Facebook is often criticized for playing nanny: removing content deemed unsuitable for minors, removing content deemed offensive to this or that group, and in general adopting a perhaps benevolent but certainly heavily hands-on approach to the material posted by users. That could be about to change.
According to a Facebook news release penned by Joel Kaplan, VP Global Public Policy, and Justin Osofsky, VP Global Operations and Media Partnerships, the social network’s interference practices are about to be relaxed.
“In the weeks ahead, we’re going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest – even if they might otherwise violate our standards,” say Kaplan and Osofsky. “We will work with our community and partners to explore exactly how to do this.”
The social network’s policies are outlined in the Facebook Community Standards. The first two sections of the document, titled “Helping to keep you safe” and “Encouraging respectful behavior” are relevant here.
Many Facebook users are familiar with the fact that a post containing adult language, or a picture showing nudity, or a video with sexual content, for example, can be removed by Facebook.
The company is also known for enforcing a strict real name disclosure policy: pseudonymous users and privacy-conscious users who log in through Tor and anonymizing proxies can be blocked from accessing Facebook unless they provide government-issued documents and pictures.
Facebook has probably good intentions. Its interference and censorship measures can be justified by invoking, for example, the need to protect young Facebook users from predators hiding behind a fake identity. At the same time, many perfectly normal Facebook users are beginning to resent the leading social network’s nanny attitude, and switching to more hands-off social media like Reddit.
Censorship is more difficult to justify when it comes to current news and opinions shared by users and media operators on Facebook, which may “involve violence and graphic images of public interest or concern, such as human rights abuses or acts of terrorism.” Though such material is deeply disturbing, publishing it is important to raise awareness of important issues.
“Our intent is to allow more images and stories without posing safety risks or showing graphic images to minors and others who do not want to see them,” say Kaplan and Osofsky.
Facebook move to relax its community standards is a step in the right direction, and it’s to be hoped that the identity standards will be also relaxed. There are plenty of nice folks who don’t want to reveal their real identity for perfectly legitimate reasons.
Facebook, Please Also Stop Political Censorship and Thought Policing
Kaplan and Osofsky admit that “people often disagree about what standards should be in place to ensure a community that is both safe and open to expression.”
“We think of ourselves as a technology company,” said Facebook VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri, as reported by TechCrunch. Mosseri added that Facebook plays an important media role, yet “our responsibility is to make sure we’re a platform for all ideas.”
We’re not in the business of deciding which ideas people should read about.
That makes perfect sense, though TechCrunch seems to disagree. It appears that some people at Facebook also disagree. In fact, some employees pushed to remove posts by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for alleged “hate speech,” The Wall Street Journal reported a few days ago. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ruled that it would be inappropriate to censor the candidate, after which some pro-censorship employees threatened to quit.
In August, Facebook fired some contract workers who manipulated the social network’s trending topics feed for political purposes, skewing it toward a liberal bias.
According to Pew Research, about bout 44 percent of Americans get at least some of their news from Facebook. That shows how Facebook is de-facto a major news media with important political impact. Therefore, Facebook should either explicitly declare a political bias, or strive to provide impartial, unbiased coverage of political news and opinions.
Libertarian magazine Reason notes that calls to ban hate speech are deeply misguided. “Such bans have the opposite of the intended effect, protecting the forbidden speech from critical engagement and giving it a martyr-like status.”
Unpopular speech is the most important speech to protect, otherwise free speech is an illusion.
Zuckerberg recently resisted witch-hunting calls to end Facebook’s association with venture capitalist Peter Thiel, “guilty” of openly supporting Trump. “We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate,” said Zuckerberg in an internal memo. “There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault.”
In related news, the Trump campaign launched a new Facebook Live show Monday night.
Facebook’s steps toward an open, impartial and unbiased approach, are to be praised. “Like” it or not, the world is full of people who, for perfectly legitimate reasons that make sense to them, adopt wildly different political positions, and the citizens can exercise their right to democracy only if they can listen to, and evaluate, all different political position.
Images from Ksayer1/Flickr and Shutterstock.