Is Facebook Getting ‘Freedom Of Expression’ Right?

    May 31, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Facebook has recently taken some heat over its approach to content on the social network that depicts, glorifies and/or trivializes violence against women. Groups like Women, Action and The Media, The Everyday Sexism Project, and no doubt countless other individuals, have had enough.

The aforementioned groups wrote an open letter to Facebook about the issue, and Facebook responded this week, indicating that it is making immediate changes, but some feel Facebook is walking a fine line between enforcing community standards and stifling free speech.

Do you think Facebook needs to make significant changes to how it handles offensive content? Let us know what you think in the comments.

In the letter, the groups called upon Facebook to do three things, specifically:

1. Recognize speech that trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech and make a commitment that you will not tolerate this content.

2. Effectively train moderators to recognize and remove gender-based hate speech.

3. Effectively train moderators to understand how online harassment differently affects women and men, in part due to the real-world pandemic of violence against women.

“To this end, we are calling on Facebook users to contact advertisers whose ads on Facebook appear next to content that targets women for violence, to ask these companies to withdraw from advertising on Facebook until you take the above actions to ban gender-based hate speech on your site,” the letter said.

The groups formed a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #FBrape.

Women, Action & The Media have been sharing a number of examples of the kind of content they’re concerned about. There are indeed some vile displays. Here are a couple, including one Facebook refused to have removed because it “doesn’t violate Facebook’s Community Standard on graphic violence”.

Facebook graphic violence

Keep in mind that Facebook has had the following things removed: photos of exposed breasts, breastfeeding photos, photos of cartoon breasts, a woman’s elbows that resembled breasts, and as recently as this month, artwork depicting actress Bea Arthur’s breasts.

On a sidenote, Pinterest is going to start allowing nudity (as long as it’s “artistic”).

Also among the examples given are groups like “Rapist Community,” “Slapping hookers in the face with a shoe,” and “Punching Rihanna”.

Facebook put out its own letter, in which Marne Levine, VP of Global Public Policy at Facebook wrote in direct response to the groups and their claims:

We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial. We define harmful content as anything organizing real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual (e.g. bullying). A list of prohibited categories of content can be found in our Community Standards at www.facebook.com/communitystandards.

In addition, our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (www.facebook.com/legal/terms) prohibits “hate speech.” While there is no universally accepted definition of hate speech, as a platform we define the term to mean direct and serious attacks on any protected category of people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease. We work hard to remove hate speech quickly, however there are instances of offensive content, including distasteful humor, that are not hate speech according to our definition. In these cases, we work to apply fair, thoughtful, and scalable policies. This approach allows us to continue defending the principles of freedom of self-expression on which Facebook is founded. We’ve also found that posting insensitive or cruel content often results in many more people denouncing it than supporting it on Facebook. That being said, we realize that our defense of freedom of expression should never be interpreted as license to bully, harass, abuse or threaten violence. We are committed to working to ensure that this does not happen within the Facebook community.

Facebook has vowed to take some new steps, which it said would begin rolling out immediately.

For one, Facebook said it will complete its review and update the guidelines its User Operations team uses to evaluate reports of violations of Community Standards on hate speech, while soliciting feedback from legal experts, representatives of the women’s coalition, and other groups. Secondly, it will update the training it gives to its teams that review and evaluate reports, again working with legal experts, the women’s coalition, and others.

The company says it will establish more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of women’s groups and others “to assure expedited treatment of content they believe violates” Facebook’s standards. Facebook also says it will encourage the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Cyberhate working group and other working groups to include representatives of the women’s coalition to “identify how to balance considerations of free expression, to undertake research on the effect of online hate speech on the online experiences of members of groups that have historically faced discrimination in society, and to evaluate progress on our collective objectives.”

“We will increase the accountability of the creators of content that does not qualify as actionable hate speech but is cruel or insensitive by insisting that the authors stand behind the content they create,” says Levine. “A few months ago we began testing a new requirement that the creator of any content containing cruel and insensitive humor include his or her authentic identity for the content to remain on Facebook. As a result, if an individual decides to publicly share cruel and insensitive content, users can hold the author accountable and directly object to the content. We will continue to develop this policy based on the results so far, which indicate that it is helping create a better environment for Facebook users.”

