Facebook Activism in the New Arab Public Sphere

This is an interesting article found on the Risk of Facebook Activism in the New Arab Public Sphere by Jillian C. York:

Over at The Arabist, Issandr El Amrani ruminates on Facebook’s role in Middle Eastern politics, a subject I’ve had my eye on for quite some time.  Drawing on the recent example of Egyptian reformer El Baradei and his enormous Facebook following, El Amrani marvels at the level of Facebook use for activism in the region.

He’s definitely right–from Morocco and Tunisia, where Facebook has become a tool to support threatened bloggers to Syria, where the government blocks the site, allegedly because of its organizing properties, Facebook is being used for political purposes.  As for the region’s Facebook use, the numbers speak for themselves: According to one site, Morocco, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia all boast over 1 million users, and Egypt has over 2 million, among the developing world’s largest markets (for comparison, China has just over 50,000 users; Brazil 2 million; and India about 4 million).

The downfall, of course, is Facebook itself, which has garnered a reputation for selectively enforcing its own TOS (see my latest Advox piece, “Facebook Removes Moroccan Secularist Group and its Founder,” from which this piece borrows a few thoughts).

Although the site’s terms of service (TOS) ban everything from nudity, to speech deemed hateful, to using a pseudonym to open an account, they are selectively enforced. In mid-2009 Facebook officials stated that they would not delete Holocaust denial groups outright despite pressure from Jewish groups, but only a few months earlier deleted accounts of users who posted photographs of themselves breastfeeding their babies. Other groups that have been allowed to remain include a pro-rape group called “Define Statutory,” left up for two months despite numerous calls for its removal. A quick search on Facebook uncovers numerous groups undoubtedly in violation of the TOS: There’s one called “I Hate Those Jews and Mindless Sluttt Bags, But Mainly Jews,” with 249 members; another called “Fuck Islam” boasts nearly 2,000 members.

In fact, a number of Facebook groups advocating for violence have been allowed to remain…there’s Kill all terrorists!!!, kill aLL pedOphILES, kill all the damn bastards….that hurt animals!!!!, who ever kills a cop should die, and so on.  There are numerous groups advocating for the bombing of Iran, though I imagine that a similar group calling for the bombing of, well, almost any other country, would be rapidly deleted.  In other words, Facebook selectively applies their TOS to what’s popular and politically correct at any given time.

The TOS appear only to be enforced when enough users report a group as inappropriate, and once a group is removed, its creators often find it impossible to get it back. Users whose personal accounts are removed sometimes create a new account, only to find it deleted again soon afterward.

As I mentioned on Advox, Moroccan activist Kacem El Ghazzali recently found that his own account had been deleted, only two days after complaining to Facebook about the removal of a group he had created which advocated for the separation of religion and education in the Arab world.  El Ghazzali reported having received emails from Muslims opposing the group shortly before it was taken down.  I personally wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook was responding to Moroccan government pressure; two years ago, when Fouad Mourtada was arrested for creating a fake profile of Moroccan Prince Moulay Rachid, many speculated that Facebook had turned his information over to the government (Facebook neither confirmed nor denied the accusation).

To me, this incident is foreboding, and sets a frightening tone for the numerous activists across the region who use Facebook to organize protests and political groups.  Activists in the Arab world often face multiple risks: Not just the deletion of their Facebook group or profile, but the risk of having one’s information turned over to their local authorities, who might consider their online statements criminal.  And this is all assuming Facebook isn’t blocked by their own government already.

And yet, I shouldn’t be surprised.  In early 2009, during Israel’s attacks on Gaza, many activists reported that news articles and photos had gone missing from their Facebook walls.  Others were prohibited from posting articles to their own walls if too many users had deemed the article inappropriate (see inane example below).

It would appear Facebook fancies itself a democracy: users report things they deem offensive, and when enough do so, the Facebook leaders listen and remove it.  And yet, offensiveness is quite clearly in the eye of the beholder (see my post on hate speech).  The above image shows the error message I was met with when attempting to post a piece by Boston Globe columnist and grammarian Jan Freeman.  The post was about the word “fuck,” yet never mentioned it by name, instead substituting in “the f-word.”  Somewhere, someone (or likely, several someones) found that offensive and reported it, thus making it impossible for me to share it with my friends on Facebook (fun fact: if you use a URL shortener, you can get around the ban).

