The unilateral cancelation by the social networking Web site Facebook of an online petition protesting against the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China’s (ROC) handling of donations for Japanese earthquake victims has sparked accusations of “political manipulation” among Internet users.
“I feel like someone’s keeping an eye on me, I feel afraid and I feel angry at the same time,” netizen Subing (酥餅), who created the online petition with another netizen, Miawko (妙子), on Facebook, wrote on his personal blog.
He was speaking about Facebook’s unilateral disabling of the petition page — which attracted support from more than 30,000 Facebook members within days — on Tuesday.
According to the Red Cross Society of the ROC’s latest figures released on Monday, it has received more than NT$1.8 billion (US$62 million), but so far has only transferred about NT$400 million to the Japanese Red Cross Society.
The organization said it was still awaiting its Japanese counterpart’s plans for the remaining funds.
However, the delay has caused anger among the public and triggered online protests such as the one that Subing and Miawko launched. Many have also asked for a refund of their donations.
In a message to Subing, Facebook said the page was removed because “this Event appears to be an unsolicited commercial communication [spam] and has been deleted via technical measures.” The removal of the page raised suspicions among Internet users.
When Subing and Miawko opened several other petition pages on Facebook with titles bearing the name “Red Cross Society of the ROC” on Tuesday, all were also removed.
“This is too much. Are we under martial law again? Will we all be arrested?” Internet user Pei-fang (佩芳) wrote in a message on Subing’s blog.
Others suspected that cacaFly, Facebook’s advertising representative in Taiwan, had intervened for political reasons.
“I don’t trust Facebook — look who is representing Facebook in Taiwan. They could suppress freedom of speech through technical tricks,” Internet user Spieler said in a message on Subing’s blog.
CacaFly founder and chief executive officer Nathan Chiu (邱繼弘) helped President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) manage his Facebook page before becoming Facebook’s advertising representative in Taiwan. Ma and Red Cross Society of the ROC president C.V. Chen (陳長文) also have a close personal relationship.
“I think we should complain to Facebook’s headquarters, because Facebook’s representative in Taiwan could use keyword filtering to remove pages unfriendly to the Red Cross,” netizen pfge said on Miawko’s blog.
Chiu rebutted the accusations by telephone.
“Basically, we’re only Facebook’s advertising representative in Taiwan. We only take care of advertising on Facebook in Taiwan,” Chiu said. “[Facebook’s] operation is handled by Facebook headquarters in the US and has nothing to do with us.”
After several failed attempts, Subing created a “group” page — instead of an “event page” — on Facebook protesting against the Red Cross Society of the ROC late on Tuesday.
The new page remained online at press time.
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