Friday, September 4, 2015

Exactly How Does Facebook Define Community Standards?

Living in a democratic society, of course, entails the promotion, encouragement and defense of a diversity of views. With that I obviously have no quarrel. But, as the saying goes, with that freedom comes responsibility. it is the second part of this equation that some people refuse to accept.

When, for example, does freedom of expression cross the line into the promotion of hatred? I have a specific reason for asking that question, which I shall get to in a moment.

I have had a Facebook account for about seven years now; the reason that I joined goes back to our first visit to Costa Rica in 2009, where we met a group of hospitality students staying at the resort and joined them for a day's excursion. All of us were taking a lot of pictures, and when I inquired how I could see theirs online when they got home, they told me to join FB, where they would be posting them. Thus my social media experience began.

Nowadays I use it primarily to share political stories, people's blog posts, etc., as well as to receive various feeds from newspapers and political groups that interest me.

Because the following subject is one I find profoundly distasteful, I thought long and hard before writing this post, as I have no desire to give any kind of publicity or wider exposure to a group of xenophobes and racists, yet I am interested in getting feedback from readers. Yesterday the following appeared in my timeline:



Accompanying this were a variety of comments, a few of which I am reproducing here. Some of it is pretty vile.

... you crack me up. Sure there are Muslims who work. There are exceptions to every race. Believe it or not I've met a chinaman who doesn't like rice and black man who prefers heavy metal to rap music and doesn't play basketball. But the stereotypes exist for a reason. The fact of the matter is these Muslim refugees ARE costing us money for them to be here. We don't want them here, as a tax payer I have the right to not want to waste it on them. I'd rather use it to build a new park or maybe feed our homeless and let them have housing instead of these pieces of shit taking it all while our people starve on the streets.

... We as in WE THE PEOPLE. And of course they are refugees? But the wars and problems the middle East have is all a product of their own choice to follow such an evil ideology. Christian founded countries are the ones that have a greater quality of life and now they wanna come and take what we have after they ruined their own country. And yeah I would rather have a park over a Muslim parasite mooching 1 cent off our tax dollars. I'm happy that little boy drowned. Maybe the money Canada saves from not having to pay for them will be used to re-pave a street instead? And in case you didn't noticed WCAI is worldwide as in Worldwide Coalition Against Islam. We are just one person.


Well fortunately for me I live in a free Democratic country that isn't run by evil Islamic ideologies. It reminds me of 2 brothers that inherited a million dollars each. One brother invested his money right and is reaping the benefits while the other brother blew his money by making poor choices and is now trying to mooch off the other brother. This is no different. You reap what you sew.

...But all people of the islamic ideology are behind an evil ideology that promotes anti-semitism, rape, child molestation, beastiality, persecution, ridiculous law suits and wearing bed sheets and curtains for clothing. And if you think about it the similarities of the Islamic and Nazism ideologies are uncanny. The only difference is Hitler never bothered disguising the holocaust as a "peaceful religion"

In my mind, this is racism thinly disguised by 'economic concerns'. Interested in making a complaint about the group, I checked Facebook's reporting criteria. Under Encouraging Respectful Behaviour, this is what I found:
Hate Speech

Facebook removes hate speech, which includes content that directly attacks people based on their:

Race,
Ethnicity,
National origin,
Religious affiliation,
Sexual orientation,
Sex, gender, or gender identity, or
Serious disabilities or diseases.

Organizations and people dedicated to promoting hatred against these protected groups are not allowed a presence on Facebook. As with all of our standards, we rely on our community to report this content to us.
Feeling I was on pretty solid ground, I lodged a complaint. About two hours later I received this reply:
Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the photo you reported for containing hate speech or symbols and found it doesn't violate our Community Standards.
I am disappointed in Facebook's response, and it appears there was no effort made to read the comments accompanying the illustration.

So I am left with the question which is my post's title: Exactly how does Facebook define community standards?

I welcome, as always, your comments.

24 comments:

  1. Hi Lorne, Pretty disturbing stuff indeed (though by no means surprising). Though I am not exactly sure what your question is here. If the question is whether Facebook, as a corporation, has meaningless standards, I would have to agree. I think this particularly example might warrant a complaint to the human rights commission. Or even the police. On the more abstract question, "how does Facebook define community standards," it is clear. Facebook, of course, expresses the wider variety of 'community' standards, some deeply objectionable. I think, perhaps, the more important question is can any social media constitute or create any kind of discourse, or are the social media processes nothing more than a series of people screaming on a digital street corner talking only to those who are already sympathetic? Once on my Facebook stream there was a very vibrant debate about the problem of school dress codes and the role they play in body-shaming. I don't know if anyone's opinion was, in the end, influenced but I think it is fare to call what happened a debate (at least of a sort). I remain dubious about what can come out of it. My older daughter just started a Masters Degree at Simon Fraser and she hopes to make her thesis subject - the role of social media and the internet in the contemporary labour movement. I will let you know if she reaches any conclusions.

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    1. Thanks, Kirby. it is always good to read your insights. I have often wondered about the utility of social media, but, while there always be those who use various forums to simply harangue people, I think how the subject is framed plays an important part in the discussion that ensues. The one I posted here is, of course, framed in such a way as to evoke hateful and racist comments.

      The blogs I follow, including yours, always seem to elicit pretty respectful exchanges, perhaps because we are like-minded, but also because the ones hosting the blogs are interesting in provoking thoughtful discussion, not knee-jerk reaction.

      I will be interested to hear what your daughter learns in her studies.