My friend and colleague Ethan Zuckerman has written about social media as the new public sphere in the context of free speech, saying “If we adopt the public sphere approach, we want to open any technologies that allow public communication and debate – blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and virtually anything else that fits under the banner of Web 2.0.”

Facebook undoubtedly fits into that category, thus what it comes down to is this: If Facebook desires to be at the forefront of said public sphere, it needs to adopt a set of principles that will allow people to use it without fear of deletion, or of having their information turned over to authorities.  If it doesn’t, then my recommendation to activists using Facebook would be to take their business–and their safety, security, and privacy–elsewhere.


The Risk of Facebook Activism in the New Arab Public Sphere


Indentity Theft!

Identity theft:  Facebook applications and games assert access to your profile and a malicious app could compile enough information to steal your identity or masquerade as your business online.

Here is a report :

Facebook Users Risk Blackmail, Canada Privacy Chief Tells Globe

By Joe Schneider

Facebook , the world’s most popular social networking Web site, may leave users open to becoming victims of blackmail by reducing the protection of personal information, the Globe and Mail reported, citing Canada’s top privacy official.

The change “opens the possibility that a lot of people can be blackmailed,” Jennifer Stoddardt, Canada’s privacy commissioner, told the Toronto-based newspaper. The company is moving in the “opposite direction” of what it promised last year when it agreed to improve the way personal information is collected and used, Stoddardt said.

Closely held Facebook is allowing third-party developers who design games and other Facebook applications to store user data indefinitely, rather than having to delete the data after 24 hours, as they were required to do earlier.

Facebook had agreed to install better safeguards by the end of July. Canadian regulators don’t plan to take any steps until the deadline expires, the Globe said.

Facebook representatives said privacy concerns are always at the forefront of any new product development, the Globe said citing an e-mail from the representatives, who weren’t identified.

From here we can see that facebook already becomes into a hard situation when it faces its security problem.  So the insecurity caused by Facebook may treat to personal safety either online or in real life. Furthermore, it may increase social risks while people begin participating in minority groups.   And there are a lot people would like to share their information and photos, so they do not pay enough attention to the risk between self-disclosure and treats from others. When people get the personal information from your facebook, they may use your personal information to threat you or deal with something else illegal.

There are two levels of information:

1.personal identity information: gender, age and photos

2.sensitive personal information: email, phone number, job, employer, school, status, feed updates, wall messages, personal photos /photo albums(including tagged photos) , friends list ( access to friends’ information) , religion, political views, sexual preference, and relationship status, activities .

Facebook launched its widely popular application developer program back in May 2007. As of press time, there were more than 14,000 applications. Some, including most of the popular apps, are made by companies, while a few of the popular apps, and a significant number of the long tail of the less popular applications are made by individual developers.But a new study suggests there may be a bigger problem with the applications. Many are given access to far more personal data than they need to in order to run, including data on users who never even signed up for the application. Not only does Facebook enable this, but it does little to warn users that it is even happening, and of the risk that a rogue application developer can pose.

Thoughts on: Peter Chao

This is the Page of a famous v-blogger called Peter Chao. He is a Chinese living in Vancouver. He started his first v-blogger in 2009 and uploaded on Youtube. His Youtube’s page called pyrobooby’s Channel, and it has been the second most subscribed in Youtube. Until now, his Facebook Page has 167,888 people like this and he is very famous on the Internet. He is keeping update his recent life such as his video link, event attending, competition joining etc… On the other hand, there are many his fans leave their feedbacks of his video and supporting on his Fcaebook’s Page.

Recently, he has post a video that is a promoting video about his products.

And it is hundreds people like this within few hours and people comment to support him. It is a successful Page for promoting himself and his product, because there are so much feedbacks and he is keeping engage with his fans.


