There they go again: Digital gods at Facebook zap some big Catholic pages (news media yawn)

Every now and then, the principalities and powers at Facebook do something that ticks off lots of religious people, usually morally and doctrinally conservative people.

Most of the time, Facebook leaders issue a kind of "the technology made us do it" apology and life rolls on -- until the next time. In most cases, these alleged Facebook sins are treated as "conservative news," with coverage at Fox News and various alternative, religious news sources online. Something like this.

The GetReligion "mirror image" question, as always, is this: How much media attention would these news stories have received if Facebook folks had shut down lots of pages belonging to LGBTQ groups (or Muslims, or environmentalists, or #BlackLivesMatter networks). I know this is hard to imagine, but please try.

So this time, a bunch of Catholic websites were taken down. Here is the entire Associated Press report on this, at least as it appeared at ABC News, The Washington Post, The New York Times, etc.

Facebook is blaming a technical glitch for knocking several Catholic-focused Facebook pages with millions of followers offline for more than a day.
Catholic radio network Relevant Radio says on its website that its "Father Rocky" Facebook page went down on Monday and wasn't restored until late Tuesday night. It says more than 20 other prominent Catholic pages were also suspended.
The shutdown prompted speculation among some page administrators that they were being intentionally censored.
A Facebook spokesperson apologized for the disruption Wednesday, telling The Associated Press in a statement that all pages have been restored. Facebook says the incident "was triggered accidentally by a spam detection tool."

My favorite detail missing from that little story is that one of the sites knocked offline was the "Papa Francisco Brazil" page dedicated to the life and work of Pope Francis.

Now there's a nice headline, for those included to write it: Facebook zaps Pope Francis page in Brazil.

The more serious question is this, when you consider the Facebook press-office explanation about these pages being zapped by a "spam detection tool": What was the specific content on these pages that the Facebook robots thought was spam? Common words? Specific causes?

Now, I want to give a shout out here to the team at WGN-TV in Chicago, which realized that this "Father Rocky" situation was a local or regional story that deserved a telephone call or two. "Father Rocky" was glad to talk:

"It's really mysterious," Rocky said. "I've been working on Facebook since 2010 and, without any notice, they unpublished my page on Monday." ...
Religious organizations such as Father Rocky's use social media to disseminate inspirational messages as well as stream mass for online viewers.
"I'm happy the pages have been restored, but I'd like an explanation," Rocky said.

I am not sure about the Associated Press Stylebook status of using the "Father Rocky" title when quoting Father Francis J. Hoffman, but it was nice of them to give him a call.

As you would imagine, Catholic publications did longer stories with more details. That is to be expected. The Catholic News Agency report added a bit of helpful context that looked like this:

In 2016, Facebook came under fire for allegedly censoring trends to news deemed "conservative." On that occasion, Mark Zuckerberg rejected the allegations of censorship, and met with conservative U.S. leaders to assure them Facebook's neutrality.
In the past, user accounts have also been inadvertently blocked on Facebook due to system glitches, or numerous complaints against the page in a short time period. In these cases, Facebook restored the accounts after reviewing their content.

So here is that "mirror-image question" again: Would journalists have considered this a more important story if some online power like Facebook had taken down, with no warning, the pages of liberal religious or cultural organizations? Would the fact that something like this had taken place before enter into the equation?

IMAGES: First image is a screen capture from one of the broken Catholic sites. The second is the restored "Father Rocky" page.

 

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