Millions of Catholics on Facebook may have noticed a strange disappearing act on the social media platform this week, and its mystery has yet to be explained. Catholic News Agency’s Mary Rezac reported yesterday afternoon that more than two dozen Catholic-themed pages had been taken down by Facebook without any apparent notice, some of which had millions of followers; a Pope Francis page in Portugal that got unpublished had 3.7 million followers alone. The pages originated all over the world, including here in the US:
In the last 24 hours more than twenty Catholic pages, some with millions of followers, have been blocked by Facebook for unknown reasons.
Of the known affected pages, 21 are based in Brazil, and four are English-language pages, with administrators in the U.S. and Africa. Most of the blocked pages had significant followings – between hundreds of thousands and up to 6 million followers each. …
Facebook has yet to respond to requests for comment on the blocked pages. Facebook is the largest social network in the world, having recently reached more than 2 billion users.
While it remains unknown why these pages were blocked, some of the page administrators have said they wonder whether they are being censored.
We’ll get back to that in a moment. Just as mysteriously as the pages got memory-holed, they suddenly reappeared this morning without explanation:
Hours after CNA and other media published a story about the blocked pages, around 1 a.m. in the morning July 19, all blocked pages had been returned to normal.
In statements collected by ChurchPop.com, Carlos René, administrator of the page “Papa Francisco Brazil”, said that the page was available again “without notification. I just realized that it was already on the air. ”
So far, Facebook has not given any explanation of the blocking or restoration of the page. The owners and administrators of sites such as Father Rocky, Catholic and Proud, and Jesus and said they simply realized that their pages had returned to work after seeing their accounts were back online.
Full disclosure: Father Rocky Hoffman serves as executive director at Relevant Radio, where I occasionally work for compensation as a guest host for Drew Mariani, and as a guest on several shows without compensation. In fact, I’m guest hosting this week for Drew (whose mother passed away this past weekend), but didn’t know about this until I got home after yesterday’s show. No one at Relevant Radio knew why Fr. Rocky’s page had been blocked but other Relevant Radio pages remained up — and in a press release this morning, they’re still “perplexed” over the incident:
The Father Rocky Facebook page is managed by Reverend Francis J. Hoffman, Catholic Priest and Executive Director of Relevant Radio, and is followed by 3.95 Million people across the globe. Father Rocky broadcasts the daily Mass LIVE each weekday and Sunday morning and shares inspirational posts that reach more than 10 Million persons monthly.
Several news agencies reported on July 18 that over twenty popular Catholic Facebook pages, including the Father Rocky page, were unpublished by Facebook within a day or two of one another. Following the news stories, access to these pages was restored.
Relevant Radio remains perplexed about why this happened. The Relevant Radio Facebook pages are not political in nature, and promote the Catholic faith by emphasizing the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
“This serves as a wake-up call and we urge all Relevant Radio listeners and Facebook followers to download the free Relevant Radio App as a secure and reliable resource for the daily Mass and inspirational programs,” said Father Rocky.
WGN interviewed Fr. Rocky this morning, when Facebook still had not provided an explanation:
Fourteen months ago, conservative political websites accused Facebook of interfering with their operations. Curators and former employees at Facebook accused the social media site of deliberately tweaking their trending-news feeds to discourage views on such sites, but that did not involve taking the pages off line. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg later pledged to work to eliminate so-called “fake news” from gaining momentum on the platform. That doesn’t appear to relate at all to the sites impacted this week, which have little to do with news at all, including Fr. Rocky’s page, which focuses almost exclusively on prayer and Masses since he launched it in 2010.
“The pages were restored. The incident was accidentally caused by a spam detection mechanism on the platform. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”
ChurchPop’s editors are unconvinced by this explanation:
ChurchPOP identified dozens of major Catholic pages across three languages that were simultaneously affected. If it was a random glitch, we would have seen possibly thousands of pages affected, most of which would have been non-Catholic. And yet, so far we’re only aware of Catholic pages that were affected.
Had only one or two pages gotten suspended, it might be easier to chalk it up as a technical issue combined with coincidence. The number of pages impacted, plus their significant readership and the common topic of Catholicism, seems to suggest a more purposeful action, either inside or outside Facebook. Still, as Fr. Rocky suggests, it could be a larger algorithm issue, but one that’s tripping over Catholic dialogue for some reason. If so, it’s strange that it would pop up now rather than earlier.
I’ll speak with Fr. Rocky on today’s show at 5:30 ET.