A couple weeks back I described a deeply disturbing development at Facebook here. Facebook management is dismantling groups, eliminating their memberships with an "upgrade" that is only available to some groups.
Neil Munro over at The Daily Caller has picked up on the story and done some digging:
Facebook’s managers are deploying a new software upgrade that will dismantle myriad groups of like-minded political activists unless they get a special software-key from the company.
But Facebook managers are providing very limited information about which groups are being favored with the new key, prompting some activists to complain about possible political favoritism among Facebook managers, and many other activists to experiment with techniques and tricks to get the needed upgrade-key.
“Who is being given the upgrade?” asked Pamela Geller, the New York organizer of a 15,000-member group opposed to Islamist political groups. Without the special key, groups lose access to their members, she said. “I’ve seen people really freaking out.”
Facebook’s software changes do not effect the individual pages that Facebook subscribers use to stay in contact with friends and to tout their relationships, statuses and accomplishments. The upgrade only effects the software that links Facebook’s “groups” of like-minded people, each of which is managed by one or more group administrators.
The groups vary in size from a single person to more than one million people. They have varying levels of activity from nothing to very active.
The new software-upgrade will automatically archive all groups. Once archived, each group’s past activity will be still be visible on Facebook, but the groups’ administrators will lose access to their lists of group members. That means the administrators lose contact with everyone in their groups, and will be forced to recruit all those members again – unless Facebook provides them with the special upgrade software.
With the upgrade, group-administrators can keep in contact with their original members, and get to use the upgraded software to help the group become more active.
That’s why the upgrade software is so important to Geller and other activists.
Geller’s “Stop Islamization of America” group has 15,062 members, but no upgrade-key, she said. If Facebook archives her group without allowing her to reach its members, she’ll have to rebuild the group from the scratch, one e-mail at a time, she said. “I can’t just sit down and write a message to 15,000 members,” she said. “Why not just give us the upgrade option?”
“The Coalition to Save Marriage in New York” is a group of 1,163 social-conservatives seeking to preserve traditional marriage’s role as an institution for parents and child-rearing. The group has been very active this year trying to derail a gay-marriage push in the state assembly, but the group doesn’t have the upgrade, said the group’s administrator, Jason McGuire in Rochester, N.Y. “Nobody else that I know got one,” he said. “You do have to wonder if Facebook is leaning towards liberal positions, instead of being on open format,” he said.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence got the upgrade for its 1,000-member group. “We changed over very smoothly,” said David Churchill, the network-manager at the D.C.-based gun-control group. “We just basically clicked the upgrade button, checked it over, and we have a tremendous increase in participation,” he said.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s “GLAAD open group” also got an upgrade for its 300 members. The group’s administrator did not respond to TheDC’s emails.
“Some groups will be given the opportunity to upgrade into the new design while others will need to re-create their groups,” said a statement from Andrew Noyes, the company’s manager for public policy communications.
The award of the upgrade-software is determined by the activity on each group, he said. “We determined what groups to archive based on a number of factors, including the amount of recent activity [and] we’re currently working on ways to refine our systems so as to not accidentally archive or move groups that were incorrectly characterized and we appreciate user feedback as we do so,” he said.
But that argument is unpersuasive, said Geller, because her group is large and active, yet still does not have the key that smaller groups have already received.
The activists’ worries about Facebook’s possible political tilt are fortified by the political activities of its founders and employees. The company’s employees donated heavily to the Obama campaign in 2008, just as did the employees of Google and Microsoft. Facebook-founder Chris Hughes workers as head of the online-organizing campaign for the Obama campaign, while company chief Mark Zuckerberg has declared himself to be an Obama supporter.
In the same election, Google‘s YouTube subsidiary also used its video-sorting technology to demote online-ads run by GOP candidate John McCain, even as Obama’s online-ads dominated YouTube’s display pages. Google’s website-ranking system is similarly opaque, fueling claims of political bias by pro-life groups and by groups that championed Hillary Clinton’s primary run in 2008.
The companies’ officials can also quietly provide valuable advice and favors for groups they personally support, or that can provide support to their company. For example, Noyes worked with gay-advocacy groups to add “domestic partnership” and “civil union” to Facebook’s option “status” description buttons, and also worked with federal officials to add notification-software to Facebook as part of a White House “anti-bullying” event in March.
Noyes also worked informally with gay activists to knock down Facebook pages they disliked. “We had a sort of informal relationship with GLAAD based around things people were seeing on Facebook that they believed needed to come down,” Noyes told Metro Weekly, according to a March 2011 article. “It was a very important, informal relationship that we had, because nine times out of 10, the content did violate our terms and we did take it down,” he said.
Read more: the rest.