Since Facebook’s response, Women, Action, & The Media has put out a statement praising the company’s actions. “Facebook has already been a leader on the internet in addressing hate speech on its service,” it says. “We believe that this is the foundation for an effective working collaboration designed to confront gender-based hate speech effectively. Our mutual intent is to create safe spaces, both on and off-line. We see this as a vital and essential component to the valuable work that Facebook is doing to address cyber-bulling, harassment and real harm.”

“We are hopeful that this moment will mark an historic transition in relation to media and women’s rights in which Facebook is acknowledged as a leader in fostering safer, genuinely inclusive online communities, setting industry precedents for others to follow,” the statement says. “We look forward to collaborating with these communities on actions both big and small until we live in a world that’s safe and just for women and girls, and for everyone.”

Facebook is getting a lot of praise in general for its response, but some are worried about the freedom of speech implications. GigaOm senior writer Mathew Ingram, for example, asks, “Do we really want Facebook to decide what qualifies as hate speech and what doesn’t?”

“The larger problem in making Facebook take this kind of content down, however, is that it forces the network to take an even more active role in determining which of the comments or photos or videos posted by its billion or so users deserve to be seen and which don’t,” he writes. “In other words, it gives Facebook even more of a licence to practice what amounts to censorship — something the company routinely (and legitimately) gets criticized for doing.”

“It’s an increasingly slippery slope,” he says.

There’s no question that Facebook has some terrible stuff on it. What else could you expect from a network that provides a home to over a billion people? But do Ingram and other who share this view have a valid point? Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • rayquest

    i do understand the point of view of groups that take issue, but fb is a closed group we must invite or like a page to see its content and we have the power to hide or unfriend or unlike a page at anytime. i feel that the only speech that should be controlled by fb is one that is made in a comment as a reply all post are the views and free speech of the poster.

    • K. Ellis

      The thing is, you don’t technically have any right to free speech on Facebook. It’s private property that you choose to “visit” and use. So they have a right to censor whatever they want or whatever their overall community demands.

  • Susan Ward

    I had a friend who didn’t understand my vehement complaints about the corner convenience store, which placed magazines with cover photos much like your two examples (only with fewer clothes) on racks at my daughter’s eye-level. She was eight – and I didn’t even want them at my eye level. He’s Jewish. I suggested that he try to imagine that the photos were celebrating violence and dehumanization of Jews. He gave up the argument. I know that there are many opinions on FB that I personally do not agree with, and I can hide or unfriend. But publishing this kind of hate only allows the sickos to build relationships with each other, even if the rest of us can avoid them for the most part. I’m pretty certain FB would not publish if it were Jews or African Americans in the same scenereo, and they shouldn’t. I do not have the same problem with nudity or breasts. I may not those photos on my timeline, but they are not necessarily offensive. Why is it that in our culture, sexual violence is okay as long as you’re clothed? Thanks for the opportunity to speak out.

  • http://www.WelcomeToLincolnMaine.com Lee

    They can censor posts if they want. People can also leave fb if they want.

  • Cool Guy

    If you want a safe and private social network then tysoco.com is the best. It’s a True HD network with other awesome goodies.

  • http://musikterbaruindonesia.blogspot.com Stieawan

    Beautifull website

  • Bill Nolan

    I would like Facebook to perform less censorship, not more. While I understand that Facebook does have every right to censor as they see fit, that doesn’t mean they should. I am quite capable of “self-censoring” by just not going to pages I find objectionable. I don’t seek out photos of women in bondage, for example, but if I encounter one it doesn’t bother me. That is a consensual practice I view no differently than photos of two men kissing — non-issue. Remember, only unpopular speech needs to be protected. Personally, I find the ignorant far-left and far-right posts much more troubling, and I haven’t seen anything on FB much different than what I see in the movies. You know they will want to censor those next.

