Sunday, March 22, 2015

Facebook's Community Standards + Censorship

 Image result for FB censorship
As I wrote two months ago about the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and their tragic aftermath for my friend's free-speech Irish-themed site The Pensive Quill, and as anti-censorship has always been a pursuit I've encouraged in my teaching, my personal life, and my discussions with patient pals, I share Justin King comments in the Pontiac Tribune about Facebook's updated Community Standards.

Of course, parsing FB's carefully worded and superficially cheery phrasing to compare with King's Orwellian interpretation opens this Big Brother interpretation to debate. There's lots of wiggle room when you compare the standards under "Encouraging Respectful Behavior" for the overview, nudity, hate speech, and graphic and violent content respectively. After gently warning us that we may find opinions different from ours in the big bad online realm, it then adds: "To help balance the needs, safety, and interests of a diverse community, however, we may remove certain kinds of sensitive content or limit the audience that sees it." Global sensitivity appears a goad, and while, for instance, we are assured breastfeeding or post-masectomy pictures are fine, as well as art of the nude, sex itself or the parts of us which engage in those actions are prohibited. Yet, as this French case about Gustave Courbet's "L'origine du monde" shows, FB censorship enters when art, freedom, standards all collide.

When it comes, too, for "hate speech," we might all agree in theory that "content that directly attacks people based on their: race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, or gender identity, or serious disabilities or diseases" is not a feature of a civilized society. Yet, what about groups raising feminist protests against Muslims, or Palestinian commentary linking "the Zionist entity" and the IDF to the Third Reich? The line between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism itself is very, very blurred, as repeated instances occur on FB of liberal criticism of Israel's policies.

In turn, FB remarks that on some "important issues,"these "involve violence and graphic images of public interest or concern, such as human rights abuses or acts of terrorism. In many instances, when people share this type of content, they are condemning it or raising awareness about it." The distinction between awareness, protest, advocacy, and glorification, and who is a terrorist and who is an insurgent, who a freedom fighter and who a traitor, depends on the perspective of more than one. 

At least sharing of these standards generates healthy and necessary debate. While FB is often a forum for petty and sometimes raw discussion, should it be curbed? King states: "Is my newsfeed pretty diverse? Yes. Are some of these statements offensive? Sure. Should they be banned? Of course not."
(Reprinted for The Pensive Quill, 4-8-15)

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