Limerick principal ‘amazed’ at comments of Facebook boss

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

Cormac Keenan, right, with Sean Kelly MEP at the conference in the Kilmurry Lodge Hotel: Facebook 'prioritises as best we can'
A SCHOOL principal has expressed his incredulity after a Facebook executive said he was unfamiliar with a high-profile cyber-bullying case which saw 28 secondary students suspended earlier this year.

A SCHOOL principal has expressed his incredulity after a Facebook executive said he was unfamiliar with a high-profile cyber-bullying case which saw 28 secondary students suspended earlier this year.

Disciplinary action was taken in March after the students at Colaiste Chiarain in Croom “liked” a photo of a teacher, which related to their private life, posted on the world’s biggest social networking site.

At a conference on cyber-bullying at the Kilmurry Lodge Hotel, Facebook’s Cormac Keenan was asked why the company had taken so long to take action on the matter.

“I’m not sure of the details in the specific case but we do try to resolve issues as quickly as we can,” said Mr Keenan, who is head of user operations and the safety team at Facebook in Dublin. He added he would be happy to take details of events in Croom, which featured on RTE’s TV news and every national paper after first being reported in the Limerick Leader.

Colaiste Chiarain principal Noel Malone said this Wednesday he found it “amazing that he could say that when the case attracted such widespread attention in the media and the attention of the Department of Education”.

Mr Malone said it had taken over a week for Facebook to respond to the complaint and then only after the Department became involved. The content was found not to be in violation of Facebook’s standards, Mr Malone said, and he believed it had only been “removed by the perpetrator” after the school started taking disciplinary action.

Mr Keenan told the conference he had a team of almost 100 people working in Dublin which dealt with bullying complaints and other reports relating to content. As many as one million reports a week were handled, he said.

But Mr Keenan told the Leader he was satisfied Facebook - a multi-billion dollar company - was devoting enough resources to the area compared to, say, advertising sales.

“We get millions of complaints (globally) a week and try to prioritise as best we can and get to most important ones as quickly as we can.

“We have the biggest team in Facebook in absolute terms so there is a huge investment from the company in managing our user base. We (the Dublin office) are just one part of a much larger four-team organisation across the world so there are hundreds and hundreds of people across the world looking at this stuff on a regular basis.”

Facebook, he said, depended on its users to report abuse before it took action rather than proactively sifting through its content for offensive posts or images. That was because the company’s underlying ethos was one of freedom of speech.

“We don’t really think about this in proactive terms because we feel that could be getting into the world of censorship, which we feel as a company we do not want to have. We do rely on people to report this content to us. We want to make sure we are allowing conversations to happen as they would in the street,” Mr Keenan said.

But Mr Malone said a company as well-resourced as Facebook could do more to respond to complaints from schools.

“We are at the coalface of the whole issue of cyber-bullying and we feel that a school or a principal should be able to make contact immediately with a designated person in a social media company when an issue comes up.

“Things can become very high-octane very quickly with students and parents and we should have a hotline to the likes of Facebook rather than have teachers going around the place like detectives trying to find out what has happened,” Mr Malone said.