Macedonian portal IT.com.mk reported that Facebook removed the personal profile of the Ministry for Internal Affairs of Republic of Macedonia (MOI), due to disrespect of the terms of service.
Alleged reasons for canceling the profile included the fact that personal profiles are intended for personal and noncommercial use by individual persons, posting of disturbing photographs on the profile – including post-mortem remains of crime victims, as well as the opportunity for violations of privacy of other Facebook users.
The creation and especially the removal of the MOI’s personal profile on Facebook attracted significant attention of the Macedonian public.
After the publication of the profile, the article in Utrinski vesnik, published on April 4, related statements by journalists invited to become “friends” with the MOI via the profile. The journalists perceived this act as potential threat to their privacy, because after the establishment of this “friendship” the profile administrator would gain access to all their activities in this social network.
Daily Dnevnik voiced similar concerns about threats to media freedom on Feb. 14, after a MOI employee repeatedly requested that the paper supply a list of mobile phone numbers of journalists who cover political or social topics. The closure of that scandal included a public apology by the MOI.
MOI officials quoted in the initial article by Utrinski vesnik stated that the profile is “unofficial” means of communication and its goal is to make the police closer to the citizens.
During the last weekend, some citizens used the opportunity to ask where they can report violation of the Constitution and the Law on Macedonian language, which stipulate that state bodies must adhere to certain linguistic standards, alluding on the use of Latin instead of Cyrillic alphabet on the profile and the lack of proofreading. However, instead of providing a reply, the anonymous administrator of the profile simply deleted these inquires.
The blogger Virtuelna qualified the profile as “total amateurism”, and pointed at the paradox contained in the statements by official institution which claims to communicate unofficially. In addition, she wrote (MKD):
[…] They should publicly reveal who’s behind the profile. Honestly, I am terribly interested in who the public servant is – a MOI employee – spends mine and your tax money on continuous “facebooking.” The changes on the profile are very frequent, almost every second, and during regular work hours, meaning that “somebody is constantly lurking…” Hey, my boyfriend complains I’m a cyber[-addict]. Therefore, I qualify for employment at the MOI. I would have no problem to receive a state salary to update a Facebook profile 8 hours per day. On top of that, I promise to be very active on Facebook Chat too, and I can also maintain several distinct profiles simultaneously!!!
The profile also contains photographs which must come from a MOI archive. Shouldn’t publishing of such content require a special permission? Or the public servants can be careless, and share whatever they find on their workplace servers […]
On April 8, Utrinski vesnik published (MKD) a statement by Damjan Arsovski, editor of IT.com.mk:
I got the idea to get in touch with Facebook after reading an article stating that Macedonian laws do not prohibit the MOI to open such profile, but nobody mentioned anything about the compliance with the internal rules and regulations of Facebook […]
Janko Ilkovski, a TV host running the pro-government call-in show “Jadi burek” also addressed the MOI Facebook profile issue. He recently gained notoriety by calling for action against the peaceful protest organized on March 28 by a group dissatisfied with the government’s decision to use public funds for building a new church in Skopje. “The counter-protest” turned violent, and the police failed to prevent the pro-government mob from thrashing a number of students. In his show aired on April 7, Ilkovski referred to the act of contacting Facebook as a form of ‘snitching,’ and several times repeated the name of the man who dared to turn the attention of the foreign company to the MOI profile.
Pro-government columnists and bloggers wage a campaign against talking about country’s problems abroad, branding it as ‘snitching’ and high treason.
In a statement for Radio Free Europe about this case, Darko Buldioski, representative of the NGO New Media Centre, opined that closing of the MOI profile resulted from lack of knowledge of the responsible employees, who failed to read the terms and conditions.
In fact, Facebook does not prohibit legal entities and institutions to use their platform, but they must use the so-called pages and groups, or rent advertising space. These means provide opportunities for presenting information in a manner which is far less invasive in regard to privacy of the regular users when compared to personal profiles reserved for individuals.
Privacy protection remains an extremely important topic in Macedonia, which still struggles with the burden of the totalitarian regimes. Before 1990, the state surveillance system included use of technological devices and recruiting relatives, friends and colleagues of “suspects” who had to inform the authorities about their every move. In an excerpt from her book “Communist Intimacy” published (MKD) on the portal Okno.mk, writer and teacher Jasna Koteska related the tragic experience of her family resulting from the four decades of systematic surveillance over her father, the late poet Jovan Koteski:
When you look upon this diffusion of state power and its most perfidious penetration in the intimate world, executed through your friends, you cannot ask: where did they draw the line? The parts of the dossier made available to the family reveal that some of my mother’s friends, spouses of our famous poets, were also police informers. Where does this list end? What surprises linger behind the black markers that hide the identities of some of the still-secret informers?