If you’ve ever wondered exactly what sorts of things Facebook would like you not to do on its service, you’re in luck. For the first time, the social network is publishing detailed guidelines to what does and doesn’t belong on its service — 27 pages worth of them, in fact.
So please don’t make credible violent threats or revel in sexual violence; promote terrorism or the poaching of endangered species; attempt to buy marijuana, sell firearms, or list prescription drug prices for sale; post instructions for self-injury; depict minors in a sexual context; or commit multiple homicides at different times or locations.
Facebook already banned most of these actions on its previous “community standards” page , which sketched out the company’s standards in broad strokes. But on Tuesday it will spell out the sometimes gory details.
From Facebook: Policies and principals
Our policies are also rooted in the following principles:
- Safety: People need to feel safe in order to build community. We are committed to removing content that encourages real-world harm, including (but not limited to) physical, financial, and emotional injury.
- Voice: Our mission is all about embracing diverse views. We err on the side of allowing content, even when some find it objectionable, unless removing that content can prevent a specific harm. Moreover, at times we will allow content that might otherwise violate our standards if we feel that it is newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest. We do this only after weighing the public interest value of the content against the risk of real-world harm.
- Equity: Our community is global and diverse. Our policies may seem broad, but that is because we apply them consistently and fairly to a community that transcends regions, cultures, and languages. As a result, our Community Standards can sometimes appear less nuanced than we would like, leading to an outcome that is at odds with their underlying purpose. For that reason, in some cases, and when we are provided with additional context, we make a decision based on the spirit, rather than the letter, of the policy.
The Community Standards are broken down into six categories:
- Violence and criminal behavior
- Objectionable content
- Integrity and authenticity
- Respecting intellectual property
- Content-related requests
“Our Standards apply around the world to all types of content,” Facebook points out. “They’re designed to be comprehensive – for example, content that might not be considered hate speech may still be removed for violating our bullying policies.
“Our Community Standards, which we will continue to develop over time, serve as a guide for how to communicate on Facebook. It is in this spirit that we ask members of the Facebook community to follow these guidelines.”
Read more online.
The updated community standards will mirror the rules its 7,600 moderators use to review questionable posts, then decide if they should be pulled off Facebook. And sometimes whether to call in the authorities.
The standards themselves aren’t changing, but the details reveal some interesting tidbits. Photos of breasts are OK in some cases — such as breastfeeding or in a painting — but not in others. The document details what counts as sexual exploitation of adults or minors, but leaves room to ban more forms of abuse, should it arise.
Since Facebook doesn’t allow serial murders on its service, its new standards even define the term. Anyone who has committed two or more murders over “multiple incidents or locations” qualifies. But you’re not banned if you’ve only committed a single homicide. It could have been self-defense, after all.
Reading through the guidelines gives you an idea of how difficult the jobs of Facebook moderators must be. These are people who have to read and watch objectionable material of every stripe and then make hard calls — deciding, for instance, if a video promotes eating disorders or merely seeks to help people. Or what crosses the line from joke to harassment, from theoretical musing to direct threats, and so on.
Moderators work in 40 languages. Facebook’s goal is to respond to reports of questionable content within 24 hours. But the company says it doesn’t impose quotas or time limits on the reviewers.
The company has made some high-profile mistakes over the years. For instance, human rights groups say Facebook has mounted an inadequate response to hate speech and the incitement of violence against Muslim minorities in Myanmar. In 2016, Facebook backtracked after removing an iconic 1972 Associated Press photo featuring a screaming, naked girl running from a napalm attack in Vietnam. The company initially insisted it couldn’t create an exception for that particular photograph of a nude child, but soon reversed itself, saying the photo had “global importance.”
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Monica Bickert, Facebook’s head of product policy and counterterrorism, said the detailed public guidelines have been a long time in the works. “I have been at this job five years and I wanted to do this that whole time,” she said. Bickert said Facebook’s recent privacy travails, which forced CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify for 10 hours before Congress, didn’t prompt their release now.
The policy is an evolving document, and Bickert said updates go out to the content reviewers every week. Facebook hopes it will give people clarity if posts or videos they report aren’t taken down. Bickert said one challenge is having the same document guide vastly different “community standards” around the world. What passes as acceptable nudity in Norway may not pass in Uganda or the U.S.
There are more universal gray areas, too. For instance, what exactly counts as political protest? How can you know that the person in a photo agreed to have it posted on Facebook? That latter question is the main reason for Facebook’s nudity ban, Bickert said, since it’s “hard to determine consent and age.” Even if the person agreed to be taped or photographed, for example, they may not have agreed to have their naked image posted on social media.
Facebook uses a combination of the human reviewers and artificial intelligence to weed out content that violates its policies. But its AI tools aren’t close to the point where they could pinpoint subtle differences in context and history — not to mention shadings such as humor and satire — that would let them make judgments as accurate as those of humans.
And of course, humans make plenty of mistakes themselves.