The Stack Archive

Facebook relaxes censorship guidelines

Mon 24 Oct 2016

Following a wave of criticism over censorship policies, Facebook has decided to change its community standards in certain cases to allow content that previously would have been deemed offensive.

The decision to relax the social network’s rigid standards and to invite community input follows months of criticism of Facebook regarding removal of ‘offensive’ posts that nonetheless were deemed newsworthy, or of public interest.

In the blog post announcing the change, Facebook representatives stated that they are “grateful for the input” that they have received regarding their standards, and that in certain cases, they will begin to allow posts that might otherwise have been blocked for content.

“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.”

The company also stated that their former community standards grew from an attempt to manage a complex environment of global standards, where the norms of acceptable images vary greatly from one culture to another. “Images of nudity or violence that are acceptable in one part of the world may be offensive — or even illegal — in another.”

The most recent wave of criticism came when Facebook blocked a post that promoted breast cancer awareness, featuring abstract, cartoon-ish representations of breasts – in effect, two pink circles.

In an open letter the creator of the post, a Swedish breast cancer foundation called Cancerfonden said that after spending several days trying to create an image that promoted awareness while meeting Facebook standards, they came up with the solution of making the cartoon breasts square in shape.

Facebook has been under fire for months following the censoring of the famous, Pulitzer-Prize winning ‘Napalm Girl’ photo in September. After facing harsh criticism for removing a post which featured the image, Facebook reinstated it, saying, “Because of its status as an iconic image of historical importance, the value of permitting sharing outweighs the value of protecting the community by removal, so we have decided to reinstate the image on Facebook where we are aware it has been removed.”

Less than a month later, Facebook temporarily removed a post by French newspaper Le Monde promoting mammograms because it featured the image of a breast. It was reinstated the same day with an apology, but not before Le Monde retaliated by posting a photo of a nude male torso with the message “Facebook having censored the image of a mammogram that accompanied the article, we have replaced it with an image of a nude male torso which does not itself [violate] the social network’s terms of service”.

Earlier this year, Facebook went to court in France to defend its decision to suspend the account of a French teacher for posting an image of Gustave Courbet’s famously and anatomically intimate painting, ‘The Origin of the World.’


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