Facebook Inc. said today it will be changing up the rules for sharing content, allowing a wider variety to be shared even if it’s controversial.
Facebook has come under fire multiple times in the past for censoring certain images and stories from its social network, such as when it removed an iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War photo because it contained nudity. This week, Facebook once again found itself embroiled in controversy when it removed video by the Swedish Cancer Society that included a short, blocky cartoon showing a self breast exam.
Facebook has since apologized for removing the video, noting that the cartoon did not actually violate its ad policies and was removed in error, and now the company has said that going forward, it will try to be more lenient when it comes to the sort of content allowed on users’ news feeds. According to Facebook, this is not as easy as it sounds due to the differing laws and and social norms throughout the world.
“Observing global standards for our community is complex,” Joel Kaplan, vice president global public policy, and Justin Osofsky, vice president of global operations and media partnerships, wrote in Facebook’s announcement:
“Whether an image is newsworthy or historically significant is highly subjective. Images of nudity or violence that are acceptable in one part of the world may be offensive — or even illegal — in another. Respecting local norms and upholding global practices often come into conflict. And people often disagree about what standards should be in place to ensure a community that is both safe and open to expression.”
Of course, the excuse of complying with local laws and customs has not always helped Facebook escape criticism when it chooses to remove content from its site. For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving civil liberties online, berated Facebook and Twitter in 2015 when it caved to demands from the Turkish government to censor content critical of controversial Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“If American social media companies continue to do the Turkish government’s bidding every time they threaten to block their service, they become complicit in Turkey’s long history of silencing dissent under the guise of ‘insult’ or ‘national security,'” the EFF said at the time.
What will change?
Facebook’s recent announcement about easing up on censorship does not go into detail about what sort of new content will be allowed, and it’s not clear whether the company will be more open to content that would be censored purely on the whims of an authoritative government.
Here’s what Facebook said in its blog post regarding how its rules are changing:
“In the weeks ahead, we’re going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest — even if they might otherwise violate our standards. We will work with our community and partners to explore exactly how to do this, both through new tools and approaches to enforcement. Our intent is to allow more images and stories without posing safety risks or showing graphic images to minors and others who do not want to see them.”
Facebook did not elaborate on what these “tools and approaches to enforcement” will be. But the company’s “think of the children” rhetoric is somewhat troubling to some, calling into question how open the social network really plans to be.