Steve October 8, 2020
facebook’s-anti-trademark-bot-torpedoes.org-website-that-just-so-happened-to-criticize-zuck’s-sucky-ethics-board

The website of the Real Facebook Oversight Board (RFOB), a critical advocacy group set up as a riposte to the social network’s inaction on that front, has been taken down because its hosting company believes it’s a phishing operation.

It was not immediately clear how that determination was made, but a Facebook spokesperson suggested both the removal of the RFOB’s .org site and the recent removal of its .com site, due to a trademark complaint, followed from the findings of a bot from a Facebook-contracted brand protection company.

Facebook often torpedoes sites that have domain names that feature the word “facebook” or similar, typically to shut down copycats or sites that try to pretend to be real Facebook pages and phish people for their login details. It’s also rather handy for knocking critics off the web.

The Real Facebook Oversight Board was set up last month out of concern that the Oversight Board (OB) – created by Facebook to enforce the ostensible community standards that the ad biz has been unable or unwilling to enforce on its own – will be ineffective at stemming the tide of divisive content flowing from the social network.

The group says that OB still isn’t operational and has limited powers to police Facebook content. With the US election approaching and democratic norms at stake, the RFOB aims to pressure Facebook to take more responsibility to root out misinformation and political influence operations.

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But for the time being, it will have to do so from a different website, the-citizens.com/real-facebook-oversight/.

Carol Cadwalladr, a journalist known for her coverage of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal and one of the founders of the group, received a takedown notice from SupportNation, a contract support service working with the ISP that hosts the RFOB domain, realfacebookoversight.org.

SupportNation is a subsidiary of Endurance International Group, which also owns multiple internet service providers. The .org site is registered through PublicDomainRegistry.com, which provides white-label domain registration services, so it’s not immediately clear which Endurance-owned ISP is responsible for the .org site. Neither SupportNation nor Endurance immediately responded to requests for comment.

In any event, the message Cadwalladr received cites a complaint that the .org site “is involved in phishing” because it includes the word “facebook” in its domain name. Cadwalladr received a separate takedown notice for the RFOB’s similar WordPress.com-hosted domain, realfacebookoversight.com, based on a Facebook trademark claim.

A WordPress spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Wednesday, Cadwalladr appealed to the court of social media by pointing out the irony of takedown notices from a company that has positioned itself as a defender of free speech.

Because nothing says ‘free speech’ quite as much as a multi-billion dollar corporation with a global monopoly getting its critics shut down & booted off the internet pic.twitter.com/wwj8ctGZgP

— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) October 7, 2020

The .org site remains suspended. And the .com site is “parked” at wordpress.com.

Via Twitter, Facebook policy communications manager Andy Stone appears to suggest the takedown was the result of a patrol bot that crawls the internet looking for potentially deceptive website names that make reference to Facebook.

Your fake thing that accuses us of fake things was caught in our thing to prevent fake things.

— Andy Stone (@andymstone) October 8, 2020

Facebook confirmed that this was the case in an email to The Register on Thursday: “This was flagged by our domain protection vendor because the website includes ‘Facebook’ in the domain,” a spokesperson said, acknowledging that automated scanning was involved.

Stone subsequently said as much via Twitter.

Facebook, like other companies, would prefer not to see critical use of its name in domains. For example, the company has registered facebook.sucks and has the URL redirect to facebook.com.

Politicians advertising on Facebook, however, can still say more or less what they want, at least up until the upcoming US election next month. Political ads will be banned after the polls close for a week or more – just in the nick of time, eh? ®

Correction: This story originally identified MarkMonitor as the brand-protection company responsible for the domain takedowns. Facebook says a different vendor was involved. We are happy to clarify this point.

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