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  2. I was contracted to write a paper on social media, Facebook in particular, for an organisation. I created a fake facebook account and used it for my analysis. I came to the conclusion that social media was dangerous from both a technical and social perspective. Needless to say, my report was sent to the shredder and I was sent on my way.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/jan/14/facebook

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    1. Thanks for your comments and the link, Anon. Both make for very interesting reading!

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  3. Lorne, thanks for this post. If it was anything about Israel then you would have been labelled anti-Semitic by now. Since it is common to demonize Muslims the similar re-action is not there. But plenty of Islamophobic spoke out. Disgusting. I suppose the Islamophobic is acceptable behavior and they the victims are not considered humans according to these Islamophobic. We live in a troubled world when some consider sufferings of others as source of amusement. These Islamophobics forget who is behind these sufferings. The invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya was not carried out by the Muslims but by the west especially U.S. which is causing these problems. We don’t wish to take responsibility for that. Mound’s post on “Gaza Goes from Prison Camp to Death Camp” sheds some light on it. It is simply too upsetting.

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    1. I think you make a very good point here, LD. Anti-Islamic screeds do indeed seem to be acceptable, no doubt in part due to the tone that western governments, including our own, set. They try to have it both ways by saying it is only about terrorists, but in fact they often conflate them with all members of the Muslim faith, a message heartily received by the racists out there.

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  4. This part says a lot more than the author intended:

    "And in case you didn't noticed WCAI is worldwide as in Worldwide Coalition Against Islam. We are just one person."

    When you acknowledge that you are just one person, yet use the pronoun "we" to refer to yourself, and also refer to yourself as a "coalition," then "we," (and I am sure that I can incude more than just myself when I say that,) know exactly what's going on inside your head.

    I's also love to know how this person considers themself to be worldwide.

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    1. All very interesting points, Mark. Suspecting that the WCAI is but a fringe group at best, I hesitated even writing this post lest I give it/him any additional exposure.

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  5. The fact that Facebook prohibits photos of breastfeeding but allows rape humour should be all that needs to be said.

    They are a social marketing site, not a social networking site, and for that reason I have nothing to do with them and I find it unfortunate that may progressive groups use Facebook.

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    1. I don't dispute what you say about the nature of Facebook, rww, but it can be useful for disseminating information if you subscribe to the right feeds. For example, I have a number of news feeds there, such as CBC and The Guardian, that alert me to some important stories. As well, there are a number of democracy and anti-Harper groups that link to important political news.

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  6. "Free-loading Islamic Parasites"
    "Free-loading Welfare Parasites"
    "Free-loading Royal Parasites"

    I've seen all three (with some variation) used with some regularity and often by the same people. And I think you hit the nail on the head when you say they are using economic arguments to hide their bigotry. After all, you can't just come out and say you hate someone for who they are, its gotta be for something they do.

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    1. People who run such groups and offer such commentary do have a limited repertoire, don't they, AKC? Bigotry, by any other name, is still bigotry.

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  7. Publish a photo of a breast on Facebook, and it is deleted immediately. Go figure.

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    1. It is a strange corporate world we live in, double nickel.

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  8. "German Justice Minister Heiko Maas wants Facebook Inc. to remove racist posts targeting asylum seekers after several attacks on refugee camps in Germany over the past week.

    Facebook should “urgently” review its practices when dealing with the posts, he told the company in an Aug. 26 letter obtained by Bloomberg News. Numerous users have complained to the ministry that Facebook didn’t remove xenophobic posts even after they were flagged and reviewed, arguing that the comments don’t violate its community standards. That didn’t go down well in Berlin.

    It is incomprehensible that “photos of certain body parts are automatically deleted because of moral concerns, yet racist and xenophobic statements aren’t immediately removed,” Maas wrote in the letter, which was reported earlier by Tagesspiegel newspaper. “There must be no mistaken tolerance for users that offensively preach xenophobia and racism.” He invited Facebook for talks Sept. 14 in the ministry."

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-27/germany-tells-facebook-get-tougher-on-racist-anti-refugee-posts

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    1. Thanks for this very useful information, Beijing. I am trying to follow up on this issue in a couple of ways.

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  9. That this blog was the third most popular in the google search after WCAI's two webpages hopefully means that they are not an attractive ideology to any large number of Canadians

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    1. That is very heartening to know, Peter. Thank you for the information.

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  10. Hi - nice blog. The post you cite is actually one of the tamer ones. There
    are other WCAI posts that advocate violence. Hate speech advocating
    violence against a specific group is highly illegal. I reported 3 specific
    posts where violence was encouraged. All reports were rejected. I believe
    Facebook is now criminally responsible -- unsure?

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    1. Hi Devon. thanks for your input. It mystifies me how Facebook can get away with its corporate irresponsibility. It seems only when tragedy strikes that it takes some kind of half-hearted action. I also tried to get a reporter from the Toronto Star interested in the issue, but she did not respond to my email.

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  11. I too submitted a report on this site on sep 22 and got the same reply......but then got another one on sep 25 that they had reviewed again and removed the site.....would really like to know how this works

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    1. Your experience is very similar to mine, Anon. I received a second message the other day that was written as if the first one had never been sent:

      "Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. The account that posted this is no longer on Facebook, and so we can't review it for violation of our Community Standards. If the account is restored, this post might reappear. If this happens, please report it again."

      This was my response:

      "You seem to have forgotten your original dismissal of my complaint:

      Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the photo you reported for containing hate speech or symbols and found it doesn't violate our Community Standards.

      Seems to me that you want it both ways. You failed, in my view."

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  12. Get a fucking JOB!! YOU PEOPLE HAVE WAYYYY TOO MUCH TIME ON YOUR BOOK SMART , TREE HUGGING HIPPIE , ZERO commonsense HANDS.

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    1. I put your comment up because it speaks for itself, Anon. Shame on you.

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