Facebook on Monday disabled a third-party application that asked whether users thought US President Barack Obama should be assassinated.

Facebook and the US Secret Service said they were working together to investigate who published the poll, but a Secret Service spokesman declined to say whether they had located the author yet. It is against the law to threaten the president.

The offending poll was created using an application that allows users to create their own surveys. “The vast majority were benign,” said Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt. It went up at the weekend and came to Facebook’s attention on Monday morning, at which point they took it down.

According to apparent screenshots of the poll circulating on the web, more than 750 people cast votes. The results were not visible.

Attempts to access the poll on Facebook now brings up an error message that reads, “The application ‘Polls’ is temporarily unavailable due to an issue with its third-party developer. We are investigating the situation and apologise for any inconvenience.” Mr Schnitt said Facebook was in touch with the developer of the application and may allow it to continue functioning.

A growing number of politically-charged groups, pages and applications are appearing on Facebook, the world’s largest social networking website. These include several groups which oppose President Obama.

“We want Facebook to be a place where controversial ideas can be expressed,” said Mr Schnitt.

But the company has drawn criticism for using what critics call an inconsistent approach to shutting down hate groups. According to its terms of service, Facebook users can express disdain for ideas, political parties and religions, but not groups of people or individuals.

“There’s a distinction between criticising an individual and an idea. One is allowed and one is not,” said Mr Schnitt. “Can you say, I hate Islam? Yes. Can you say I hate Muslims? No.”

In particular, Facebook has been lambasted for its refusal to take down Holocaust denial groups.

Brian Cuban, the lawyer and brother to Broadcast.com and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, has written an open letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg asking him to take down Holocaust denial sites on the site.

“It is my position that Holocaust denial propagates direct hatred against Jews,” Mr Cuban said. “We are in a world where mere words do incite direct violence.”

Mr Cuban has been in dialogue with Facebook about the issue and presented at the company’s Palo Alto headquarters on the topic in June.

But on Monday Facebook maintained its position. “Saying I hate an idea is different than saying I hate a group of people,” said Mr Schnitt. “You have to draw the line somewhere, and that’s where we chose to draw the line.”

Anna Fifield contributed reporting from Washington

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