“I thought I was being hacked,” said Mr. el-Hamalawy, a prominent Egyptian blogger and human rights activist who had uploaded the headshots of the police from CDs found by activists early this month at the State Security Police headquarters in Nasr City.
He later learned in an e-mail from Flickr that the photos had been removed because he did not take the images himself, a violation of the site’s community rules.
“That is totally ludicrous,” he said. “Flickr is full of accounts with photos that people did not take themselves.”
Built as a platform for amateur and professional photographers to share their work, Flickr is among the social media networks, like Facebook, Twitter andYouTube, that are increasingly being used by activists and pro-democracy forces especially in the Middle East and North Africa.
That new role for social media has put these companies in a difficult position: how to accommodate the growing use for political purposes while appearing neutral and maintaining the practices and policies that made these services popular in the first place.
YouTube was one of the first social media networks to wrestle with content posted by a human rights advocate that conflicted with its terms of service. In November 2007, YouTube removed videos flagged as “inappropriate” by a community member that showed a person in Egypt being tortured by the police.
They were uploaded by Wael Abbas, another Egyptian blogger involved in opposing torture in Egypt. After a public outcry, YouTube staff members reviewed the videos and restored them. The company, owned by Google, now has a process in place to deal with such questions.
Facebook has remained mostly quiet about its increasing role among activists in the Middle East who use the site to connect dissident groups, spread information about government activities and mobilize protests. But Facebook is now finding itself drawn into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has been pushed to defend its neutral approach and terms of service to some supporters of Israel, including an Israeli government official.
Yuli Edelstein, an Israeli minister of diplomacy and diaspora affairs, sent a letter last week to Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to remove a Facebook page created on March 6 named the Third Palestinian Intifada. The page, which calls for an uprising in the occupied Palestinian territory in May, has more than 240,000 members.
“As Facebook’s C.E.O. and founder, you are obviously aware of the site’s great potential to rally the masses around good causes, and we are all thankful for that,” Mr. Edelstein wrote. “However, such potential comes hand in hand with the ability to cause great harm, such as in the case of the wild incitement displayed on the above-mentioned page.”