Ville de Bitche Survived the Nazis and, Now, Facebook

Ville de Bitche Survived the Nazis and, Now, Facebook
Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP

Facebook’s hater-in-chief The Algorithm has come for a quiet French town to bring down the ban hammer with literally no warning. The town of Ville de Bitche, population 5,000, has spent the month appealing to the authorities of Facebook France, who have mercifully reinstated the town’s page. In the meantime, Ville de Bitche set up an alternate page containing its zip code.

“The name of our city seemed to suffer from a misinterpretation,” Ville de Bitche mayor Benoît Kieffer stated in a press release. The page was reinstated this morning, with a personal apology from the president of Facebook France.

Ville de Bitche, located on the border between France and Germany, has persevered through strife, including a siege by Austrians in the Hundred Days War and later a Nazi occupation — casting a long shadow over whatever Facebook claims to be its accomplishments.

While Facebook didn’t specify a reason for the takedown, the town safely assumed the culprit was Facebook’s anglophone algorithm. “[In] a hypothetical, we assume that our page has migrated to an Anglo-Saxon server which has set up moderations and algorithms that remove illegal and problematic content,” Mayor Kieffer wrote. This hypothesis still doesn’t explain why, elsewhere, Facebook appears to appreciate the word’s versatility and dynamism, allowing its appearance with clinical seriousness on show dog pages and the punchy long-running feminist publication Bitch Media.

Touché, Zuckerberg, because Kieffer has invited you to visit the town to honour the South Carolinian infantry division, “Sons of Bitche,” who liberated the town from Nazis.

In an email to Gizmodo, Facebook declined to confirm Zuckerberg’s next move.

It confirmed the accidental removal, blaming an “incorrect analysis by our systems” and said that Facebook France has reached out to the city of Bitche this morning. Facebook did not specify whether the name was the issue.

If the story sounds familiar, this is a thing: the “Scunthorpe problem” is a phenomenon named for the English town whose name includes a four-letter word which AOL’s detection system found objectionable. The town joins “Devil’s Dyke,” “Plymouth Hoe,” British pork meatballs “faggots,” and people whose last names contain “cum” or “shit.”