A city in France has had a real week-long roller coaster after its Facebook page was accidentally removed for violating the site’s terms and conditions. Of course, the town of Bitche, France (in the Moselle department in north-east France) had done nothing in particular to break Facebook’s rules – it just sounded a lot like it did.
According to a report by Radio melody (through Politics), Bitche’s troubles first began on March 19, when the town’s official page – titled “City of Bitche, “ which translates to the perfectly normal “City of Bitche” – was suddenly deleted. Valérie Degouy, the city’s communications manager, tried to contact Facebook to appeal the decision, but couldn’t, eventually creating a new page entitled ‘Mairie 57230’, after Bitche’s zip code .
“I have tried in every way to contact Facebook, through various forms, but there is nothing [I could] do, ”said Degouy, explaining that she had already had similar issues with the social media company in 2016 when she created the page.
Following the viral coverage of the confusion, Facebook quickly restored the page on Tuesday, Tell CNN that it was ‘accidentally deleted’.
This kind of content moderation mix-up has been a problem on the Internet as long as spam and profanity filters have been around. It even has a name: the Scunthorpe problem, after a similar incident in 1996 where AOL censored the name of the British town of Scunthrope because of filters confused about an unintentional blasphemy in the name.
And while, yes, this is objectively funny, there are bigger implications here. Another city in the region – Rohrbach-lès-Bitche – has preemptively renamed its Facebook page to make sure it doesn’t accidentally end up in Facebook’s blasphemous filter. A Facebook page for communicating with residents and tourists is too important not to have by 2021, but Facebook’s broken content filters are forcing cities to change their digital identities just to stay online.
Cities are renaming themselves online to avoid deleting their Facebook pages. One day the entire world will be ruled by Facebook’s moderation standards.
(Redux from Scunthorpe issue: The town of Bitche hits a snag)https://t.co/kgObaNYteP
– evelyn douek (@evelyndouek) April 14, 2021
For its part, the city council seems to get the move going well. A statement posted by Benoît Kieffer, the Mayor of Bitche, on both the restored Facebook page and Bitche’s official website recognizes the difficulties of content moderation and points out the importance of using human moderators to distinguish between false positives (like Bitche) and more serious offenders.
Kieffer is asking Facebook to be more transparent and fair in the way it makes these decisions, in addition to inviting both the head of Facebook’s French company and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to visit Bitche himself.