Social media giant Facebook has stated that the recent removal of around 25 popular Catholic pages from its website was caused by a "malfunction in the system."
A total of 21 Catholic pages based in Brazil and four English-language pages were reportedly removed from Facebook on July 17 but were restored just over 24 hours later. The blocked pages reportedly had between hundreds of thousands and nine million followers, according to Catholic News Agency.
One of the affected accounts was the "Catholic and Proud" Facebook page, which has more than six million followers. Kenneth Alimba, who lives in Nigeria and administers the account, said that the removal was "extremely heartbreaking" and "too horrible."
"I've worked on the page for over five years and have put in all I am into it," he told the website ChurchPOP.
The pages were reportedly restored around 1 a.m. on the morning of July 19, just hours after the removal was reported by several media outlets.
Carlos René, administrator of "Papa Francisco Brazil," which has nearly four million followers, stated that the page was available again "without notification. I just realized that it was already on the air."
The owners and administrators of other popular pages such as "Father Rocky," "Catholic and Proud," and "Jesus" have similarly stated that they simply realized that their pages had been restored after seeing their accounts were back online.
Facebook later issued a statement announcing the restoration of the pages and attributing the removals to a malfunction.
"The pages were re-established. The incident was a malfunction of the spam detection mechanism in our platform. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.
Questions have been raised as to why all the affected pages appear to be Catholic in nature, as there have been no reports so far of non-Catholic pages being taken down and restored.
Facebook claimed that many religious sites often produce similar comments to spam on their posts, which may have caused the removal of the pages. The company explained that protocols aimed at taking down fake pages out of line with commercial spam policies allow for machine searches of posts that have similar comments.
In 2016, the social media giant faced accusations of censoring conservative trending topics, specifically the Conservative Political Action Conference and other conservative leaders.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg rejected the allegations and met with several conservative U.S. leaders to assure them of the platform's neutrality.