Facebook Banning Post-Op FTM Transsexual Over Bare Chest Pic?


Week of January 14, 2010, Issue #743


Queermonton: Trans ban

Tamara Gorzalka / tam@vueweekly.com

For some, social networking is about making new friends. For others it’s just another way to contact the people already in your life. Dominic Scaia didn’t join Facebook to connect with classmates or family. He used it as a lifeline while navigating the difficult journey of transitioning from female to male. And on December 20 that lifeline was taken away when he woke up to find that his account had been disabled.

Dominic recently underwent a double mastectomy to create a male chest. His profile was set as male and listed under a male name. He was banned from Facebook after posting pictures after he’d undergone the top surgery. He’s tried to reach Facebook but has received no response about what happened to his account. Friends have also sent messages to the company, all of which have gone unanswered.

It’s unclear what bothered Facebook about Dominic’s photos. Section 3.7 of its Terms of Service regulates that content not be "hateful, threatening, pornographic" or contain "nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence." It’s clear a male chest falls into none of these categories. Scaia says, "They were from two-and-a-half weeks post-op and included my face. I was holding the camera from above, my chest was bare and I was wearing jeans. None of the photos were in the least bit gory."

Facebook does not moderate photographs individually. They rely on users to report offensive content. The only people who could view Scaia’s pictures were friends that he’d added to his account. He’d had the photos up for a week without a problem. The evening before he was banned, Dominic accepted a friend request from a young, flirtatious girl. He thinks she looked through his photos and discovered that the cute boy she’d added was not born physically male, choosing then to report his account.

It’s there where things become confusing. It’s Facebook’s policy to remove photos that are deemed offensive and to send a warning. It is not the company’s policy to disable accounts over photos. This does not mean that Facebook has a rule of banning transgender people, it means that one staff moderator made the grossly misinformed choice to ban his account.

I asked Dominic why he chose to upload the photos. He said to share them with his friends. "I was so proud of my new chest and I wanted to show it off, plus a lot of people had encouraged me to do so. Since it’s a male chest, I didn’t see a problem with it. Lots of transmen post their post-op photos on Facebook. It’s a huge milestone for us in our transition and a very happy moment—it’s only natural to want to share it with the world."

For many, losing an online account seems trivial but for some users it’s the only outlet they have. Numerous trans folks chronicle their transitions online, both for themselves and to educate others. Dominic used Facebook for keeping in touch with friends, blogging and activism. "I have over three years of stuff on that account. Thousands of photos, thousands of messages from people, notes, over 300 contacts—most of whom I don’t know how to get in touch with outside of Facebook."

When an account is disabled, nothing is deleted until Facebook makes a final decision, meaning Dominic’s account sits intact but frozen. He also points out that he’s not allowed to sign-up for a new profile because it’s against Facebook’s terms to create a new account once you’ve been banned.

So far, there is no concrete proof that Facebook disabled Dominic’s account because of the photos, since the company refuses to comment but it seems as if no other infraction could’ve caused the banning. I’m the first person to say that we should not shout discrimination until we’re sure, but it doesn’t take a PhD to connect the dots. When a transwoman is ejected from a women’s washroom at a bar, the only likely rational is transphobia. Facebook should not be rewarded with the benefit of the doubt for their refusal to comment.

"Yes, we are making the assumption, but it’s the only reason that would make sense. Quite frankly, Facebook can easily end the bad publicity and assumptions by offering a plausible explanation." says Jessica Hardwick, a moderator of the Un-Ban Dominic Scaia Facebook Group.

That group has grown exponentially, with nearly 3000 members since it launched last week. Scaia says, "I am overwhelmed and amazed by the huge response to this, it’s great that I have so many people on my side. This is helping raise awareness and hopefully will cause Facebook to be more sensitive to trans issues."

"This isn’t about just being on the site." adds Scaia. "They need to know that banning someone without notice is not acceptable. They also need to rethink their photo moderation policy, they need to be educated as to what post-op FtM chests look like. This is a discrimination issue and it doesn’t just affect me, it affects all transmen. If this happened to me, it can happen to them." V

Google Takes A New Approach to China


1/12/2010 03:00:00 PM

Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

Third, as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers.

We have already used information gained from this attack to make infrastructure and architectural improvements that enhance security for Google and for our users. In terms of individual users, we would advise people to deploy reputable anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on their computers, to install patches for their operating systems and to update their web browsers. Always be cautious when clicking on links appearing in instant messages and emails, or when asked to share personal information like passwords online. You can read more here about our cyber-security recommendations. People wanting to learn more about these kinds of attacks can read this Report to Congress (PDF) by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (see p. 163-), as well as a related analysis (PDF) prepared for the Commission, Nart Villeneuve’s blog and this presentation on the GhostNet spying incident.

We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech. In the last two decades, China’s economic reform programs and its citizens’ entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.

Update: Added a link to another referenced report in paragraph 5.