Determining that line – that line we mustn’t cross – is no easy task. That blurred line between acceptable and unacceptable. Between reasonable and unreasonable. Between risqué and downright vile.
But perhaps Facebook should revisit their own determination of this line, because apparently “anything goes” on the world’s largest social networking site, where the lower age limit is a mere 13 years of age.
Over the last week Facebook have notably defended not removing two different pages. One that openly joked about the Munich Air Disaster which killed 8 Manchester United footballers when their plane crashed. The other one that joked about the disappearance of Madeleine Mccann, the British child that went missing in Portugal.
When Facebook users inevitably requested the pages be taken down, Facebook denied, stating that the pages did not constitute content that was breaking any of their terms of service. After looking at their terms of service it appears Facebook are probably right. Those pages do not break Facebook’s terms. But surely that’s worse? After all, Facebook did write its own terms and you cannot hide behind rules that you yourself created, right?
The problem, it seems, is that Facebook have some inexplicable difficulty establishing between controversial and unreasonably offensive. After multiple requests to remove the mentioned pages Facebook stated that it does not remove content just because it is controversial.
This leads us to evaluate just what Facebook means by controversial. Politics is controversial. Religion is controversial. Claiming that Steven Seagal is a wonderful, versatile actor is controversial.
Setting up a page openly mocking the disappearance of a young, innocent child is something more. Something far worse.
It is an attempt by the creator to openly shock and disturb users who see it. The word “controversial” does not describe this type of page. Controversy implies discussion and deliberation, yet there is none of that here. The page is excessively offensive and the creator and everyone who sees it knows that.
The page about Madeleine was eventually removed, only because the account that created it was fake. In the eyes of Facebook a fake account is a more serious offense than publically joking about a missing child.
A short while before these two pages were started Facebook faced a similar dilemma when Facebook pages joking about rape appeared. After requests they be removed, Facebook responded –
“It is very important to point out that what one person finds offensive another can find entertaining, just as telling a rude joke won’t get you thrown out of your local pub, it won’t get you thrown off Facebook,”
The problem with that response is that Facebook is not a pub. When you tell a rude joke in your favorite haunt you know who hears it, and importantly you know they’re old enough to hear it. On a worldwide social networking site – where lying about your age doesn’t mean obtaining fake ID or wearing excessive make-up, rather the mere click of a mouse – your “rude joke” can fall upon impressionable ears.
And for those that would argue censorship – censorship implies censoring an idea, a notion or an argument. These pages constitute nothing more than offensive material, and should be treated the same way as links to spams or scams.
In our opinion, Facebook seriously need to start reevaluating their terms of service as opposed to hiding behind them. Yes, Facebook is a site used by many different types of people, who will differ in all aspect of their lives and of course there will be content that may offend some people yet others can find acceptable.
But Facebook need to realize the difference between controversy and excessively offensive and they need to start using their common sense. The notion of using static, applies-to-everything terms and conditions may be acceptable, but they need to be reworked in a way that will give Facebook more flexible and dynamic approach in what it deems acceptable and unacceptable. These outdated terms of service are failing to protect the site and its users, so stop using them as an excuse Facebook, and change them!
Let us know what you think in the comments.