Facebook summarily pulls Roger Ebert's page

Roger Ebert tweeted an image this morning of a takedown message he received from Facebook, adding, "Facebook has removed my page in response, apparently, to malicious complaints from one or two jerks."

In a follow-up tweet, the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic and prolific blogger noted, "Facebook! My page is harmless and an asset to you. Why did you remove it in response to anonymous jerks? Makes you look bad."

A check of Ebert's Facebook page just before 9am suggested the company quickly restored it.

The removal came after Ebert tweeted the following in response to news that Jackass star Ryan Dunn had been killed in a car crash:

"Friends don't let jackasses drink and drive."

Ebert's tweet quickly became part of the story, and drew criticism from an unlikely paragon of good manners, Perez Hilton, whose own commenters took Hilton to task for trashing Ebert's simple truth telling.

As Ebert put it, "Perez Hilton's readers agree with me and not with Perez about my tweet on Ryan Dunn. He drank, he drove, 2 people died."

I've reached out to Ebert to see if he'd like to comment on the situation further. In the meantime, it's worth thinking about how quick Facebook was to pull down a page of someone so noteworthy for expressing an opinion that is in no way radical. It's not a First Amendment issue, because Facebook is not owned by the government, but Facebook has shown that it's willing to quickly and unilaterally chill users' ability to speak out on its platform. When a communications platform grows as pervasive as Facebook, users will have to decide if it's worth giving up the ability to speak freely with their friends to remain easily connected to them.

UPDATE: Gizmodo reports this statement from a Facebook rep:

"The page was was removed in error. We apologize for the inconvenience."

Yet as Ebert's screencap reveals, he did receive a notice of takedown because of a terms of service violation, and people were complaining about his Dunn statement. So this requires further explanation from Facebook. Was the error that they did this to someone with a high enough profile to punch back? Unless Facebook explains what the error was and the steps they are taking to protect their users from malicious takedown campaigns, this is not a reassuring statement.

UPDATE: "I like Facebook and enjoy it," Ebert responds via email. "I find it strange that they might take down a page on an anonymous complaint without looking at it." He has written more about the controversy generated by his tweet here--it's important to note that Ebert never even posted the Dunn tweet to Facebook.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)