    • Wyatt V.

      Couldn’t agree more with this post. I’m every bit capable of ignoring what I don’t like. I understand censoring explicit nudity or a man getting his brains blown out but if it’s something that’s close to drawing the line, I know how to shrug it off and move on with life. I also understand some people have children that may come across what might be unfit for them. So if and when they do see something hateful or explicit (lets face it, this is the internet) talk to them about it and not just the ignorant “This is bad” five second scolding. The best protection on the web is your own knowledge.

  • Steven C Roth

    Free speach is guaranteed by the Constitution. This doesn’t mean that you can go into a crowded room and yell fire. That poses a direct threat to the health and safety of those in the room. If offensive material is posted on Facebook, unless it poses a direct threat to the health and safety of an individual, Facebook has no authority or right to sensor that post. BOTTOM LINE; IF YOU DON’T LIKE WHAT YOU SEE ON A POST, DON’T STAY ON THAT POST OR PAGE! Oh yeah one more thing, get a life!

  • Teresa Hall

    Fb is so bizarre in that it allows terrible photosof women in bondage and raped or women beaten to death , etc. and ssays it is not really harmful. They are wrong! Facebook is horrible. True I use it and post on it but, fb is becoming more andore gestpho like in what and who it allows to post. And according to WND, fb will allow the DOJ to access those posting anything that offends a Muslim! What??!! That is probably why they allow terrible photos of horrific things happening to women, that does not offend muslims.
    Something must be done. Our government is WAY out of control.

  • http://www.webnextsolutions.com/ Digital Marketing Company

    Even after being seriously concerned about the content it is not really easy for Facebook or other social media platforms to filter out and take accurate measures to stop or block the content that falls under hate speech, online harassment, violence etc. But it does not mean that efforts should be not made or eyes should be closed.

    Every sincere effort taken can take this concern a long way ahead.

  • http://www.graciousstore.com Gracious Store

    While it sounds right to ask Facebook to remove or moderate contents that attacks or hateful towards any group, we all have to recall that it can be viewed as i. infringement on free speech. ii. Some of these hateful contents can be useful to prosecute criminals when need be, so if Facebook removes/ moderates these contents prosecutors who otherwise could have used these posted content as evidence in prosecuting criminals will not have access to them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeangilles.associates Carlos E. Jean-Gilles

    It’s most definitely a step in the right direction. The move will, of course, not please everyone. But fairness required that move made because it’s simply wasn’t fair for the immatured free speech fanatics to use pseudonyms to attack and ridicule others by hiding behind anonymity while matured individuals have simply chosen to respect and not transgress FB’s request that one’s true name and date of birth be given to FB. FB never gave a darn about fairness, though. What they realized was that a lot of people like myself were getting fed up about the obvious injustice and we we’re about to say to FB, “Go f?ck yourself!” Without those of us willing to provide real and intelligent content on FB, FB would have remained a silly place where teenagers enjoy playing silly pretend games with each other. In truth, there’s a lot more at stakes here than placating the whims of the section of FB’s subscriber’s base that’s immatured. As they have recently discovered, that section of FB’s subscriber’s base is so fickle that it will jump onto anything hip that suits its own needs best. And FB cannot keep its tent as large as it wishes without compromising.

  • http://www.mindmagic123.com Holistic Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy – Los Angeles

    To qualify, I am a male, have been a domestic violence counselor, and am generally in favor of women’s rights. But this is not only a womens issue. There is a growing tendency for people who are offended by something to wish to ban it. This is usually restricted to topics that can be shown to cause direct harm, i.e. shouting “Fire.” in a crowded Cinema, etc. After direct harm it is all a matter of opinion, and personal preference. This is the essence of censorship, and as the old saying goes, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”

    To show how the desire to censor metastases, and becomes myopic, consider the case of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.” The young boy of the title is on a journey with an African American, who he looks down on, and has a very demeaning attitude towards. During the course of the journey he discovers that this adult man, who he regards as inferior because of his race, is in actuality a person of much experience, knowledge, dignity and other attributes, which humbles him and changes his attitude to one of great respect. It is an anti-racialism text of great power, written by a master of the written word and a great egalitarian. But as it was written around the turn of the 19th century, the boy’s speech is peppered with the “N” word, as it would be, adding complete verisimilitude. Activists want it banned from libraries, or to have the word cut out etc., as racist, whereas it is one of the world’s most powerful anti-racist literary works!

