photo jokes from the website durdom.in.ua dozens of times. He has been removing copyright notices from the pictures and names of the authors and was posting them as his own. He did not react to any complaints. He deleted comments about the stolen [content] and blocked me from accessing his profile. I was outraged by his behavior and turned to the administration of Facebook. Five times they simply deleted stolen content, but Sukhomlyn did not stop cheating. Apparently, after yet another complaint his account was deleted.

Shrayk also noted [ru] that between March 20 and June 1 he had sent seven complaints to Facebook about Mykola Sukhomlyn.

Together with Sukhomlyn’s profile, Facebook deleted the page “On Politics with Humor” (300,000 viewers per month) and a popular group for journalists “MediaUkraine,” administered by Sukhomlyn. In response, some Ukrainian users set up an open Facebook group [ru] in his support, while others suggested appealing personally to the network’s creator Mark Zuckerberg.

The emergence of Roman Shrayk’s statement on June 7 sparked heated debates [ru] on Facebook about whether Mykola Sukhomlyn’s story of becoming the “victim of the regime” was an elaborate fraud.

His case would not have been the first instance of closing accounts unpopular with the Ukrainian authorities. Just a few months earlier, Facebook suspended [en] an account of the female protest group FEMEN [en], most known for its provocative bare-breasted acts, for several weeks.

Internationally, Facebook has already been criticized [en] for allowing the disabling of accounts after just one report, regardless of whether or not the user in question had actually violated the network’s policies. Once an account has been disabled (regardless of the reason), it is very difficult to restore it.

Many Ukrainian netizens have pointed out that such policies make it easy to stop activists and silence dissidents on the social network. Currently, over 700 users have already signed up to attend a Ukrainian Facebook event called “Freedom of Speech on Facebook [uk].”

Thumbnail image by Flickr user pshab (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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