You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Is Facebook's Blocking of Legal Content Illegal? Or Just Upsetting?

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, May 8 2009

Yet another reminder that if Facebook's enormous user base makes it sensible to see the site as a country, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg likes to say, then it's less like the United States or France than it is Qatar or Myanmar. Facebook is a private corporation, no matter how noble or idealistic its intentions. At the risk of being overly dramatic, a recent case makes the point that we users of the free service are subjects, not citizens in any real sense of the word. Wired's Ryan Singel is following the story of how Facebook has been blocking messages sent through the site that include links to the Pirate Bay BitTorrent service, whose operators have been in the new recently because they were just sentenced to prison in Sweden for facilitating the violation of copyright infringement.

But here's the latest wrinkle that's making Facebook look not so stellar: they're blocking torrent links, reports Singel, to perfectly legal content, like the 400-year old Don Quixote, now in the public domain.

Singel's concerned that Facebook may be violating federal wiretapping law if it's peering inside the notes its users send to one another (instead of simply applying a dumb filter). But unless new details emerge, it seems likely that Facebook is not breaking any law at all, and that they're well within the range of stuff a private corporation can do -- a cautionary note for those of you who use Facebook for political organizing or sensitive advocacy work.