Facebook’s moderation rules show company more open to gore than nudity
Published 21/02/2012 | 15:47
THE rules Facebook uses to decide whether to censor users’ postings have been published for the first time, detailing its more liberal attitude to gore than to nudity.
A disgruntled former moderator has also told of how Facebook uses outsourced staff in developing countries to moderate the huge volume of material its users upload every day.
A document given to the staff of one third party content moderation firm tells them to delete “any OBVIOUS sexual activity, even if naked parts are hidden from view”. Meanwhile “deep flesh wounds are ok to show; excessive blood is ok to show” and “crushed heads, limbs, etc are ok as long as no insides are showing”.
“Slurs or racial comments of any kind” should be deleted, it says, but “humour overrules hate speech UNLESS slurs are used or humour is not evident”, meaning that comments reported to Facebook as hate speech should remain online if they are judged to be in jest and do not include racial slurs.
The rules are used by the third party firm to screen photographs, text and videos that have been “flagged” by one of Facebook’s 850 million users.
Until now, users have been forced to rely on Facebook’s relatively vague community standards to judge what it deems acceptable. On graphic content, the public page says "while we are a platform for sharing events that take place in your life and around the world, any inappropriately graphic content will be removed when found on the site."
The leaked rules for moderators are much more specific. For example, images of “urine, faeces, vomit, semen and ear wax” are banned, but images of "snot" are allowed, as are “cartoon faeces, urine and spit”.
Meanwhile depictions of illegal drug use should be deleted, moderators are told, except marijuana, “unless context is clear that the poster is selling/buying/growing”.
The rules were passed to the US gossip website Gawker.comby a disgruntled former employee of the third party firm, oDesk, who said the $1 per hour he received for screening Facebook photographs was “humiliating”.
The leak is likely to be seized on by critics of Facebook’s hitherto secret censorship policies. Last year it was forced to apologise for deleting a picture of a gay kiss, and it has long faced controversy over its ban on images of breastfeeding that include any part of a mother's nipple; last week a group of “lactivists” protested outside Facebook’s offices.
In response to the leak of its censorship rules, Facebook sought to reassure users their details were not being passed to third parties.
“In an effort to quickly and efficiently process the millions of reports we receive every day, we have found it helpful to contract third parties to provide precursory classification of a small proportion of reported content,” a spokesman said.
“These contractors are subject to rigorous quality controls and we have implemented several layers of safeguards to protect the data of those using our service.
“Additionally, no user information beyond the content in question and the source of the report is shared. We have, and will continue, to escalate the most serious reports internally, and all decisions made by contractors are subject to extensive audits.
"We are constantly improving our processes and review our contractors on an ongoing basis. This document provides a snapshot in time of our standards with regards to one of those contractors."