SOCIAL NETWORK Facebook is the latest firm to put up its hands and tell its users that they really ought to be a little more considerate when using the service.
Facebook's updated Community Standards page promises to "create an environment where people feel motivated and empowered to treat each other with empathy and respect".
Monika Bickert, head of global policy management, and Chris Sonderby, deputy general counsel at Facebook said that the social network has a billion users who all deserve to post in a friendly environment.
"To balance the interests of this diverse population, we've developed a set of Community Standards, outlined below. These policies will help you understand what type of sharing is allowed on Facebook, and what type of content may be reported to us and removed," they write.
"Because of the diversity of our global community, please bear in mind that something that may be disagreeable or disturbing to you may not violate our Community Standards."
With that last comment they acknowledge that what causes offence varies from one person to another. Some people are easily shocked, while some people have thicker skins. Attempting to define what is 'offensive' is as hard as unshearing a sheep.
That said, few users are likely to take exception to Facebook's decision to ask that people refrain from hate talk and showing their genitals or buttocks.
"Today we are providing more detail and clarity on what is and is not allowed. For example, what exactly do we mean by nudity, or what do we mean by hate speech?
"While our policies and standards themselves are not changing, we have heard from people that it would be helpful to provide more clarity and examples, so we are doing so with today's update."
The firm said that if it finds salacious nudity it will remove it, but other forms of nudity - medical or artistic, for example – should be okay.
"We remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks. We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring. We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures and other art that depicts nude figures," says the updated community policy.
"Restrictions on the display of both nudity and sexual activity also apply to digitally created content unless the content is posted for educational, humorous or satirical purposes. Explicit images of sexual intercourse are prohibited. Some verbal descriptions of sexual acts that go into vivid detail may also be removed."
This month, the firm has had to deal with one of its users who decided to post an artistic representation of a lady pudendum, grabbed from Gustave Courbet's "L'Origine du Monde", on his profile. The incident created headlines, and it is perhaps because of such incidents that the firm has updated its information.
The firm admits that when it comes to hate speech and depictions of graphic violence, its tools are blunt, but the need to be seen to being something about it is clear given that all the social networks have been accused of facilitating terrorist propaganda.
Twitter advised its users on what it likes and what it does not like earlier this month. It ruled that users should not post trollish or harassing content, should not look to expose users who want to remain anonymous and should not share someone else's private content, like images.
In February, Google updated its Blogger porn policy, stating that blogs that distributed sexually explicit images or graphic nudity would be made private. However, the firm backtracked after users complained that its proposals represented an assault on freedom of expression.
While the social networks will not actively monitor and filter their geographies for controversial information they may remove it if it is flagged as offensive by someone. Systems like this could be abused by bad actors. They could also reflect very badly on firms that like to present themselves as open and fair. Take, for example, the real name policies that the firms have adopted.
Facebook's document confirms that users should use their real name and that it will shut down any multiple accounts held by a single person. The problem here is that some people, activists for example, would prefer to use social networks while preserving their anonymity.
In this age of increased surveillance and government intervention, anonymity is a prized possession. Removing the right to be anonymous could severely limit the ability of some individuals and organisations to use social media and discourage whistleblowers from blowing. µ
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