Saturday, May 15, 2021

Bitche slapped by Facebook as French ville’s page mistakenly removed

The town hall had to create a new page, Mairie 57230, named in reference to the town's postcode, after its page was removed.

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Facebook has been criticised for temporarily removing the official page of the small French town of Bitche.

The social network’s censoring algorithm confused the name of the town in Moselle, north-east France, with the English insult.

Bitche’s mayor said the Facebook page of the town, population 5,000, was removed on March 19 for violating site rules.

Facebook said it had reinstated the page on Tuesday after spotting the error.

“On March 19, Facebook informed us that our page, Ville de Bitche, was no longer online, on the basis that it was ‘in violation of conditions applying to Facebook pages’,” the town’s mayor, Benoit Kieffer, said in a statement in French.

“The name of our town seemed to suffer from a bad interpretation,” he added.

After the page was removed, the town hall had to create a new page, Mairie 57230, named in reference to the town’s postcode.

Kieffer criticised Facebook’s methods for monitoring content, saying, “What has happened to the town of Bitche demonstrates the insufficient and limited moderating tools that only the human gaze can appreciate.”

He said the town attempted to appeal the decision, but never received a response from Facebook.

“At first, you wonder, was there a technical problem? However, with the length of time, it can be considered a real censorship,” the mayor told CNN.

He said the president of French Facebook had contacted him on Tuesday to tell him the page had been reinstated and to apologise for the inconvenience.

Kieffer invited him, as well as Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, to visit Bitche “to discover our pretty fortified town”.

A Facebook spokesperson told the BBC on Tuesday: “The page was removed in error and was swiftly restored this morning, when we became aware of the issue.”

Another town in the region, Rohrbach-les-Bitche, renamed its page “Ville de Rohrbach” on Monday.

“Facebook seems to be hunting a term associated with Rohrbach. We’ll let you imagine the reason,” the town said in a post explaining the move.

As Politico reports, this is not the first time that the town’s name has caused upset for Americans.

Back in 1881, the US embassy was located on the Place de Bitche in Paris, named in honour of the town.

The then ambassador, Levi Parsons Morton, complained about the name as it appeared to be embarrassing on the embassy’s letterhead and Parisian authorities renamed the square Place des Etats-Unis.

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