WASHINGTON (AFP) – Facebook has become an important tool for democracy and human rights activists and it needs to do more to protect them, including allowing the use of pseudonyms, a US senator said Thursday.
“Recent events in Egypt and Tunisia have again highlighted the significant costs and benefits of social networking technology like Facebook to democracy and human rights activists,” Senator Dick Durbin said in a letter to Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.
“I commend you for providing an important tool to democracy and human-rights activists,” the Democrat from Illinois said.
“However, as millions of people around the world use Facebook to exercise their freedom of expression, I am concerned that the company does not have adequate safeguards in place to protect human rights and avoid being exploited by repressive governments,” Durbin said.
“Facebook has facilitated efforts by activists to organize demonstrations and publicize human-rights abuses,” he said.
“At the same time, the Egyptian and Tunisian governments have reportedly used Facebook to monitor activists, which is surely aided by Facebook’s refusal to allow activists to use pseudonyms,” the senator said, citing Belarus, China, and Iran as other countries using social networking to track activists.
Durbin repeated a call for Facebook, which has nearly 600 million users, to join the Global Network Initiative (GNI), which has drafted a voluntary code of conduct to protect human rights and whose members include Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!
Responding to the senator’s letter, Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman, said “the trust people place in us is the most important part of what makes Facebook work.
“As demonstrated by our response to threats in Tunisia, we take this trust seriously and work aggressively every single day to protect people,” he said.
As for pseudonyms, Noyes said: “Facebook has always been based on a real name culture, and we fundamentally believe this leads to greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for people who use the service.”
Referring to the appeal to join GNI, Noyes said, “as Facebook grows, we’ll absolutely be considering which groups we can actively participate in but it’s important to remember that our global operations are still small, with offices in only a handful of countries.”