    I have a wide range of humor, including the very dark, even grisly. I understand the intended joke of the “I love her for her brains.” photo, but don’t find the contrast of meaning particularly funny. I can see some would find it upsetting, and/or offensive. So what. I find some of the more obviously commercial rackets of some Christian preachers on TV pretty horrible, should they be banned?

    Holistic Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy Los Angeles

  • http://Mabuzi.com Kevin

    FB is a corporation and can be held liable for hate speech. Been a corporation it can dictate its own laws too. Considering why it was founded is any one surpise we see FB attracting like minded people.

    To be honest I dont get sickos not matter where they hang out. Really subjugation of women is your issues taking it out on them.

  • http://aholebooks.blogspot.com Tony Banks

    I was recently barred from posting on Facebook after someone made a complaint about an older post of mine showing a person holding a dildo between their legs. Since it wasn’t a real penis, I didn’t think I was “violating” Facebook’s standards, which tend to be highly arbitrary. So I think you know my answer to the question posed in the title of this article.

  • Lisa H.

    I’m glad to see Facebook take action. If the site was a complete free-for-all that allowed anyone to post anything, then the presence of this type of content might simply be another example of poor taste in free speech. But for Facebook to set standards and then to remove photos of breastfeeding but not photos that incite rape is an example of a double standard. This is a good move.

  • http://www.detempus.com MakesSense2Me

    It’s not up to Facebook to decide what’s offensive content. They can have a policy for no nudity since that covers the entire spectrum and there’s no discretion, but WHO at Facebook is going to decide what is “offensive”.

    I find it offensive that Facebook blocks conservative groups. I find it offensive that Yelp is extorting small business. I find it offensive that President Obama continues to refer to our form of Government as a Democracy when it’s a Republic.

    I’m sure half of this country thinks I’m crazy. So which half should be heard and which half shouldn’t?

  • JC

    Free speech is important, as well as freedom of expression, and other factors. However, I believe that Facebook really needs to step it up about what it allows on its website. There are users who post nudity in their profile pictures that I have reported, and Facebook deemed that it was not bad enough to take down. I’ve also seen people post graphically violent images which are quite disturbing. There are also youth that use facebook which are seeing these images that could psychologically harm them. People’s accounts are getting banned when their account gets hacked, but facebook cannot remove content that is inappropriate? I might have misunderstood some of what was listed above, but if there are groups promoting rape that facebook is allowing, then that is a serious problem, as it would be promoting crimes, and indirectly, facebook would be promoting these crimes. Maybe facebook wants to allow more users to keep traffic coming to their site, but they need to have limitations.

  • Name

    Why don’t we just get it over with and ban EVERYTHING. Part of the human condition is being exposed to things and deciding for yourself what to follow. If something is offensive to you, then don’t partake in it. Just put on your big boy or girl pants and choose to ignore it! Is it that hard?

    Also, who are we kidding? We are so hypocritical. The US will freak out at a nude picture online but has no problems when a drone attack kills hundreds of innocent civilians in a foreign country. We don’t even bat an eye at the 56 million children that have been aborted since 1970.

    We will address every small issue but on big stuff we turn a blind eye.

  • Ed Sumner

    Facebook allows homo-groups to disrespect God, Christians, Christianity and conservatives, while at the same time having a cow over the word ‘faggot’. Yet these groups call Christians everything under the sun. Zuckerberg (or however he spells his name) needs to undergo a radical cranial-rectal surgery to get his head out of his bum and quit playing PC favorites before someone sues him and his cheesy little website for all it’s worth. Like me.