Facebook has apologized for “mistakenly” banning a temporary profile picture frame commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre in China.
The social network gave an incoherent excuse that the imagery – meant to honor those killed opposing the Chinese government – “belittled or threatened” a protected group, and thus had to be kept off of the network.
Facebook lets any user submit temporary profile frames to mark significant events – the most notable of which have been the LGBT rainbow flag after the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, and the French flag in the wake of the 2015 Paris terror attacks.
But when a teaching union official in Hong Kong uploaded his effort – which urged viewers to end the “dictatorial regime” in China – he was told it was impermissible.
The anti-government frame was created by Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union Chief Executive Fung Ka Keung, who told Hong Kong Free Press that he sent the frame to Facebook for the review last Friday, a week ahead of the anniversary on June 4th.
Fung says less than a day later he had received a response claiming his frame was rejected because it breach Facebook rules prohibiting anything that “belittles, threatens or attacks a particular person, legal entity, nationality or group.”
Critics slammed Facebook’s decision to prohibit the frame, claiming it was a politically motivated attempt to avoid upsetting the Chinese government.
Following local media reports, social media users urged the social network to issue an apology.
“We mistakenly rejected the said photo frame. We apologize for the incident and have notified the relevant user that the frame has been approved,” a Facebook spokesperson told the Free Press.
The man who created the frame, however, said the apology is not enough.
Fung said: “Facebook should give an explanation, since it hasn’t approved another frame [a variant on the first] and is taking an unusually long period of time to review it”.
“I think if I only submitted one frame and it was not approved, it might be a technical problem or an issue with the art. But we have a frame that was originally rejected, and another that is still under review after a long time – it makes people suspect the decision might be political.”
After the ban on the frame was lifted, according to Fung, more than 1,000 people have put on their profile pictures to commemorate the event.
The issue of protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 still remains a taboo in China and a subject of censorship. The Chinese government is actively censoring any mentions of the event, including blocking online searches or banning books.