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Update On The Journalist Kicked Off Facebook


We have an update on the investigative journalist who was kicked off Facebook. She's a reporter from Zimbabwe. And as we have reported, she was in the midst of working on a story about child abuse when Facebook's software detected her activity and expelled her. NPR'S Aarti Shahani reports on what's happened since.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Sandra Nyaira got kicked off about eight months ago. She was investigating a child abuser. She tried to use Facebook Messenger, the private chat tool, to share pictures of two little girls being abused with a fellow journalist. And Facebook's computer software did not approve. Nyaira pleaded to Facebook through emails and forms, but her pleas went nowhere - until, that is, last week.

SANDRA NYAIRA: When Facebook - you know, when they called me to say they wanted to talk to me...

SHAHANI: That was a big surprise.

NYAIRA: (Laughter) It was.

SHAHANI: Nyaira was contacted by three Facebook employees. It was quite multinational. One employee was in London, the other in Nigeria and the last in South Africa. Two of them set up a time to interview Nyaira by video chat.

NYAIRA: Yeah, it was long meeting. It started by them, you know, explaining to me their policies as Facebook.

SHAHANI: The meeting lasted 45 minutes, Nyaira says. And the Facebook officials spent a chunk of that time laying out the ban on child pornography, a ban Nyaira agrees with wholeheartedly. The officials did not explain why her many efforts to get reinstated failed, why she slipped through their cracks.

NYAIRA: No. No, no, no, no. They didn't explain the mistake. But of course, you know, I could read in between the lines. Without saying it in words, they were accepting that, you know, it was a mistake.

SHAHANI: The mistake was not blocking her from sharing the horrific pictures. It was keeping her expelled despite the circumstances of her case. Nyaira let me be there on the phone as she logged back in after so many months away.

NYAIRA: I hope I remember the password.

SHAHANI: And an interesting thing happened when she got back on. In an earlier interview, perhaps out of frustration, Nyaira said she didn't need Facebook in her life - good riddance. But now, she got downright giddy scrolling through her newsfeed. The first post that caught her eye was spiritual.

NYAIRA: When in doubt, pray it out.

SHAHANI: Nyaira is a Christian. And it turns out she really missed this one Facebook group for Christian women who share their everyday struggles and prayers. She also loves seeing what her colleagues in other countries were doing. One friend had a baby. Another was giving a talk on anti-terrorism in Africa. The feeling she's having, the feeling of being sent to the corner and then allowed to come back to the group, it's palpable.

NYAIRA: I realized - you know what? - there are things that you cannot do by yourself. You - we live in communities. And this is the biggest ever community that we have. You are connected to people all over the world.

SHAHANI: For now, Nyaira can look but not post. She has to wait 72 hours after her first login to start messaging her friends again.

Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARM AND SLEEPERS' "WHEN THE BODY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.