When “Spam” Filters Go too Far

Richard O’Dwyer is computer programmer facing extradition to the U.S. but due to spam filters, his story might not be shared. In 2007, he created a website that linked to downloads for TV shows, and as a result, is facing extradition to the U.S. to face a possible 10 years in prison.

James Ball wrote a great article on the case for The Guardian, but shortly after posting it noticed that the Facebook share button the page was not allowing the article to be posted to Facebook. I was able to post the link directly but was able to confirm that the Facebook share was indeed blocking the link. The share button notes that the article contains the name of a link that has been blocked for being “spammy or unsafe.”

By blocking the text of an article from being shared Facebook is declaring that it is not permissible speak to discuss that this website exists, debate its legality, or the legitimacy of this case with in the space Facebook has define. Granted, it is still possible to copy and paste the link to the article but type of filtering can be prone to error and deserves scrutiny. A screen shot of the message is below.

This type of filtering on sharing news is troubling indeed and exclaims: “The first rule about censorship is we don’t talk about censorship.”

Update: Mike Masnick has a couple more examples of this over at Tech Dirt:

Update: Thanks to Public Knowledge’s Ernesto Falcon this mislabeling of links has happened before. The company responsible for monitoring for Spam is Websense.

Update: Jillian York noted in 2010 that Facebook was not letting pages with Palestine in the title be created. While not directly related in that it is not about sharing an article unrelated to Facebook it still represents how filters can and will result in censorship whether intended or not.

Update: After getting a head’s up I tried to share the link to the article again and it now works. 

Article blogged due to content

Edit: Fixed name of the programmer.

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