One of the key issues for Facebook in the coming months and years is improving their moderation of inappropriate content. There have been several issues where Facebook either deleted content later deemed appropriate, or allowed posts, pictures, and videos that many experienced as offensive, violent, racist, sexist, or even illegal.
This is even more true with the live streaming option, which is becoming more and more popular. The shooting of Philando Castile (the aftermath was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend) is one example of a live stream that gained notoriety because of its ethical and legal repercussions.
In its defense, the social media giant is facing an unprecedented stream of data and content. Research shows, for instance, Facebook deals with millions of reports each week on fake accounts alone. One can only imagine how many reports on inappropriate content the company has to review every day.
That being said, many wonder about Facebook’ guidelines on inappropriate content. These seem to vary per case and are often inconsistent. A well-known example is Facebook’s stubborn practice of removing pictures of women breastfeeding a baby (‘no nudity’), whereas verbal sexual attacks on women are often allowed.
Facebook’s Internal Guidebook
The British newspaper The Guardian managed to get their hands on Facebook’s internal guidebook, including many documents on issues the social medium has to moderate. It shows their policy on issues like revenge porn, violence and threats, graphic violence, and more.
In this article, The Guardian shows several examples of Facebook’s policy and analyses its guidelines. If anything, it shows the huge inconsistencies even on the theoretical level. Take for instance child abuse. The internal rules state that Facebook only removes pictures of child abuse when there is a ‘sadist or celebratory element’. Videos of child abuse are to be marked as disturbing but are not removed.
Facebook: The World’s Premier Censor
But it also raises a broader question, one that the Guardian article glosses over: where does censorship start and free speech end? This is a question with enormous implications, considering Facebook’s massive international audience. Many are concerned about Facebook’s role in curbing free speech—especially considering Facebook’s guidelines are internal and anything but transparent.
On the other end of the spectrum are users who feel Facebook should be much stricter in what it allows in terms of inappropriate content. A sad example is generic violence or sexism against women, which is allowed. It’s only when it becomes personal and targeted against a specific person, that Facebook deems it inappropriate. The same holds true for racism. This gives much leeway to hate groups and similar loosely organized groups.
It’s interesting to see where Facebook will head with its guidelines on inappropriate content. The question how much free speech we as Facebook users are willing to sacrifice in order to gain more safety on this platform is not an easy one to answer.