Facebook Removes Official Page of 'Bitche,' Small French Town, Apologizes to Mayor

Facebook on Tuesday reinstated the official page for the French town of Bitche after a profanity algorithm mistakenly flagged and removed it last month, drawing the ire and annoyed appeals from city officials.

Facebook France's head manager personally apologized to the town's mayor after the company removed the local government page for Bitche, a commune and capital city of the Pays de Bitche region.

Bitche City Mayor Benoît Kieffer announced Tuesday that the page was reinstated after it was removed on March 19 for being in "violation of conditions." The town's name, which is similar in spelling but not in pronunciation to the corresponding English profanity, set off an algorithm that led to weeks of town officials desperately trying to contact the social media giant.

A nearby town with a similar moniker, Rohrbach-lès-Bitche, announcedMonday that it removed the last word from its government page because "Facebook seems to be hunting the term associated" with its official name.

Bitche City Communications Manager Valérie Degouy told French Radio Mélodie on Tuesday that local officials already had problems simply trying to enter the word "Bitche" on Facebook without setting off profanity notifications. But on March 19, the social media platform locked her out and she began frantically sending direct messages for more information.

"We appealed and tried to contact Facebook through various means, including through contact forms and private messages on Facebook France's page," Kieffer wrote on the town's official website in March, in an attempt to inform social media-savvy residents what was going on with the sudden removal.

The algorithm error in France comes as Facebook's Oversight Board announced Tuesday that it will begin accepting user appeals to remove content entirely from Facebook or Instagram. Previously, Facebook users like those in Bitche could only appeal to have content restored, not have it taken down.

"The President General Manager of Facebook France has personally contacted Mayor to inform him that the City of Bitche page has been published again and to apologize for any inconvenience that may have been caused," the mayor wrote, before adding Tuesday, "City of Bitche Facebook page is posted again."

In order to even inform Bitche residents what was happening with their official town page, which is followed by 2,470 Facebook users, Degouy was forced to create a new one based on their postal code: "Mairie 57230." Mairie is the French language word for "town."

"I already had problems creating the city's Facebook page," the city's communications manager told Radio Mélodie on Monday. "No way to enter the word Bitche, it was impossible. I had created a page that I had called Fortified City, and on the other hand I had the possibility afterwards, in the description, to say that it was the official page of the city of Bitche and, at the same time, the name User was Ville de Bitche. At that time in 2016, it was allowed."

Newsweek reached out to Facebook's U.S. communications office for any additional response to the incident.

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This photo illustration taken on March 22, 2018, shows the Facebook logo on a mobile phone screen in Shanghai. Johannes Eisele/Getty Images