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Facebook Deletes University’s History Project for Violating Social Network’s Rules

The two students brought back to life on Facebook by a University of Nevada at Reno librarian have been returned to the history books for violating the social network’s terms of service.

Facebook shut down the profiles of Joe McDonald and Leola Lewis this morning, according to Donnelyn Curtis, the director of research collections and services at the University of Nevada at Reno. Before the accounts were taken offline, Ms. Curtis used the couple’s profiles to give students a glimpse of university life in the early 20th century. When Ms. Curtis logged in to update their profiles today, she was greeted with a message that said the profiles had been suspended. The development was first reported early today on the social-networking news site Mashable.

Facebook’s rules specify that users may not “provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.” Ms. Curtis said she understood why the historical profiles violated Facebook’s policy, but added that she would have appreciated a warning before the company took action.

Ms. Curtis said the pair’s popularity boomed after receiving coverage in The Chronicle and other publications, sometimes approaching 30 to 40 new friend requests per hour. By the time they were shut down, Mr. McDonald and Ms. Lewis had amassed about 3,000 friends. Ms. Curtis said the extra attention ended up being “the kiss of death” for the couple’s virtual selves.

Ms. Curtis plans to create “pages” for the students, rather than profiles, which are permissible under Facebook rules. But she’ll have to do so from scratch, because she can’t recoup the questions and comments that their friends posted on their Facebook profiles. She’ll also have to choose a category for the pages, which are typically used by businesses and celebrities and don’t necessarily apply to historical figures.

“There’s a category that you can choose, but they don’t really fit into any of those categories,” she said.

Although the suspension presents a temporary setback for the project, Ms. Curtis said she’s encouraged by the amount of attention the couple received.

“From what I saw, there are a lot of people interested in learning history from simulated real people,” she said.

[Photo courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada at Reno libraries]

Update: Ms. Curtis has finished building the couple’s Facebook “pages.” Mr. McDonald can be found here, and Ms. Lewis is here.

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