Friday, April 22, 2011

Facebook's Inconsistent TOS and Enforcement Practices

There has been a growing number of reported number of sanctions and or deletions of people's content and or entire profile on Facebook leading many to wonder if Facebook is stepping up it's Terms Of Service (TOS) enforcement actions. Here's a clip of an article posted today on Huffington Post:


Facebook removed a photo of two men kissing from a user's Wall due to an apparent violation of the site's terms of service. Here's the message the original poster received from Facebook:


Content that you shared on Facebook has been removed because it violated Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Shares that contain nudity, or any kind of graphic or sexually suggestive content, are not permitted on Facebook.

This message serves as a warning. Additional violations may result in the termination of your account. Please read the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities carefully and refrain from posting abusive material in the future. Thanks in advance for your understanding and cooperation.

The Facebook Team

This act of censorship has received considerable attention (some worthwhile discussions here,herehere, and here). Certainly, it is within Facebook's right to try to control the type of content shared on its platform, and there are some social good to be gained through content filtering and censorship (i.e., you might want to censor child porn, or links to malware sites, etc).

But there are some fundamental concerns with this case, that point to a growing censorship problem within Facebook.

First, the message sent to the user indicated that "Shares that contain nudity, or any kind of graphic or sexually suggestive content, are not permitted on Facebook." However, if you review the site's much lauded Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, that particular language is not present. The Statement does include the directive "You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence" (3.7). Again, this is probably a reasonable restriction (although not completely without controversy). That said, no where in the Rights statement does it prohibit, or suggest a prohibition, on "sexually suggestive" content. It merely restricts pornography and nudity. Therefore, not only does Facebook misquote its own Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to the user when justifying the removal of content, it misapplies said Statement.

Elsewhere, in the site's Community Standards page (and I'm not sure how Facebook has resolved the attitudes and preferences of a "community" of 600 million users into a single shared set of standards), it notes that "We have a strict "no nudity or pornography" policy. Any content that is inappropriately sexual will be removed". Again, the photo includes neither nudity nor pornography. How it violates the community standards remains baffling.

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