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Life is a Bitche for French town after Facebook page removed in error

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Local authorities said they had appealed to Facebook after the page was "removed".
Local authorities said they had appealed to Facebook after the page was "removed".   -   Copyright  THOMAS WIRTH / AFP - 2002
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The official Facebook page of the French town of Bitche was accidentally removed by the social network.

The small town, with a population of little more than 5,000, lies in the region of Moselle near the border with Germany.

It regularly communicates with citizens on social media. But since March 19, the town's Facebook account had been blocked without explanation.

It was assumed that Facebook's algorithm may have confused 'Bitche' (pronounced with a silent 'e') with an English insult.

The mayor, Benoît Kieffer, said in a statement that the town's Facebook page was no longer published because it was "in violation of the conditions applicable to Facebook pages".

The town's authorities had created a new Facebook page named after the town's postcode, "Mairie 57230" to maintain communications with local residents.

The official town page has been removed by Facebook," the town said. "We have appealed, but for the moment it is still invisible.

"The appeal process can take several months, so we have created this page to continue communicating with you on social networks."

The newly-created Facebook page still features the name of the town as its avatar logo.

"We appealed and tried to contact Facebook through various means, including contact forms and private messages on the Facebook France page," said Kieffer.

"The town's Facebook page was hosted in a data centre located in Europe and hypothetically we assume that our page has migrated to an Anglo-Saxon server that has moderation and algorithms in place that remove illegal and problematic content," he added.

"The name of our town seemed to suffer from a misinterpretation."

Valérie Degouy, a spokesperson for Bitche, also told local radio that she had encountered problems when she had first tried to create the town's Facebook page.

ℹ La page Facebook de la Ville de Bitche est à nouveau publiée. Facebook avait censuré notre page Ville de...

Posted by Ville de Bitche on Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Facebook confirmed to Euronews that the account had been unpublished due to an incorrect analysis by the platform's systems.

The company added it had immediately investigated the issue. It said the page was restored on Tuesday morning.

"Facebook France teams have contacted authorities in the town of Bitche to inform them that the Facebook Page is live on our platform again."

But Kieffer has criticised Facebook's methods for monitoring content and says the platform must take responsibility for its policies.

"What happened to the town of Bitche demonstrates the inadequacy and limitations of moderation tools that only a human eye can appreciate, particularly with regard to the verification of sources," Kieffer stated.

"The most surprising thing is that it took so long for Facebook to correct this incident," he added.

The mayor also said that he had invited CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the President of Facebook France to visit "our beautiful fortified town".

Other towns in the Moselle region, such as Rohrbach-lès-Bitche, have also renamed their social media pages to "Ville de Rohrbach" to avoid being removed.

Bonjour, Nous souhaitions vous expliquer le changement de nom de la page. Loin de nous l'idée de renier le nom de notre...

Posted by Ville de Rohrbach on Monday, April 12, 2021

"Far from the idea of us denying the name of our beautiful village, but we have to admit that Facebook seems to hunt the term associated with Rohrbach," the town said.

"We will let you imagine the reason why," it added.