Facebook investigating removal of Sarah Palin post

Former Alaska governor writes forceful post against building of mosque near site of the September 11 attacks. Some try to flag it as violation of terms of service.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
Sarah Palin Alaska governor's office

A controversial, religiously charged post on conservative political figurehead Sarah Palin's official Facebook page has disappeared--and a grassroots campaign to have it pulled from the social network may be responsible.

Palin, the former governor of Alaska and a possible contender for a 2012 presidential nomination, used her Facebook page as the outlet for a "note" in which she came out forcefully against plans for a mosque to be built in New York just a few blocks away from the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which were carried out by Muslim extremists. "To build a mosque at Ground Zero is a stab in the heart of the families of the innocent victims of those horrific attacks," read the note, which was called "An Intolerable Mistake on Hallowed Ground."

This gets complicated because a campaign had been orchestrated among some online Palin dissidents to flag the post as violating Facebook's terms of service, claiming that it counted as racism or hate speech. When the Palin post disappeared, it was unclear whether it had been removed by one of Palin's representatives or whether the grassroots effort had proven successful. Then the note was reposted on Thursday morning, explaining that it had been "unintentionally deleted by mistake or technical glitch."

Facebook, which just announced this week that it has 500 million active users around the world, says that a large number of reports from users that the note may have been in violation of its terms of service could have led to the note's automated removal.

"We're investigating this incident to determine whether the content in question was removed by an automated system as a result of user reports that it violated our terms," Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes told politics hub Politico. "We want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views while respecting the rights and feelings of others. The goal of our policies is to strike a very delicate balance between giving people the freedom to express their opinions and viewpoints--even those that may be controversial to some--and maintaining a safe and trusted environment."

In the past, Facebook has said that it will remove groups, pages, and commentary that explicitly convey hatred or threats, like an "I Hate Muslims" group that was banned last month. It's had difficulty dealing with other issues, like Holocaust denial, a topic that a company representative called "repulsive and ignorant" but not always in violation of the Facebook terms of service.