Just because you are incarcerated, doesn’t mean you should be locked out of Facebook.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently praised the social media giant for being more “discerning” when responding to prison officials’ requests to take down inmates’ profiles.
Facebook — whose founder once said “connectivity is a human right” — changed how it dealt with inmate profiles in March, according to EFF. Facebook made it more difficult for prisons to remove inmates’ pages without good reason by requesting additional information from prisons before agreeing to remove profiles.
The EFF said that, before March, Facebook often complied with prison officials’ requests to take down inmates’ profiles without asking enough questions. In February, EFF asked Facebook to change its practices when it came to the profiles of inmates.
The EFF claimed Facebook “routinely and explicitly” took down inmates Facebook profiles, even when they had not violated Facebook’s Terms of Service (ToS), stifling inmates’ free speech and contact with the outside world in the process.
“Facebook made it exceptionally easy for prisons to censor inmates by creating an ‘Inmate Account Takedown Request‘ page that generally allowed prison officials to file requests without creating a public record trail,” the EFF report stated. “In the rare occasions that Facebook and prisons communicated via email, Facebook staff promised that these takedowns would remain confidential.”
In practice, many inmates would not actually get to maintain their Facebook profiles, as many states don’t allow prisoners internet access. However, the Washington Post reports that advocates are starting to take up the cause of internet access in prison, citing it as a fundamental human right.
Inmates who get caught using Facebook can receive harsh punishment. In South Carolina, for example, the EFF says using a social media site is a Level 1 offence on par with murder, rape, and hostage-taking. Each instance of social networking in prison is punishable by one year of solitary confinement.
In February, a South Carolina prisoner received 37 years in solitary confinement for sending out 38 Facebook posts with a contraband mobile phone.
Facebook has previously said it is not its responsibility to enforce prison regulations, and that prisoners who access Facebook are not in violation of their terms of service, according to Fusion.
Facebook’s March changes require prisons to provide a lot more information along with a good reason for taking down an inmates Facebook page (they need to show how an inmates profile violates Facebooks community standards). As the EFF said, it was a win for prisoner rights.
“What this new system may protect is cases where inmates use Facebook just to communicate with their families, raise awareness for their innocence campaigns, or engage in dialogue over public policy,” EFF writes. “Assuming Facebook sticks to these measures, then this is a major, although imperfect, victory for inmate speech.”
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