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Facebook seems to have burned Bernie, but that's not really what happened

The #BernieBlackout hashtag was born when some Bernie Sanders-related Facebook pages were inaccessible. But it wasn't just about politics -- and it's happened before.

The presidential campaign is getting particularly nasty.
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

What do you do when you come across the Facebook page for a presidential candidate you don't like?

In the case of a person calling himself Casey Champagne, the answer was to find a way to shut it down.

That's what seems to have happened Monday, when Champagne published screenshots that allegedly show he got Facebook to take down pages run by a Bernie Sanders-focused group after saying those pages contained a "credible threat of violence" against presidential rival Hillary Clinton. Champagne touted his success on a Facebook group called "BROS 4 HILLARY - #GiveEmHill."

Champagne's efforts seemed to have worked not because there were credible threats, but because Facebook's automated system for handling reports of misuse of the site wasn't working right. In fact, because of the glitch, the social network inadvertently shut down pages affecting many more groups than just political supporters.

A Facebook spokesman said Tuesday the problem was corrected "within hours."

That hasn't stopped critics from piling on. Bernie Sanders' supporters have cried foul, focusing attention on the Bros 4 Hillary group and saying it typified bad political behavior that's been pervasive in this presidential campaign season. They're even using a hashtag: #BernieBlackout.

"This was not promoted or supported by the leadership of B4H, nor were we immediately aware of this conduct," wrote Alex Mohajer, a spokesman for the group. He said Bros 4 Hillary is focused primarily on get-out-the-vote efforts. "This member acted on his own authority, is not a part of our leadership team, and does not represent our ideals or our opinions."

In a separate statement, Mohajer said he'd never met Champagne before the incident, and that he appears to be the only member involved in the reports to Facebook. Bros 4 Hillary has also issued guidelines on appropriate behavior. "We generally don't have these kinds of issues and don't expect to in the future," he said.

This sort of thing seems to happen a lot on Facebook, though there's no specific data available from the company. The social network, which says more than a billion people use its service each day, has teams set up around the world to respond to threatening and offensive behavior on its service.

But they're human. Two years ago Facebook got caught up in a debate about whether the social network's users, including transgendered people, drag queens and victims of domestic abuse, should be required to publish their real names for the world to see and find. Activists used Facebook's reporting tools to encourage the company to shut down accounts of gay activists who used stage names and pseudonyms. Facebook later apologized and promised to change its processes.

For fans of any presidential candidate, the takeaway is don't expect this to be the last time someone abuses Facebook's tools to push a political agenda.