Neilsen Scan Data

The number of Australians accessing social media sites has also continued to grow in the past year, with unique audience for Australia’s most popular social media site, Facebook, surpassing eight million for the first time in August 2009. Twitter was the other major success story for the category, up 979 percent to 1.5 million in August 2009.
“Social media was always going to be a success story, but the extent of that success has caught many people by surprise,” observes Melanie Ingrey, Director, Market Research, Nielsen. “To see a category double its time online numbers in a year, off what was already a considerable base, is truly phenomenal and the mind boggles at where we can go from here.”

– Nielsen Scan Media Release October 2009

This table provides a picture of the reach that the top 50 websites visited in Australia has. In this table you will see that Facebook is within the top 5 Australian websites and although Facebook is not number 1 it is evident that it has the higher percentage of change in Unique Audience.


Chart from Nielsen Netview

Table from Nielsen NetView panel data, July 2009 vs June 2009

Access to Private Information!

Easy access to your private information.  Facebook   allows  you  to  enter sensitive  information  which  you  might  not  realize  how  easy  it is for an outsider to obtain it.

Nowadays, facebook already became a very popular communication tool, however facebook still has its shortages when it is used a business tool which we should be aware of.

The first one is that facebook actually offer people an easy access to view others’ private information. Facebook allows people to view others profile, pictures and messages from other people. And sometimes facebook users are unaware of the dangers of the internet and issues such as hacking. When facebook users share  some details of their lives on facebook, like where they are at, within a  particular time,  it is like giving out the details of  their location, (or maybe with phone numbers when u told someone on the wall of  facebook, and black berry pins something like that.) And also maybe you will have some random friends who you do not actually know on facebook to view those information.

An article in the Times dated 03rd March 2009, stated that Facebook users are at risk as hackers target the site and further noted that users were at risk from malicious hackers targeting the site, as thieves try to capitalize on the trust users place on the service. This can be potentially damaging based on what information you have stored on your ‘About me page’ or information shared with friends via private messages etc. You should try and refrain from sharing sensitive information such as bank account information and private passwords etc.

as  IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson writes:

  • I do not get Facebook as a business tool. Oh sure, Facebook is great for keeping up with my friends’ reading habits or musical tastes without actually talking to them. But even when I’ve tried to use Facebook for more professional pursuits, it fell flat. In particular, I don’t get “the Wall.” How are you supposed to use it? It’s not really good at anything: Blogs are better for posting personal updates; e-mail, IM and discussion groups are all better for conversation and comments. To me, the Wall is like a pencil without a lead – pointless.

Facebook has fixed the issue. Barry Schnitt, Policy Communications at Facebook, writes:

We originally included IP address information in these email headers as part of industry best practices designed to improve spam filters. This is similar to what many webmail providers do. However, we agree this practice no longer makes sense for Facebook and we’ve discontinued it. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Matt C. at Binary Intelligence Blog explains that Facebook’s automated email notifications appear to contain the IP address of the user(1).

This may not be the most dangerous of Facebook’s privacy problems, and it’s certainly not the only one.


(1) Xeni Jardin , Yet another Facebook privacy risk: emails Facebook sends leak user IP address      from http://boingboing.net/2010/05/07/yet-another-privacy.html

Case Study: Tattoo Pride for Tattoo Artistry (Singapore)


The first annual Singapore Tattoo Show is an event endorsed and supported by the Singapore Tourism Board and included Miami Ink’s Chris Garver as the event’s ambassador. The primary aim for this event was to gather at least 5,000 attendees to the one place where 120 tattoo artists and exhibitors would display their talents as well as their funky fresh designs while DJ Shawn Lee MC’ed and played music. Traditionally, an event of this size and proportion organising the show would start by sending out postal mail and emails through the mailing list created via their website.

Connect and engage

“Engaging community involvement is not so easily achieved in more traditional marketing methods.”

