Is Facebook Really Censoring Search When It Suits Them?

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Earlier this month I wrote a blog post showing that a search for presidential candidate “Ron Paul” in Facebook Groups yields zero results. Facebook blamed the problem on a bug (unofficially, via comments by employees to that post), which was later corrected.

But a new issue may be harder to explain. On Tuesday, scores of mainstream press organizations (see WSJ, NYT, LATimes, CNET, AP, etc.). and bloggers reported on a privacy issue around part of Facebook’s new advertising platform.

MoveOn.org was leading the charge, and created a petition to demand Facebook not disclose personal information about a user without their explicit consent.

But now a side story is developing around the issue that relates to search censoring, again, at Facebook. Naturally all the press on the issue led people to go to Facebook to find the group MoveOn set up to organize their opposition to Facebook’s current privacy policy on this issue.

The group, which now has over 12,000 members, could not be located via search. Yesterday a search in Facebook Groups for “Privacy” began to return an error message saying “search is currently unavailable” (see image to right). But at the same time, searches for any other term yielded normal results.

Later search began working again, but the MoveOn Group was not included in the results even though it clearly had the term “privacy” in the title. A filtered search yielded seventeen results, but only sixteen could be viewed. The MoveOn group was likely the seventeenth, unseen result. See bottom image below.

MoveOn contacted Facebook to complain, and the search is now working. Facebook has not responded to a request for comment sent yesterday on why this may have happened, although we are in the middle of the Thanksgiving holiday.

MoveOn’s Adam Green, who alerted us of the issue, had this to say:

Facebook has the potential to revolutionize how we communicate with each other and organize around issues together in a 21st century democracy. But to succeed, they need the trust of their users. That trust will be undercut if they continue to put the wish lists of corporate advertisers ahead of the privacy interests of their users. It would also be undercut if it turned out our group was intentionally hidden from Facebook users — as opposed to it being an accident.

We’ll see if Facebook responds at all, and if they blame this on a bug as well.

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