Monday, January 26, 2015

What Does Facebook Owe Us?

Is this porn?

Artwork by Jay Aheer - Simply Defined Art

What about this?

Michael Stokes image cropped from Facebook. Here's a link to his website.
The artist who created the first image, Jay Aheer, got a take-down notice from Facebook, on the grounds that the image violated community standards for nudity. The artist who created the second image, Michael Stokes, is currently on a 30-day suspension from Facebook, because apparently his work doesn't meet Facebook Community Standards, either.

Screenshot from 1/26/15

Lately, there's been a lot of chatter on my Facebook stream about people having their work taken down or their accounts suspended because they've run afoul of the Community Standards police. However, that police force is primarily made up of other Facebook users, who report images they find offensive.

And one person's pornography is another person's art.

In the discussions on my Facebook stream, words like censorship, harassment, and homophobia get tossed around. Digging a little deeper, I learned that if I knew where to find them, I could see pages dedicated to antisemitism, violence against women, child pornography, and animal abuse.

What do Facebook's Community Standards have to say about that?

Here's a link to the Facebook Community Standards page. According to the opening statement on the page, the goal is to...

" you understand what type of expression is acceptable, and what type of content may be reported and removed."

The list of standards include statements about violence and; threats, self-harm, bullying and harassment, hate speech, graphic content, and nudity, among other things. It all makes perfect sense, until you consider that it's possible for someone with a set  political agenda to target specific users by reporting images or content that doesn't fit their ideology. Here's are some excerpts from an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, written by author Sara York regarding the Michael Stokes suspension:

Michael Stokes, a photographer out of Los Angeles, California, was targeted by an individual and told that she would “ruin him” because he posts artistic photos of male models. 

Yes, we all know Facebook has community standards, however Facebook’s standards are double standards, allowing abusive photographs of women, pornography of women, images depicting women in demeaning situations, and other abuses to stay on the site and yet photos of two men fully dressed but kissing are deleted. Do you really want to be known as the company that supports abuse towards women and gay men? 

Stop allowing people who habitually report clean gay images and images of the male form from trying to “ruin” good people who are working to foster equality.

(You can find the full letter HERE.)

I've recently read a number of news articles and blog posts from people who have had images or other content taken down by Facebook, and the process appears to go something like this: a user posts something, another user sees it, takes offense, and reports it, FB takes it down, and then FB researches the content to see if it really does fail to meet their standards. Sometimes content is restored. Sometimes it isn't. And not all take-downs get researched, because the number of reports exceeds the capacity of FB to handle them all.

So one user with an bee in their blister really could make a lot of trouble. Which had me asking myself a question.

Why does it matter?

Because really, Facebook is a business, and businesses are allowed to make their own rules about how their business is conducted. Facebook doesn't charge users for it's service, so if their business model doesn't allow for woman's nipples or two men kissing. it's their prerogative to limit that kind of content.


Except Facebook isn't like any other business. This quote from the post Fascist Facebook attempts to explain why...

Facebook is a not just a private corporation; Facebook is a crucial component of contemporary popular culture. Facebook is a place and an activity that large portions of the world use today. According to a 2013 Pew study on the social networking practices of Americans, as of September 2013, 71% of online adults use Facebook (the numbers for young adults are even higher). For many people, Facebook is essentially a required social activity. ..

...When such a critical part of global human culture, when the world’s de facto social media platform, is privatized, monetized, owned by a private company whose primary concern is not creating a safe, non-oppressive environment in which individuals can share their experiences, interests, and ideas with one another without fear of harassment or attack, but rather extracting profit from every possible social interaction, there is great reason to be concerned. 

Now that's the rub, isn't it? Almost every single person I know has at least some interaction with Facebook. My kids have FB accounts, as does my mother. And Facebook is making money off of every single one of it's users. They make billions (yep, that's a B) of dollars from advertising revenue off their 1.35 billion (yep, another B) active users.

I figure if they're going to make money off the time I spend on their site, they better treat me the same as every other user.

That's why FB should work to prevent an individual or small group with an agenda from interfering with other users. While there's a place for standards, most questionable content can be handled with the "hide this post" feature, and I think Facebook should do more to keep targeted harassment from happening.
There are several concrete suggestion for how to limit abuse in this petition created by Taylor Law, found on - Change the Reporting Policy to Prevent Harassment and Bullying. Among other things, the petition suggests flagging users who report more than five posts in a one-week period to help identify users with an agenda. There are over 13,000 signatures on this petition, and it'll eventually be sent to Mr. Zuckerberg.

Because all we want is a level playing field.

What do you think about Facebook's standards? Have you had your content reported? Thanks for reading along.

This appeared in my Facebook stream a little while ago...

Facebook has reinstated the Michael Stokes Photography page, the one under suspension when I first wrote this post. I'm encouraged that their process of investigating reported posts does work, though it's still not perfect. Mr. Stokes history of take-downs & suspensions speaks to that. At any rate, thought I'd share...


