Social Media

Facebook Briefly Shuts Down Journalist’s Account Posting Leaked Docs

The Pulitzer-winning journalist was temporarily booted for four posts about government corruption

Social Media
May 19, 2017 at 10:50 AM ET

A Pulitzer prize-winning journalist had his account temporarily shut down by Facebook this week after publishing allegations against government actors in Malta to his personal Facebook page.

According to the Guardian, Matthew Caruana Galizia, who is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that helped unearth the Panama Papers leak of 2016, wrote a series of four posts that Facebook determined had violated its community standards. In addition to having access to his account shut off, the posts were reportedly deleted when his account was restored 24 hours later.

The posts alleged that the nation of Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff, and the minister of energy had been involved in a scheme that allowed them to profit off passport sales. There have been reports that nearly 700 passports had been issued to persons who were not EU nationals in this scandal. Galizia’s posts also featured reproduced images of documents that were made public following the Panama Papers leak. These scanned documents included passports, licenses, and bank statements. According to the Times of Malta, the posts, which featured the hashtag #CorruptionFacts, had been shared over one thousand times by the time they were taken down.

More Facebook Slammed For ‘Racially Biased Censorship’

Prime minister Muscat, who may soon be ousted from his position in an upcoming national snap election, announced plans to sue Galizia last week after the Facebook posts were first published. In response to press inquiries, Muscat’s head of communications denied allegations that anyone acting on his behalf pressured Facebook into taking down the posts.

The Guardian noted that while the social media site’s community standards state “the personal information of others without their consent” violate guidelines, other posts containing identification documents made public in the Panama Papers can be found elsewhere on Facebook. Facebook has not yet responded to Vocativ’s inquiry into which of its community standards were violated at the time of publication.

This is not the first time that the means by which Facebook determines what journalistic content can be posted on the site has been called into question. Last year, the company censored a Pulitzer Prize-winning 1972 photo of Vietnamese children running from a napalm bomb that had been posted by a Norwegian writer, citing the nude child depicted made the photo a violation of community standards. Though Facebook eventually revoked their initial decision, questions concerning the company’s standards persist. In January, 70 human rights organizations alleged “racially biased censorship,” including the censorship of journalist Shaun King (later deemed a “mistake”).

As recently as last week, Facebook came under fire for taking down a Facebook page that it claimed promoted drug use, as articles and posts shared by the organization for abortion access centered around the abortion-inducing pill Misoprostol.

UDATE: Since this article was originally published, a Facebook spokesperson responded to Vocativ with the following statement: “It’s important that journalists can publish information that is in the public interest. We are investigating these posts and have spoken with Mr. Caruana Galizia today so that he can publish what he needs to, without including unnecessary private details that could present safety risks. If we find that we have made errors, we will correct them.”