It is increasingly apparent that Facebook is not even bothering to explain itself, meting out severe punishments to users who honestly have no clue what is or is not acceptable anymore in Facebookland.
In its ongoing war to maintain a puritanical G-rated online universe (where even images of nude art and breastfeeding women are routinely removed), Facebook now seems to have declared war on adult content pages, from adult humor to BDSM to more tame Playboy style T&A pages.
On June 22 without warning thousands of 18+ pages were unpublished, leaving shocked page owners with no recourse other than an “appeal” button. Since this apparent raid, some of these pages have been restored (most in the first 48 hours) while the majority are still awaiting a verdict in an notoriously opaque appeals process that does not invite participation by the offending page. And on June 28, hundreds of page owners spared in the first strike, woke up to find their fully operational (and Facebook community standards compliant) adult content pages deleted (versus unpublished) without notice, recourse to appeal or explanation. (When Facebook unpublishes a page, the content is still visible to the page owner. A deleted page no longer exists.)
Most page owners, many of whom had thousands of fans, have already begun to rebuild by starting their pages over. Many have also formed secret FB groups to rally around each other and support the rebooted pages. And others have created new pages decrying Facebook’s heavy-handed censorship.
In this latest salvo by Facebook, what is increasingly apparent is that Facebook is not even bothering to explain itself, meting out severe punishments to users who honestly have no clue what is or is not acceptable anymore in Facebookland. When Facebook removes a post and blocks the poster’s account, an automated message includes a link to a definition so vague as to be useless.
Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity.
The following three images are just a few of many examples of content Facebook has recently removed from adult-oriented pages even though these images do not violate Facebook’s own in-house handbook for nudity and sexual content, used as recently as last year by FB employees whose job it is to wade through the onslaught of incoming reports by Facebook’s frontline police force—its offended users, some of whom it seem make it a virtual career to play the moral sheriff role. Specifics include removal of items that involve “Any obvious sexual activity even if naked parts are hidden from view by hands, clothes or other objects. Cartoon/art included. Foreplay allowed (Kissing, groping etc) even for same sex individuals” and “Naked private parts including female nipple bulges and naked butt cracks; male nipples are okay,” and “Digital/cartoon nudity. Art nudity OK” but watch out for “camel toes and moose knuckles.”
Perhaps most disturbing is that in this new and more stringent anti-adult content campaign, Facebook conveniently manages to overlook big media players like Facebook Playboy and Maxim, pages currently running with impunity images like these:
The plot thickens when Facebook also takes paid lingerie ads that display a partial view of the dreaded nipple, an infraction that could shut down an entire adult content page or block the user who posted it for up to 3o days.
Some page owners are accusing the Feminist coalition, Women, Action & Media (WAM) for this latest Facebook crackdown, an organization that recently forced Facebook to admit its lax policy on gender-based hate speech. But spokeswomen from WAM’s Facebook Page ardently deny any involvement in this latest purge.
Other rumors circulate that there has been a change of leadership in Facebook’s Policy Department and the implication that the incoming division head is changing the game by coming down hard on adult pages that have been sprouting like weeds in Facebook’s sexually sanitized garden.
Certainly Facebook has a right to create the rules of engagement for its users. But for some reason Facebook also seems to be unwilling to share those rules explicitly, so that users can comply without confusion. Publishing in the community standards the very same list of guidelines above used by Facebook staff to sort through reported content, would be a simple solution, giving users the same knowledge as FB User Operations staff of what is forbidden and what is sanctioned.
Yet Facebook Policy Spokesperson Fred Wolens, in an email earlier this month to the question why Facebook doesn’t simply outline explict do’s and don’ts responded, “The Community Standards are inherently vague because it would be impossible to list out (in all +70 FB languages) everything that would be both policy compliant and non-compliant. Instead, we offer guidelines to help people know what is and isn’t OK to post. As far as nudity, we do not allow exposed genitalia or nipples.”
In the meantime, as Facebook claims to be creating an “open and connected” world, it is also covertly leading an Inquistion-like dark ages when it comes to nudity and sexuality. And while borderline porn players like Playboy and Maxim are mysteriously immune to this latest onslaught of bans and blocks, pages run by sex educators and sex positivity leaders are downright harassed by Facebook—often simply because this material “offends” the mainstream FB user.
Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, is paraphrased in an NPR blog, All Tech Considered, saying that “If Facebook had existed in the 1970s … rules like these could have easily made organizing around, say, gay rights, difficult or impossible.” He says, “by definition, transgressive movements, at their founding, are going to offend people.” In otherwords, what upsets people is not always a bad thing—it might be a new social movement in its nascency, like say, Feminism or Sex Positivity.
An example of this? Rebelle Sex, a FB Page of 20K fans built over six months (and including 3K in paid FB ads) was one of the pages hit in the June 22nd raid. Unlike ‘tits and ass’ style pages, many of which are still up, this page ran links to educational content from sex educators and writers worldwide and was intended as a branding platform for the online magazine by the same name launching this fall. Far from porn or sleaze, the About section described it as “an open-minded and curiosity-driven magazine aimed at reclaiming our inherent sexual innocence,” and as a “dynamic hub of erotic knowledge for the sensually curious.” The fan base reflected this with an average weekly reach of 100,000 users, divided equally among men and women, something rarely seen in the porn industry.
In the end, Facebook is looking less like the community and branding builder it claims to be and more like an unpredictable enforcing entity that can without due warning block or delete your personal account and unpublish your Business or Fan Page, even after you have paid adverstising dollars to Facebook to grow it. With this latest seemingly arbitrary and inconsistent application of vague community standards in the name of keeping things “safe” for users, Facebook has shown itself to be the most unsafe place of all.