A Little Bit Free

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Post asks “Facebook has recently come under attack for failing to enforce its own guidelines on hate speech and violent imagery. Is it a website’s job to moderate the content its users post, or should users have complete freedom?”

This is an interesting question, perhaps it comes down to the question of exactly what Facebook is providing.

We settled this question for the telephone company and your internet provider years ago — they are a carriage service and can’t be held responsible for the information they carry.

We also seem to have settled it when it comes to your web page. You’re responsible for your web page. There is also an expectation that you will control what other people post to your web page.

How about something half way between those. What about right here? WordPress.com says it “is an internet service provider. We are based in the US, as are all of our servers. As such we are covered by section 230(c) of the US Communications Decency Act which states that internet service providers are not held liable for content (such as allegedly defamatory, offensive, inaccurate, or harassing content) that is posted on the sites they host for their users.”

The terms of service we live under control us very little they only tell us that “the Content is not pornographic, does not contain threats or incite violence, and does not violate the privacy or publicity rights of any third party;”

That’s pretty broad.

Facebook has a totally different problem. They are not claiming to be an internet service provider and they have slightly different terms

You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.
You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.
You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.
You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.

You can see that they attempt to outline a wider range of actions that are not permitted and better define some of the ones they share with WordPress.com

Facebook falls between two stools, it’s not an internet service provider but it’s really not a website in the way we thought about it just a few years ago. It’s totally different to our blogs.

I certainly feel that I (and perhaps you if you have a WordPress.com blog) should be responsible and control the content on our blogs and not leave it to our hosts.

I also feel that my internet service provider has no right or responsibility over the content of my website. I like WordPress.com’s terms of service, they allow me a wide latitude but draw a line at anything that might be an outrageous violation of someone else’s rights.

Facebook has a problem or two though.

The first is that they are hosting a large number of people down to the fairly low age of thirteen. Children are both more vulnerable and less able to understand the fine distinctions of the proscriptions above.

The second is that the content doesn’t stay in one place. It’s created on one person’s or group’s page and can spread like wildfire across the feeds of hundreds if not thousands of users quickly.

Given that I personally feel that Facebook should have more active terms of service and a more active policy.

Here’s where Facebook runs into more problems. Policing all that content is difficult and labour intensive. Even if they rely on other users to report it I’m sure that’s a lot of reported breaches every day. That brings them another problem — one of the people looking at the content and making a decision may well decide differently to another.

An even bigger problem is that every time they decide not to delete some reported content there’s at least one unhappy user and when they do delete something they have at least one unhappy user.

To really make life difficult for themselves Facebook have allowed exceptions for “humour” and here they walk into a world of hurt. Far too often a great deal of bigotry and hate has been dismissed by the perpetrator as “just joking.” When it comes to our broadcast media we now find objectionable a great deal that would have been acceptable fifty years ago — jokes at the expense of religion or race are rarely if ever seen on our TVs.

It is at this point that Facebook is currently in deep water. Is a photo of a young woman with duct tape over her mouth accompanied by a caption “joking” about rape acceptable.

The answer is, of course, no. Unfortunately for Facebook they have to explain those sort of distinctions to the people they have assessing reported content. I suspect that’s a large number of badly paid, barely trained people.

So Facebook should moderate the content on the site. It should enforce it’s own guidelines. The big problem is that “humour” exception and if I was running their content checking staff I’d be seriously thinking about removing it — “funny” for some people can far too easily be “offensive” for another.

8 thoughts on “A Little Bit Free

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  6. I really would like to thank you for this blog, really interesting. When I read this article, I thought you were right, but then I asked myself what make Facebook so great? And then the response is that you can say anything you want, freedom of speech.If a limit would be set on Facebook, then it users will go away. I agree with you that there should be some limits, but how can Facebook control his users? To tell you the truth, there are so many of them, millions and millions; it is nearly impossible to control them.

    • Well, if you think you have freedom of speech on Facebook you are sorely mistaken.

      Yes, it is difficult to control the users but Facebook is not a carriage service so they have to do it.

      The problem they have is not that it is impossible but they make it difficult for themselves by allowing an out for things like “humour” and “commentary”.

      • Thank you for taking the time for replying to me! Correct if I am wrong, I haven’t seen any website that has limit on its contents and as successful as Facebook. Facebook let people portray themselves. You are definitely right when you say there should be a limit, but the people will go away from Facebook. However, I believe there should be limit on some bizarre contents. As you stated in your article people under the age own 13 own Facebook pages, and they don’t understand as adults do due to their age.

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