The internet was recently given a leak of Facebook’s censorship standards. Amine Derkaoui, a previous “employee” of Facebook (employee is in quotes here because he was paid $1 an hour plus commission, which is, in a word, horrid) was so disgruntled that he gave Gawker the handbook used by Derkaoui and other assumedly disgruntled workers to know which photographs and comments to censor on Facebook, which ones to send upwards for decision by an administrator, and which ones were ok. Gawker published the one-page “cheat sheet” summarizing the standards on their website.
This gives an interesting perspective of what is considered “acceptable” and tasteful by popular consensus. Ear wax is censored, snot is not? (I guess if it was, millions of baby pictures would have to be deleted). For example, the “cheat sheet” says that “Digital/cartoon nudity” should be censored, but “Art nudity ok”, excluding all digitally created images from “art”, which is sort of a surprisingly passe way for Facebook to define things.
Something interesting about the released standard is the fact that it is clearly representing three categories of social unacceptability. The first, the depiction, commitment, planning, or lauding of criminal activity, is expected in a list like this – sexual assault, organized crime, nudity, and hard drugs are pretty normal in a “delete this” list for any censorship website.
The second category is more nuanced – I can only describe this second category as anything which debases humanity. This includes more obvious things like human organs, mutilation, violent speech, or anything encouraging or lauding mutilation or defacement of the human body (and, in some cases, animals). This also applies to willing defacement: threats of suicide, self-harm, and anything promoting eating disorders – this is interesting in light of the fact that pro-ana groups are still on Facebook. Maybe closed groups are immune to censorship – or the people getting paid next to nothing in other countries just haven’t caught them yet.
Another example of the censorship of non-illegal debasement of humanity: the prohibition of any photoshopped pictures of humans, “whether negative, positive, or neutral.” This is interesting; perhaps it is simply the case that it’s too hard to gauge the positive or negative spin of a photoshopped picture, but I think this rule isn’t just about bullying – it’s about the fact that Facebook doesn’t want to turn into Reddit (if they don’t, then they should stop trying to be Tumblr and take away the “follow” option). Their prohibition of any “versus” photo – any image grafting two photographs of people side by side in comparison – would be for the similar reason of “trying to keep Facebook untacky”. This rule is especially ironic considering Mark Zuckerberg’s famous-now-that-we’ve-all-seen-The-Social-Network first project facemash.com. Prohibitions of holocaust denial fall under the goal of no human debasement – but they apply to the third category as well.
The third and final category I’ll call “Nobody Get Mad At Us Please.” The most interesting rule in this one is the censorship of any maps of a part of Turkey (Kurdistan) and the prohibition of language or images against Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, as those laws seem suspiciously anti-free-speech-ish, and Turkey is a part of the UN.
The internet as it is currently developing has been compared to the semimythical Wild West of early American history – looking back in 50 years on this time, we’ll probably be astonished at how unregulated everything was. Governments just don’t have a good enough grasp on this new platform for data and information to be able to figure out how to effectively and efficiently (and ethically) regulate it – yet. This conversation applies to file sharing and copyright infringement as well, but Facebook’s censorship guidelines illuminate a more necessarily practical standard – things made up by businesses and not government are almost always more necessarily practical, if perhaps less ethically consistent.