UK-based news aggregator NewsNow was left “astonished” after Facebook removed its page without any explanation or warning on Friday.
The page had 85,000 followers and NewsNow founder and chief executive Struan Bartlett told Press Gazette there was “no excuse” for Facebook not communicating over such a major decision.
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Facebook said on Tuesday afternoon it was working to restore the page after four days following questions from Press Gazette. It was back up by Wednesday afternoon.
A Facebook spokesperson said: “The page was removed in error… We’re in touch with NewsNow also to apologise.”
Publishers can spend many years building up followings on social media platforms which are crucial to their commercial success. Internal procedures governing the detail of site removal are shrouded in secrecy.
Facebook first suspended the page on 8 October, saying: “It looks like recent activity on your page doesn’t follow the Facebook page policies regarding impersonation and pretending to be an individual or business.”
Bartlett said this claim was “completely ridiculous – we’ve been around longer than Facebook has”.
NewsNow had appealed this decision twice but received no response from Facebook. The page was then fully removed without further warning on, or possibly before, Friday.
Bartlett initially had no communication and was forced to track down Facebook employees on LinkedIn on Monday in an attempt to rectify the situation.
Speaking on Monday, Bartlett said: “What some people have said to me might be going on is that Facebook’s doing a massive clean-up operation at the moment, their systems aren’t very good and all sorts of innocent parties are being caught up in a kind of housekeeping exercise that they’re doing, but it seems like their procedures aren’t very good at all given that they’re making mistakes as bad as this one.
“It’s possible that there were some comments on the page from our 85,000 people that they didn’t like but that’s not what they said when they unpublished the page.”
A clean-up operation may explain the recent surprising disappearance of other pages, such as a popular light-hearted group called “Drawing cocks on newspapers” which had 30,000 fans. Facebook did not confirm whether it was currently taking any such clean-up action.
Bartlett added that he had some sympathy for the social media giants, which are currently facing scrutiny of their moderation procedures over Trump’s incitement to violence after the Capitol riot as well as hate speech and misinformation, plus regulatory challenges looming including the Online Safety Bill in the UK and Australia’s plan to make them pay for news.
“They must be feeling really hassled at the moment… and it’s right they should be looking to clean up their act,” he said.
Today we were astonished to discover our @Facebook page, liked by 85,000 people, has been deleted without warning. We hope Facebook can help us resolve this issue promptly.
— NewsNow.co.uk (@NewsNowUK) January 15, 2021
“But they should be providing good communication, there’s no excuse for not communicating.
“We sometimes have to take strong action with publishers on NewsNow and when we do we normally go through a process of giving them warnings and notices and if we do have to take them off the platform telling them why and just that lack of communication and due process is really not nice for anyone.”
NewsNow, which launched in 1998, is a website that aggregates content from various publishers, offering its users a constantly updating feed of breaking news headlines from 22 countries and pooling content by category and trending topics.
It spans thousands of publications both big and small, national and regional and claims to receive 11m monthly unique users and drive 70m article views per month to publishers’ websites.
NewsNow previously used its Facebook page to post news stories it thought might be relevant to that audience, although it has used it less frequently since the platform’s algorithm changes demoting news meant posts no longer got the same traction.
“It was just an asset we were keeping warm… But nevertheless it was 85,000 followers, we didn’t plan on losing them and we would have liked to be able to talk to those people again when we need to,” Bartlett said.