Facebook blames a bug for the disappearance of posts about same-sex marriage

Several newspapers say their articles on the topic disappear from the social network

Some recent cases of news articles about same-sex marriage disappearing from the newspaper page on Facebook appear to have been caused by a bug and not a policy violation, the social network said.

Several regional daily newspapers, such as The Mercury serving Pottstown, Pennsylvania, started seeing in late July that stories covering developments on the issue of same-sex marriage were mysteriously disappearing from their pages on Facebook. A post Friday at the website for the Poynter Institute, a journalism education and training center, called attention to the issue.

"In all likelihood this was a bug and not a policy violation," a Facebook spokeswoman said Friday, referring specifically to The Mercury's issues. If it had been a policy violation, the page administrators would have received a notification of the article removals, which they did not, Facebook said.

The circumstances surrounding some of the posts' disappearances are a bit odd. At The Mercury, for instance, online editor Eileen Faust noticed the trend when a local county began issuing licenses to same-sex couples on July 24. Roughly five to six articles disappeared from Facebook after they were posted, she said, but no stories covering other topics disappeared in a similar way.

The articles that disappeared covered news dealing with both support and opposition to same-sex marriage, she said.

The paper has not experienced any major issues with articles disappearing since then, but that may only be because The Mercury has not been posting as many articles on same-sex marriage, Faust said.

"We're going to keep an eye on this," she added in an interview.

The Mercury's posts on same-sex marriage have since been restored to the paper's page on Facebook, the social network said.

Other regional newspaper companies, such as 21st Century Media papers in the Philadelphia region and papers owned by the Los Angeles News Group, have also noticed that their stories on same-sex marriage have disappeared from their Facebook pages, The Mercury reported in its coverage of the issue.

21st Century Media and the Los Angeles News Group could not be immediately reached to comment.

Though The Mercury paper's issues were probably caused by a bug or some kind of glitch, Facebook said, the issue did arise just before the company announced an aggressive new strategy to better detect controversial content on its site that may be violent, graphic or sexual in nature.

Facebook has a complicated way for classifying what is offensive content and what is not. In terms of graphic content, "We understand that graphic imagery is a regular component of current events, but must balance the needs of a diverse community," the site says in its community standards.

The Mercury's Faust said she would like to have a more direct contact at Facebook to communicate with when issues occur. "We can't easily connect or get a response from them," she said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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