Facebook Promises Looser Application of Community Standards

The Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Napalm Girl' image is just one past victim of Facebook's over-censorship - Img src: Time
Facebook has pledged to adopt a more laissez-faire approach to its management of the images, words and videos posted onto the site by users. A statement released on Friday, penned by Joel Kaplan and Justin Osofsky, addressed the issue of rules and regulations regarding what kind of content is acceptable, bearing in mind Facebook’s desire to uphold a nice, clean, friendly environment. It’s an important time for Facebook in determining its community standards, especially given recent controversies regarding censorship on the site. But how does this media giant compare to other sites in these terms? And what does this new statement really mean for customers? Is it good news, bad news, or not really news at all?

It’s clear why Facebook has released this statement now, surfacing as it does in the wake of recent controversies surrounding the site’s censorship of images. In September, we saw a furore as a clumsy attempt to apply Facebook’s anti-nudity policy in a strictly uniform manner led moderators to repeatedly remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning image ‘Napalm Girl’ from the site. Facebook subsequently apologised and restored the image. But the hot water beckoned again as, just last week, moderators removed an educational video which explained to women how to check for breast cancer. The video represented breasts using pink, cartoon circles. Uproars and apologies once again ensued. So, as a sign of good faith, and surely in an attempt to re-establish control, Facebook sent out the statement on Friday, which reads: “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.”

That’s the struggle Facebook has, and which it’s now openly talking about: in order to reach a just and legitimate decision in every case regarding whether or not to allow an image on its site, subjectivity needs a place in the application of the rules – but, maybe in equal measure, the rules need to be followed at the same time. Exactly how strictly so is indeed a fine balance; and, as Facebook tells us, it’s something that’s going to ebb and flow with temporal, political, social and regional contexts – because so too do the norms of acceptability therein.

Whatever happens, these problems aren’t going away. If Facebook allowed everything, it would eventually become 4Chan – a terrifying heck hole devoid of human warmth. But they clearly can’t afford to go too far the other way either. As an effort to smooth users’ concerns about the prevalence of Facebook censorship, Friday’s announcement is a good sign, ostensibly at least. But one might also be forgiven for scepticism. After all, it’s hard to see exactly how Facebook can avoid stepping on people’s toes. What we’re seeing is an effort by Facebook to bolster the company’s inclusive image: but with moderators filtering through countless posts every day, it’s hard to imagine Facebook aren’t merely cooling things down and crossing their fingers in the hope that things don’t flare-up again anytime soon. Let’s watch this space.

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