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Report: Facebook threatens to ban Gawker's Denton

After digital-media maven posted copious screenshots of Facebook profile on Gawker, blog reports that social-networking site is ready to crack down on such violations.

This post was updated at 9:11 a.m. PST with comment from Nick Denton.

Facebook isn't too happy with Gawker Media founder Nick Denton over some screenshots of a member's profile that he posted on Gawker.com on Tuesday, Portfolio.com reports. The social-networking site reportedly plans to send a warning letter to the New York-based digital-media entrepreneur citing several terms-of-service violations--one more, and he's out.

Facebook representatives were not immediately available for comment.

On Tuesday, Denton--who took over as managing editor of Gawker.com this month after several staff departures--posted a bit of an expose on 25-year-old Emily Brill, daughter of New York publishing figure Steve Brill. Screenshots of the younger Brill's Facebook profile, featuring glamorous photos of a yachting trip to the British Virgin Islands, as well as excited "status" messages about an impending trip to the Caribbean luxury getaway of St. Barth's, were juxtaposed with an older photograph of the Brown graduate when she was significantly heavier.

It was just plain mean--meaner than the time when Slate revealed via Facebook screenshots that Rudy Giuliani's daughter was a Barack Obama fan--but that's Gawker's style, and that's what made the media gossip blog rise to fame.

Facebook, however, considers it a violation of the site's terms of use, and according to the Portfolio.com blog post, the social network is prepared to give Denton's account the axe.

Facebook's terms of use stipulate that members "may not upload or republish site content on any Internet, intranet or extranet site or incorporate the information in any other database or compilation."

It's not clear whether Denton and Brill are "friends" on the site, or if it was even Denton (rather than a source or another Gawker Media employee) who pulled the screenshots from Facebook. But both Denton and Brill are members of the New York regional network, so there is a chance that Denton would have been able to view Brill's profile even without being connected as friends.

Perhaps due to the Gawker incident, Emily Brill's Facebook profile is no longer publicly searchable. It's a pertinent lesson: without privacy controls in place, you never know who might come across your photos and personal information. Those "regional" networks are big, and they allow anyone to join; and there are, as we've seen, plenty of people on the Web who are willing to circumvent terms of service.

Facebook is notoriously protective of its user data; profiles are only visible to logged-in members who belong to common "networks" or have approved friend requests. For various reasons, accounts are likely banned all the time, but it's been only recently that we've seen some extremely high-profile Web personalities feeling the heat.

Earlier this month, blogger Robert Scoble's account was temporarily banned when he used a test script from contact management site Plaxo in an attempt to transport his Facebook contacts' information to his Plaxo account.

(Other community sites have also been known to take terms of service extremely seriously; Wikipedia banned comedian Stephen Colbert when the Comedy Central host pranked the site and crashed its servers.)

For the notoriously unapologetic Gawker Media, having just brushed off the dust from last week's Gizmodo video incident at the Consumer Electronics Show, this will probably just be a bump in the road--and the site's livelihood certainly doesn't depend on Facebook screenshots. The company emerged unscathed from an incident last year in which YouTube banned a Gawker-affiliated account because it had been uploading copyrighted content interspersed with Gawker ads.

But the Denton incident does raise legitimate questions for bloggers and journalists; the Gawker founder indeed went too far by posting semiprivate profile data from someone who was otherwise not a public figure, but can information found behind Facebook's login wall be used as legitimate source material? It's a debate waiting to ignite, but if Facebook has anything to say about it, user information will stay behind closed doors.

In an instant-message conversation on Wednesday, Denton passed the Portfolio blog post off as fueled by personal beef. The writer of the original story, Denton said, was "trying to get his retaliation in first, because we're working on a story about him."

(Yeah, everything they told you about New York media? It's pretty much true.)