  1. When you compare photos of women and photos of men, the photos of women that are allowed to stay are raunchy, debasing, disgusting, and nude. The photos of men that are taken down are artistic, some withe clothes on but they show two guys in an embrace or kissing. FB allows women to be demeaned, and yet gay images of men are taken away. If FB removed the naked and debasing photos of women, I'd be fine with it, but they don't remove those images even when reported. FB also allows gay bashing, but removes gay support. It's obvious the company has a problem.

  2. Facebook is dumb. That's my not-so-eloquent take on the matter.

    I have a family member that, back when the Supreme Court was close to a DOMA decision, posted one of those memes that said something along the lines of "Like this picture if you believe marriage should be between a man and a woman". I found it offensive. 99% of my FB friends would find it offensive. But that kind of shit gets circulated all the time.

    We're a country of prudes. I have to wonder if Michael Stokes Photography had originated in some place like say, France, and was largely seen by European audiences, if the same thing would have happened.

    We like to believe that censorship doesn't happen, and we point to the First Amendment as proof. But there's a long and sordid history of bribes and threats made to people who post or print material that's considered objectionable by those with delicate sensibilities. Sometimes Hollywood will get wind of it (KILL THE MESSENGER is a recent example), sometimes some leftist pinko commie website will slap it up for people to read. The results are sadly the same - they get brushed aside as sensationalist or fiction.

    Maybe in another twenty or thirty years the pearl-clutchers will have passed into enough of a minority and the que sera, sera vanguard will have an edge to fight them off with regularity. Maybe not.

    I think I'm going to move to Europe.

  3. Sara - I agree that institutionalized homophobia/sexism needs to stop, especially when said institution is making money off the people it's marginalizing, however I personally would prefer to hide images I find objectionable, rather than try to regulate what can and cannot appear. Thanks for sharing your letter, and for the comment.

  4. FB is dumb like a fox, Amanda. They're making money all the way to the bank. There's actually a lawsuit involving a FB user from France, who posted an image of a classic 19th century (absolutely explicit) painting. FB took it down, and when the guy sued, his lawyers were told that all lawsuits involving FB have to be filed in California. It's a little more complicated - and crazy - than that, but here's a link...

  5. Wonderful post, Liv. I've been a fan of Michael Stokes Photography for maybe a year or so. I think his work is wonderful, who ever he is photographing.

    I agree, Liv, I've used the feature of hide images. I think I picked "I don't want to see posts like this' or something and I don't.

    I'm no prude, I love men in all states of dress, LOL, and I know men like to look at women, human nature. I don't like when either sex is abused, exploited, etc., and I think that's a whole different issue than you've brought up.

    We're also too concerned with everyone else's sex life in this country - and other countries, too - Who cares? It's sex. If it's between 2 consenting adults who are not hurting each other, etc., it's none of our business and doesn't affect us in any way.

    I wish there was as much conversation about gun violence and what we are going to do about it in this country, then there is on who's allowed to sleep with who.

  6. Exactly, Debbie! We waste way too much time fretting about who's sleeping with who, while ignoring more critical issues. If someone doesn't want to see a woman's nipples or a little peen, they can hide it, but I don't want some arbitrary judge making decisions about what I see.

  7. Very eloquent post Liv - thank you for writing it!

  8. What if Michael Stokes was based in Europe but his pictures were seen here? I know several amazing European photographers who portray male models in very little to no clothing. I doubt they've had half the problems Stokes has.
    Do you think censors "expect" Europeans to be less restrained. And hasn't that been the case for a long time? For all that the US is "Land of the Free" it seems like we're free as long as we don't push too many envelopes.

  9. This is an excellent post, Liv. It brings up a really important issue. Freedom is the most important right we have. When what we are "allowed" to experience falls in the hands of one ore more people who decide, it is very dangerous. This kind of manipulation is abhorrent to any freedom loving person with an open mind. Sadly open minds are not all that common today.

    The sticky issue is how Facebook handles this. Right now they are failing badly. I don't know the solution but I hope an intelligent one presents itself soon. One that allows us the freedom to choose what we see without interfering with what others choose to see or post.

  10. I think the issue for Michael Stokes has two parts, Mona. On the one hand, American's are more comfortable seeing images of naked women than they are with seeing naked men. On the other hand, he seems to be targeted by someone with a homophobic agenda. So while I agree, he might have an easier time in Europe, I'm also pretty sure homophobia happens there, too.

  11. "One that allows us the freedom to choose what we see without interfering with what others choose to see or post."

    Agree wholeheartedly with you here, Cora. I think the essential debate is about whether we're willing to take responsibility for what we see, or if we want Mark Z to have a greater level of control. Personally, I would prefer to use the 'hide this post' feature, rather than risk someone reporting a photo of a woman breastfeeding because it might show a nipple.

  12. It never ceases to amaze me when I hear of issues like this. I always think the world is more sophisticated than it really is. (sigh)

    Great post. You're on a roll with the blogging this month!

    1. Thanks Ellen. It's been an adventure...