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Facebook Accused of Censoring Hundreds of Prisoners by Purging Profile Pages Without Cause

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In a recent article for The Daily Beast, “Facebook Now a Place for Prisoners, Too,” Sarah Shourd looked at the growing debate on prisoners using social media. Facebook has been accused of being too willing to delete profile pages of prisoners at the request of U.S. authorities. The company recently changed its policy after complaints from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups.

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AMY GOODMAN: Finally, this is on a completely different issue, but you also happen to be a columnist at The Daily Beast, and you wrote a very interesting piece about Facebook and prisoners, and prisons telling Facebook they want prisoners’ pages taken down. Can you explain what’s going on?

SARAH SHOURD: Yeah. Well, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU partnered up, and they did a lot of investigating. They FOIAd Facebook to see why Facebook was taking down inmate pages. And what they found is that Facebook was taking these pages down, just no questions asked. If a prisoner administration said, “This is a prisoner. Take this page down,” they would just do it. And it’s not against Facebook’s policy for a prisoner to have a page. So, really, they were doing—a private company was doing a prison’s bidding. And oftentimes it was actually helping the prison administrators find who had contraband cellphones, so it was really doing the prison’s work for them. They’ve since, under this pressure from EFF and the ACLU, changed their policy so that they do push back and ask, “Why is this prisoner a risk? Who are they a danger to? Are they harassing someone? What Facebook rules are they actually breaking?”

And EFF, importantly, pointed out that this is an issue of censorship, because it’s taking down Facebook pages of prisoners and all of their content—and, of course, not just prisoners, but also free citizens that have commented on these pages. And I think that in a time where we are questioning how to reduce our system of mass incarceration, this is a really important piece to look at, because we don’t just need to let people out, as important as that is, low-level—not just low-level offenders, but violent offenders that have been in far too long, but we need to talk about how to help them stay out and reduce recidivism. And when prisoners have—all of their ties to their families have been severed, when they get out, they have far less chance of success of getting a job, getting an apartment. They have no security net. And that’s why many prisoners go back to crime and end up back in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Shourd, I want to thank you for being with us, journalist, playwright, University of California, Berkeley, visiting scholar. She spent 410 days in solitary confinement while held as a political hostage by the Iranian government from 2009 to '10. Since her release from prison five years ago, Sarah Shourd's work has focused largely on exposing and condemning the cruelty and overuse of solitary confinement in the United States.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Guatemala City. Will the Guatemalan government fall? Will the Guatemalan president resign? Stay with us.

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