Notes on a scandal- Facebook’s community standards

Censorship. A difficult matter at the best of times. Almost every one quarter sensible person, even on the right, would agree that this doesn’t even begin to be worthy of censorship:

The image is from the delightful page “Anarchist memes”. I know of a few pages its been removed from by Facebook, though it still seems to be up on the new incarnation of the anarchist memes page.

By contrast, have a look at this most unlovely image. A few months ago I reported this image to Facebook as hate speech:

Image

Given that the image suggests that feminism is a Jewish conspiracy, it’s clear racism and I and anyone else with their head screwed on would think its sexist as well. In any case- A-grade racism, thus prototypical hate speech, simple, done.

Facebook didn’t think so and my complaint was rejected. Well,  I thought to myself, that’s pretty appalling- but I suppose they must get a lot of complaints, and consequently they must have set the bar very high. Disgusting but explicable.

Just in case you think this sort of thing is an isolated incident, witness this delightful image from the lovely “White Women Against Feminism” page:

Image

What a joker.

But no, it’s not simply a matter of avoiding the censorious. This morning I learnt that the following image was removed as hate speech, having been posted by the popular page, “Anarchist Memes”:
Image

Not only was the image removed, Anarchist Memes was deleted* . I was now thoroughly perplexed.

So I did some digging and found a leaked copy of Facebook’s criteria for deleting or keeping images. What I found was fascinating. Did you know that empty threats against ordinary people, and being referenced negatively,  are not grounds for deletion, but empty threats and negative references against police officers are grounds for deletion of content? Thus “Dan the bricklayer is a pig” would not be deleted whereas “Dan the cop is a pig” would be deleted?

Did you know that images depicting burning of the Turkish flag are grounds for deletion? As are maps of Kurdistan. And apparently images of earwax. It’s also against the rules to insult someone for being white, male or heterosexual, now personally I think it’s pretty childish to insult someone on this basis, but did they really feel it had to go in the rules?

Still, nothing in the rules seemed to justify the deletion of anarchist memes. Perhaps the decisions are more or less random. After all, given that the third world workers who make these decisions are paid a dollar an hour, why shouldn’t they be?

Facebook’s code, and especially its application, is arbitrary and seems to favor the right. This is not a trivial point. So much of what we do- ordinary life and activism alike, are embedded into it. Moralism will not save us, nor will individualistic boycotts. Facebook, like all corporations, is and will continue to act in the interests of the self-valorisation of capital (crudely speaking, profit). We can and should organize ourselves. Rightwing protests that Facebook is private, and can do what it likes, only serve to expose the hollowness of such sentiments. We live much of our lives in such “private” venues, and it would be foolish to allow others to control us through them.

Against Facebook, and its world, and thus for ourselves, and our lives.

*a new page has been setup, which you should like in solidarity, though the page is a teensy bit liberal

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About timothyscriven

I study philosophy at Sydney University. In the grand scheme, I'm not very important.
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