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Facebook at 10: Over the Hill in the US, Growing Pains Abroad

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, February 4 2014

Happy birthday, Facebook! (Puschinka/Wikipedia)

Today is the 10th anniversary of The Facebook. At the start of the new year, it boasted 1.23 billion users worldwide. While we in the United States fret over Facebook's alleged identity crisis or whether or not it is “over the hill” or happily middled aged, in other parts of the world Facebook is an essential platform for mobilization and activism and even, in many places, a gateway to the world wide web (if not the Internet in its entirety).

In honor of Facebook's birthday, techPresident presents a round up of Facebook news from around the world.

Facebook the Spy
In India, a security firm is warning Android-owners that Facebook now wants access to users' text messages and multimedia messages as well as calendar events. The permissions are included in the most recent update to Facebook for Android. Facebook says this will allow “us to confirm your phone number automatically [when using two step verification] by finding the confirmation code that we send via text message” and to “show your calendar availability (based on your phone's calendar when you're viewing an event on Facebook).” The security firm has since retreated from their initial accusations, saying “they are not holding Facebook responsible for this in any manner & are only commenting on the news that has already been published."

Facebook the Disappearing Online Oasis
Facebook recently closed dozens of Syrian opposition pages, a blow to activists and dissidents who relied on Facebook as a platform for communication and citizen reporting. “Facebook was one of the first refuges for Syria’s dissidents,” The Atlantic reports, “and now it has become one of their last.” Facebook has been used as both tool and weapon by both sides of the Syrian conflict.

Facebook the Censorship Target
An anti-terrorism draft law in Egypt includes provisions that sites which instigate terrorism could be censored. As a popular tool used by dissidents, Facebook falls within that purview. In other countries it has been banned outright. The Index on Censorship compiled a list of 10 countries where Facebook is or has been banned (or, in the case of North Korea, can't be accessed there is no Internet access at all). Facebook continues to be banned in Iran (since 2009) and everywhere in China except in the 17-square-mile free-trade zone in Shanghai.

Facebook the Megaphone
Much has been made recently of digital diplomacy, but as much (or more) damage as good can be done on social media platforms. Take, for example, two U.S. diplomats, also husband and wife, in India who have strained relations between the two countries by posting offensive and derogatory comments on Facebook. Time reports that the husband, Wayne May, jokingly said his dog was better nourished than his Indian gardener because he ate more protein. The wife, Alicia Muller, has also written about the rape culture in India: “It’s the vegetarians that are doing the raping, not the meat eaters — this place is just so bizarre.”

This is not to say that Facebook hasn't made new diplomatic paths possible. See:

On that note: Happy birthday, Facebook!

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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