Facebook's Censorship of E-Mail Puts it in Free Speech Hot Seat
Facebook is actively filtering out Pirate Bay content from its Web site banning a Pirate Bay link-posting application that allows you to easily share torrent files from the Pirate Bay's site with Facebook members. Facebook is also censoring e-mail that contain Pirate Bay URLs from its e-mail system preventing users from cutting and pasting a Pirate Bay Web address in a Facebook e-mail message and sending it. While Facebook's evasive action may seem to be an effort to maintain its "family friendly" visage, there are now questions as to whether the social networking site is violating free speech.
In order to determine what constitutes "blocked content," Facebook must first read the e-mail message being sent. This may be an abuse of the federal wiretapping law. It's apparent from our tests that any URL originating from Pirate Bay's Web site is automatically filtered out of the system; if no other text is added to the outgoing message, the message arrives blank. Identifying what the contents of an e-mail is or "Sniffing" e-mails, as Wired calls it, is not an unknown practice -- Google does it to deliver ads -- but censoring e-mails based on content inches closer to an abuse of administrative power.
There certainly are ways around privately maintained e-mail systems such as Facebook's, ISP, and other bittorrent blockades. The Pirate Bay has a few tricks up its sleeve. For instance, if you find the "Download this Torrent" URL on Pirate Bay pages it uses the subdomain "http://torrents.thepiratebay.org/..." which is not blocked by Facebook - yet. Users may also check out Tiny URL to fool the filter.
Facebook is also behaving ignorantly. Bittorrents from other file-sharing sites are not blocked. Using Facebook to sent torrents found on the sites Mininova and Isohunt works fine. In fact, Isohunt has the same "Share on Facebook" feature that Pirate Bay has, isoHunt's works.
Facebook spoke to Wired and stated its right to censor e-mail based on links that may contain "spammy, illegal, threatening or harassing content." But Facebook is taking it too far. Bittorrents links themselves are not spammy, illegal, threatening or harassing. They are simply portals to a site where a user takes a personal risk downloading what may be copyrighted material or not. Facebook is creating its own set of rules here, and in the meantime, may be ignoring federally-established laws.
I say let the Facebook community vote on this issue.