The Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet tried to create a Facebook page for itself this weekend. Only, it wasn't able to do so—because Facebook won't let users create pages with the word "Palestinian" in the title.
Rex Brynen of the Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet went up against the same difficult-to-comprehend automated Facebook processes that got a Sarah Palin note taken down last week when he tried to create a page for the PRRN:
After contacting customer service and getting an automated reply, Brynen comes the conclusion that the only guideline his page name comes afoul of is that titles must "Not contain terms or phrases that may be abusive"—and the only term or phrase that gets consistently shot down is "Palestinian."
We tried too, and came up against the same problem. But here's the weird part: The words "Palestine" and "Palestinians" both make it through Facebook's filters with no problem, and "Palestinian" is fine for Facebook group titles. So it's not that Facebook is deliberately partaking in some worldwide anti-Palestinian conspiracy; rather, it appears that their automation process has decided to block the word "Palestinian"—and only the word "Palestinian"—from page titles—and only page titles.
This isn't the first time that Facebook's automated content-blocking has run them afoul of activists in the Israel-Palestine conflict. As Owen Thomas reported in 2009, overzealous users and overworked content monitors have led to "mysterious deletions" of seemingly innocuous content relating to the crisis. And that's not even mentioning Facebook's very spotty record with respect to censoring content and "squelching dissent."
Zuckerberg has said he thinks Facebook is an important tool in developing empathy and trust across cultural divides in the Middle East—but it'll be hard for the site to do that if it's arbitrarily—albeit innocuously—preventing words like "Palestinian" from being used.