Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Breastfeeding is OK, nipples and arses are not

Facebook has published its community standards, which is commendable if shockingly overdue.

We want people to feel safe when using Facebook.

It’s a mystery that they want people to feel safe rather than actually being safe, but it’s a start.  The community standards statement tells us what’s allowed on Facebook, what’s not allowed and what we’re allowed to complain about.

Here’s what it says about being safe:

  • We remove credible threats of physical harm to individuals. I’m assuming (hoping) they did that already. But there are three obvious concerns. First, they’re the ones who get to decide what’s ‘credible’ and don’t seem inclined to tell us much about their criteria.  Second, what about threats of doxxing or threats to otherwise harass? Third, they remove the threats but not the people making those threats?
  • We prohibit content that promotes or encourages suicide or any other type of self-injury, including self-mutilation and eating disorders.  Seems fair enough, although it’s not clear what they mean by “prohibit”. Presumably they’ll remove it, which seems fair enough.  Well, fair enough providing that their definition of ‘promote’ is up to scratch.  It seems like it might: “People can, however, share information about self-injury and suicide that does not promote these things.”
  • We don’t allow any organizations that are engaged in the following to have a presence on Facebook (Terrorist activity, or Organized criminal activity). Sounds about right.  They say they’ll remove content that supports such groups or their leaders or condones their violent bits. It’s quite a short list to be made into bullet points, isn’t it?  I can’t help but wonder if some other types of hate were taken off the list.  Didn’t organisations engaged in other types of violence such as racism, homophobia, sexism make the list?  Maybe that comes under:
  • We don’t tolerate bullying or harassment.  Providing it’s not in the public interest. Bullying celebrities seems to be OK, although you can’t harass or threaten them.
  • We prohibit the use of Facebook to facilitate or organize criminal activity that causes physical harm to people, businesses or animals, or financial damage to people or businesses. Other sorts of criminal activity are OK. That’s probably fair enough: there are laws in some places that I wouldn’t want to endorse. If I were writing this list, I’d probably do it in a similar way. I might add a few extra things to the list, though. “We do, however, allow people to debate or advocate for the legality of criminal activities, as well as address them in a humorous or satirical way.” So that’s a good sign.
  • We remove content that threatens or promotes sexual violence or exploitation. This includes the sexual exploitation of minors, and sexual assault. This seems OK until  they specifically mention promotion of various services from sex workers such as prostitution, “sexual massages”, whatever that means, escort services (which seems something of a blanket) and “filmed sexual content”.  Since Facebook obviously doesn’t classify these things as “criminal activity that causes physical harm etc.” it would be interesting to know why they single this stuff out as automatically involving sexual violence or exploitation. 
  • You can’t buy or sell “drugs and marijuana” at all, but alcohol and tobacco are for some reason neither so it’s OK to buy or sell them if the relevant laws say it’s OK. That doesn’t seem especially coherent.

Here’s what they say about encouraging respectful behaviour. Quite a lot of ‘respect’ is about not posting pictures of certain, arbitrarily-defined bits of people:

  • Nudity is always and automatically bad.
  • Genitals and “fully exposed buttocks” are for some reason especially bad.
  • Female breasts are OK providing they don’t show *gasp* nipples.
  • They’re totally cool with breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring, despite their horrible past record on this issue. I’m going to guess that the nipples rule supersedes this one.
  • You can’t describe explicit sex, for some reason.

The rest is about hate speech. Facebook is against content that “directly” attacks people based on race, ethnicity, origin, religion, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, disability or disease and:

  • Organizations and people dedicated to promoting hatred against these protected groups are not allowed a presence on Facebook. Great except… “protected groups”?  Really?  “As with all of our standards, we rely on our community to report this content to us.” Oh….kay… but it’s the first we’ve heard of it. Why suddenly mention it now?

Then there’s stuff saying that if anyone says this kind of thing, it’s totally their own fault and not Facebook’s.  They didn’t say that about their ban on carefully-defined illegal stuff.

On balance, I’m not impressed.

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