Leaked Facebook Content Rules Full of Surprises

John Lister's picture

A newspaper has published details of Facebook's secret rules about what is and isn't allowed on the site. It shows the extreme difficulty of balancing free speech with privacy and responsibility issues, as well as the sheer scale of moderating posts.

While Facebook publishes general guidelines about content it considers inappropriate, it doesn't reveal the precise criteria its staff use when removing content. The Guardian newspaper says it has seen more than 100 documents that are used by Facebook moderators when training and when doing their work. (Source: theguardian.com)

Violent language that encourages or supports attacks seems to be a particular grey area. The general principle is that encouraging a specific attack on a specific person is barred, while more general pro-violence comments are allowed. The rules are even looser for pictures of animal cruelty, with only the most "extremely upsetting" content barred. (Source: theguardian.com)

Hand-Made 'Art' Has Special Rules

While photos of people with no clothes on and/or engaged in certain adult activity are banned, the picture is more mixed with artwork. The leaked documents reveal staff are required to remove art that has been digitally created such as with edited photographs or an illustration app, but handmade art such as drawings, painting or even cross-stitch wouldn't come under such restrictions.

The newspaper also listed details of flowcharts and specific examples of extremely graphic references to such activity that are allowed on the site in some cases. Again, the borderline appears to be whether the post gives enough detail that it appears to refer to a specific incident (or proposed incident.)

Facebook Has Special Rules for 'Public Figures'

One element of the rules that may worry users is that anyone who has more than 100,000 followers on any social media service - which includes rivals like Twitter, YouTube or Instagram - is treated by Facebook as a public figure, which allows more leeway for people to post critical or abusive content about or towards them.

That could cover people who have not intentionally set out to be celebrities but have gathered a big following. For example, several young people have literally amassed millions of YouTube viewers with makeover tip videos and are now treated the same as politicians or movie stars under the Facebook rules.

The leaked documents also reveal just how overwhelming the moderation work can be. In January alone, staff identified more than 50,000 intimate videos which appeared to have been maliciously posted without the permission of everyone involved. The overall level of content on the site was so great that some moderators told the newspaper they sometimes had just 10 seconds to assess a reported piece of content and decide whether to remove it.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think Facebook has picked the right borderlines to decide when content should be removed? Should it allow any content as long as it doesn't break laws? What do you think about the 100,000 followers threshold for treating somebody as a public figure with reduced protections?

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Brian's picture

It seems Facebook's Rules are illogical.
If one produces art that features nudity the medium used is irrelevant as to the acceptability for public viewing. This real issue should be whether it is art or pornography.
To my mind it is also illogical to make rules of conduct and then keep the rules secret.
This has just added one more reason for me to stay off Facebook.