–          Andrew Peters

As this is a brand new show organisers needed new and innovative methods to promote on social media networks. According to Andrew Peters, Asia-Pacific Regional Director of the Pacific West Communications, marketing the event into social media via Facebook was a method that was imperative and untested. Peters helped set up a Facebook group called “Tattoo Artistry” three months before of the show; creating a virtual meeting place prior to the actual event. By creating the group under the title of “Tattoo Artistry” instead of “The Singapore Tattoo Show” was a tactic Peters implemented in order to reach globally, build momentum and also exist beyond the event’s first year.

After generating the group Peters noticed that members were joining vastly on a daily basis and the level of engagement between tattoo enthusiasts was extraordinary; photos of tattoos were being posted up and conversations started to flourish. By breathing the life into the group the Singapore Tattoo Show consequently saw over 15,000 attendees, three times the event’s expected number. To this day ‘Tattoo Artistry’ is the largest social network of the Asian tattoo industry. Peter states, “Social media like Facebook offer immediacy, freedom to be who you are, the opportunity to meet others who are similar, and to have a place to fit in. Event organisers must see beyond their immediate need to put ‘bums on seats’ for the next event and instead engage people to build support and loyalty over many years.”


Scott, D. M. (2010). In The New Rules of Marketing and Pr: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly. John Wiley & Sons Inc. p.40-41

Case Study: Dessert Gallery (USA)


This first time ever research study was conducted on Dessert Gallery, a Houston-based bakery and café chain that had no Facebook presence prior to the study. The research was conducted by Utpal Dholakia and Emily Durham of the Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business and it was published in the Harvard Business Review. Dholakia and Durham surveyed customers of Dessert Gallery (DG) and based on surveys of more than 1,700 respondents over a three-month period. They began by e-mailing surveys to over 13,000 customers from DG’s mailing list to collate store evaluations and data on shopping behaviour but only 689 people responded. Later, Dholakia and Durham created a Facebook page for DG and invited everyone on the mailing list to become a Fan. DG were not shy in socialising, they updated its page several times a week with pictures of goodies, news about contests and promotions, links to favourable reviews, and even introductions to DG employees. Three months later, Dholakia and Durham resurveyed customers, this time receiving 1,067 responses from DG’s Facebook Fans, Facebook users who did not become Fans, and customers not on Facebook. Dholakia and Durham analysed the data sets separately and then compared participants in the first survey with those in the second who had become DG fans. The key findings are as follows:

  • Made 36% more visits to DG’s stores each month
  • Spent 45% more of their eating-out dollars at DG
  • Spent 33% more at DG’s stores
  • Had 14% higher emotional attachment to the DG brand
  • Had 41% greater psychological loyalty toward DG

In addition to these statistics DG’s Facebook Fans also generated more word-of-mouth marketing than non-Facebook Fans. But although these are great statistics 5 percent of the company’s 13,000 customers became Facebook Fans within the three month period.


“The owner’s name is Jennifer, so we would give cookies or cakes to anyone named Jennifer; just some ways to engage people.”

–          Utpal Dholakia, associate professor of marketing at Rice University

Visiting the Page today there are currently 810 Fans and interactivity almost on a daily basis. The main method in which Dessert Gallery engaged with their Facebook Fans on their Page was by posting up photos of the yummy cakes and desserts they have created for special events and holiday; sparking a string of conversation between company and customer. Therefore, although DG is a small town company with just a couple of stores utilising Facebook is still useful to gage the devotion of their customers. Dholakia sums up the research study by stating that Facebook marketing programs may be especially effective for iconic brands, which appear to attract a higher percentage of their customer base as Facebook Fans.

“Cautious optimism seems wise at this point. Companies should see what Facebook can do for them but use it as just one niche tool.”

–          Utpal Dholakia, associate professor of marketing at Rice University


Dessert Gallery Facebook Page

Calderón, S.I. (2010) Inside Facebook. “Rice University Study Shows How Facebook Pages Can Help Local Businesses”

Dholakia, U M. and Durham E. (2010) Harvard Business Review: “One Café Chain’s Facebook Experiment March 2010”

Quenqua, D. (2010) ClickZ. Rice University Study: Small Biz Rewarded by Facebook Fans”

Ruth, D. (2010) Rice University. “First-of-its-kind research: Facebook fan pages are effective marketing tool”