Facebook's double standards: censorship, legality, sensitivity and good taste

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The other day, I posted on my Instagram account a picture of my daughter in a bikini, standing on a swing in the garden. A few hours later, the image was deleted from my profile. It seems that the folks at Instagram considered the content of the image, which simply showed the innocence of a child happily playing on a swing on a sunny summer afternoon, to be offensive or inappropriate. Recently, a friend of mine who works for the Spanish Cannabis seed bank, Buddha Seeds, was telling me how Facebook had censored a contest he had organized on social media because apparently it went against their policies or “community standards.”

 Maybe for some this situation isn’t comparable because, after all, cannabis is a drug, right?

In fact, the powers that be over at Zuckerberg’s grand social network block all content about narcotics whenever it promotes their use. But who decides what is and what isn’t a drug? Well, it’s neither the judicial nor the legal system, which sadly do not always go hand in hand; rather, it’s Facebook’s dominant ideology that makes the final decision.

That said, Facebook is a private company and can therefore decide on its own content policies, but that doesn’t mean we can’t criticize it: first, because the use of this massive social network is almost universal and second, because its corporate bosses tell us that they're doing it to protect us. Protect us from what? Are we really supposed to believe that they are looking after us?

Not so fast, Mr. Zuckerberg!First of all, you should know that I do not find a woman’s nipple or somebody’s genitals offensive in the least. In fact -- imagine how morbid I must be -- I love Gustave Courbet's painting which openly shows a woman’s genitalia. But you seem to have judged what my artistic sensibility should be and have blocked this image from my sight simply because you felt like it.

Much to my regret, you Facebook big-shotsdo allow the use of images which truly are damaging to me, showing burned or deformed children or fetuses post-abortion, all in order to solicitdonations for an approved cause or to vindicate some political decision.You also allow very violent pictures as a form of protest. But you prohibit images that promote breastfeeding and you still censor information about drugs, which, without going any further, could actually do something to promote risk-prevention policies. But you don’t seem to care, and to top it all off, you say you're doing it for us, the users.

Quit lying to us, especially when you’re carrying out acts of censorship that are both aggressive and contrary to any ethical code, all to benefit the interests of certain governments. You manage your content to favor your economic necessities and to protect your market, not me, nor my brother, my daughter, or my friend at Buddha,who was only trying to give away green happiness to his followers in the form of seeds.

The seeds of neo-conservatism and the double standards of extreme capitalism are what we have to watch out for, not the seeds that sprout from the earth and grow into plants, psychedelic or not. In fact, the Community Manager over at Buddha Seeds tells me that what Facebook is doing to the cannabis companies on social media isn’t logical: “They allow us to create business pages, but we can’t publicize ourselves, even it we're a legal business,which we are… it doesn't make any sense." 

The case of Buddha Seeds is a perfect example because a few days ago, the social network updated its community rules, prohibiting images of buttocks or breasts in which the nipple is exposed, and also content which incites hatred or exalts terrorism.

This censorship has sparked controversy in the community, just as in the case I mentioned before, where the French justice system declared itself competentto rule on such issues and sided with a professor who denounced the social network for censorship after Facebook blocked his account. The reason? He had posted a picture of the painting “The Origin of the World”, by Gustave Courbet, which shows a woman’s genitalia. That’s right, dear readers, this is the puritanical side of Facebook, and it was also the reason behind the network's deactivation of an account belonging to a Parisian museum for showing a picture in which a woman’s breasts could be seen.

Even with their clear guidelines, Facebook has a strange way of applying their policies. For example, in the case of posts involving videos of decapitations, first they prohibited them, then they backtracked, eventually allowing diffusion of the images.

When it comes to content depicting self-harm, the company specifies that it will eliminate any post that “encourages self-harm, or that promotes eating disorders or the abuse of stupefying substances.” However, they do not consider content about body modification through diet or surgery inappropriate.

You must also remember that Facebook sometimes blocks accounts upon a given government's request, even if the usersdo not infringe on Facebook policies, but rather go against the laws of that country. Thus, in the second half of 2014, the company restricted access to 9,707 pieces of content which allegedly violated local laws, 11% more than in the first half of that year. India, Turkey, and Russia were the countries that made the highest number of content-restricting requests to the social network.

What’s even more outrageous is that Facebook is currently developing political censorship tools to make the Chinese regime happy, since accessing the Chinese market is far too lucrative to let principles of freedom of expression get in the way.

'We'll censor whatever the Asian giant tells us to in order to pursue our greatest commercial victory yet,' Zuckerberg must be telling himself.

The New York Times, which has been at the forefront of getting Facebook to evaluate its social commitments, recently revealed that the social network had created a tool capable of hiding certain content in determined geographic areas. The final objective of this program wouldn’t be to combat false news –- even though the mechanics would be similar-- but rather to “break into” the Chinese market.

Facebook is thus willing to accept Beijing's political censorship demands in exchange for getting the government to give its permission and allow the Chinese population to access the social network, which has been blocked in China since 2009. According to the same source, Facebook and Beijing have yet to hold meetings about implementing this software.

Nevertheless, Facebook has already implemented similar measures in other countries to satisfy judicial measures that block information at the local level. Brazil, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, and Russia are traditionally active countries in this context, but with one clear difference: up until now, Facebook has acted after the fact, always upon request of these countries. In the case of China, Facebook is willing to collaborate with external Chinese companies to apply censorship filters proactively.

How might this affect European businesses, for example? Big tech companies in the West have long had their ambitions stymied with regard todoing business directly with the citizens of the most populous country on earth. For Beijing, it's a double threat: on the one handit's a political problem, and on the other, an economic and business threat. It's a battle where Chinese businesses can count on institutional support in the form of limitations on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Android and all of Google’s services. Chinese companies can also count on generous economic backing through major investments from their national banks. Simply put, the Chinese play with a different deck of cards.

For the time being, only companies without a substantial presence in the distribution of information, like Apple, Microsoft and, less so, Amazon, have been able to navigate this labyrinth of obstacles, censorship, and surveillance.

The social network affirms that it will take special care of certain collectives. To this end, they won’t allow language that incites hate, that is to say, all content which directly attacks people because of their race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, sex, sexual identity, or disability.

The same goes for violent and sadistic content. Mark Zuckerberg’s network eliminates explicit images which celebrate or exalt violence. However, they do allow such images when used as a form of protest, such as those related to violations of human rights or terrorist attacks. Content that certain governments demand or deem opportune will also stay, while whatever certain leaders want censored will be eliminated from the site.

So, you movers and shakers over at Facebook, don't try to pull a fast one on us. You aren't interested in watching over us, you act to satisfy those in power and market forces, as well as to comply with current legislation, which is dictated by those same elements.

Slavery was legal, so were feudalism, colonialism, fascism, apartheid, and dictatorship; ablation is still legal in many places, as is the burka. Meanwhile, cannabis and other substances are illegal in many countries, infidelity is illegal in others, and homosexuality is illegal in half the countries on earth. Legality is a question of power, not justice.

Sources:

La Vanguardia

BBC

The New York Times

One magazine

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