Do foreign governments really have any say about Facebook content?

Martin Bryant over at The Next Web had a rather interesting post this morning where he asked; in relation to Facebook and the Raoul Moat tribute pages popping up, if the British government had any business asking Facebook to take the pages down.

It was widely reported on Wednesday that the UK government had asked Facebook for the page to be removed and that Facebook had refused. The page was later removed by its creator for reasons unknown and the controversy died a death.

Story over? Well only kind of. The really worrying part of the whole affair was that in the media storm over Facebook’s refusal to remove the page, it wasn’t once asked whether it really was acceptable for the government to censor social media at will.

There’s some debate over the exact role the government played in this whole storm. Reporting varied over exactly who asked for what to happen, but as Paul Clarke notes in an excellent post about the affair, it doesn’t really matter what the truth is. The fact is that the news media failed to question whether the government had any right to decide something online should be taken down simply because it didn’t like it.

This is a very important question being raised but not just in relation to Facebook and the British government but rather in relation to all governments and social networks. On one hand it is possible that social networks own by companies within the borders of the countries in question could be subject to the laws of the land.

In this case services like Facebook would be subject to US laws but not the governments of foreign countries but then this would apply as well to services like Friendster which is owned by a Malaysian company – except that its servers are in the US. So who really has authority to ask questions or request actions like the one that the British government did of an American based, both corporate and server-wise, company.

As companies like Facebook, Twitter and other social media service become more global in nature they are going to increasingly bumping up against these same type of problems that occurred between Facebook and the British government. It is going to be interesting to see how thorny issues like this will be dealt with but you can be assured that issues like this one will happen.

image courtesy of The Next Web