Facebook apologized and reversed course after supporters of an Ethiopian activist, whose page it had blocked, flooded CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Valentine’s Day photo with comments.
Zuckerberg on Wednesday had posted a picture of himself and his older daughter sharing pizza on the roof of the company’s headquarters with the caption, “Lunch date with my Valentine.”
While some Facebook users responded with warm wishes, the post was quickly filled with comments calling on the company to unblock the account of Jawar Mohammed, an Ethiopian who lives in Minneapolis and is followed by more than 1.2 million people, according to his Facebook profile.
A user with the account name Brook Michel, for example, whose profile says he is from that country’s capital of Addis Ababa, posted this:
“Dear Mark you are violating the right of expression by blocking #JawarMohammed prominent human rights activist with followers of more than 1.2 millions..He is the voice of more than 100 million Ethiopia, # UnblockJawarNow or #BlockUsAll.”
The comment got 168 reactions, putting it on top of the comments section for Zuckerberg’s Valentine.
And there were many other posts like it.
CNBC late Wednesday counted more than two dozen comments with identical or nearly-identical wording that were posted within two hours of Zuckerberg’s Valentine photo.
A hashtag on Twitter named #UnblockJawar also contained dozens of posts as of Wednesday evening, calling on Facebook to unblock the account.
Hours later Facebook did so.
After CNBC emailed the company asking about the comments on Zuckerberg’s post, a Facebook spokesperson sent the following statement:
“We’re very sorry for this mistake. Our spam-detecting systems incorrectly blocked Mr. Mohammed’s account. Once we identified this issue we quickly worked to fix it and have since removed the block,” the statement said.
The account of Mohammed, whose Facebook account identifies him as the executive director of the Oromia Media Network, had earlier this week posted images and videos of politically tumultuous events in Ethiopia.
A post made Tuesday on Mohammed’s timeline included a link to a news report with the headline, “Ethiopia: Oromia state rocked by protests and killings amid a 3-day market boycott.”
Also Tuesday, he posted pictures of near-empty streets in the eastern city of Harar, which is in the midst of a boycott and protest.
Ethiopia’s prime minister resigned Thursday in a bid to quell the protests.