Facebook has apologised for “mistakenly” banning the use of a temporary profile picture frame commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Facebook’s picture frame function allows users to change their profile photos in support of a cause. The frame in question carries messages calling for justice for Tiananmen protesters and an end to the “dictatorial regime” in China.

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Fung Ka Keung (right) and the June 4 profile picture frame. Photo: Fung Ka Keung/HK Alliance, via Facebook.


Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union Chief Executive Fung Ka-keung, who made the frame, told HKFP that he submitted the item for review at around 5pm on Friday.

He said he received a notification within 24 hours saying that his design was rejected, on the basis that it fails to meet the company’s terms and policies. Facebook said the frame “belittles, threatens or attacks a particular person, legal entity, nationality or group.”

Fung then submitted on Saturday afternoon another frame showing a candle and the text “Don’t forget June 4,” hoping that Facebook would approve it. It was still under review at the time of publication.

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Facebook rejected Fung’s frame in the first instance. Another frame “Don’t forget June 4” (L) was under review. Photo: Fung Ka-keung.

‘Political decision’

Critics questioned whether Facebook’s decision was politically motivated. A day after the incident was reported in the news, the social media giant issued an apology.

“We mistakenly rejected the said photo frame. We apologise for the incident and have notified the relevant user that the frame has been approved,” a spokesperson for Facebook told HKFP.

But Fung said the response was inadequate. “Facebook should give an explanation, since it hasn’t approved another frame and is taking an unusually long period of time to review it,” he said.

“I think if I only submitted one frame and it was not approved, it might be a technical problem or an issue with the art. But we have a frame that was originally rejected, and another that is still under review after a long time – it makes people suspect the decision might be political.”

More than 1,000 people had switched their profile pictures using the approved frame by Monday evening, according to Fung.

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A reprint of the tank man at the June 4 Museum. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

See also: Pro-democracy activists fly kites in Sai Kung to commemorate 1989 Tiananmen massacre

Almost 28 years after Beijing’s violent crackdown on the student-led protests in Tiananmen Square, the incident remains a taboo in mainland China. The Chinese government censors books relating to the event and blocks online searches of relevant terms.

Beijing has also never given an official death toll for the crackdown, though independent observers tallied more than 1,000 dead.

Facebook has been blocked in China since 2009, but its CEO Mark Zuckerberg has indicated a desire to re-enter the country.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.