Why we shouldn’t expect Facebook to judge whether content is pornographic
It’s a complicated love-hate relationship so many of us have with Facebook, home to a decade’s worth of memories and I dread to think how many hours of procrastination.
Despite creating one of the most successful and enduring social tech products in history, the company has thus far struggled to strike the perfect balance between acting purely as a platform that allows users complete freedom of expression, and being a responsible publisher that moderates and censors content as appropriate.
This complex dichotomy has sparked impassioned debate around the spread of ‘fake news’ since the US election last year, but this week the conversation has shifted after Facebook banned a picture of a woman giving birth on the grounds that it constitutes ‘pornography’.
This is an issue that’s sparked controversy before when it comes to pictures of women breast feeding.
But the fact is, it’s us who are wrong to demand that Facebook shields us from nudity or even pornography.
Why is it not our own responsibility to ignore or avoid content we’re not keen on viewing?
Were we to change our expectations of what we should and should not be ‘protected’ from, women would be free to share pictures of their body – sexual, reproductive or otherwise – at their behest, and surely that would make Facebook a fairer space.
To be honest, when I scroll through Facebook, I don’t particularly want to see a highly graphic image of a woman giving birth.
But it makes me no more uncomfortable than seeing dozens of almost identical pictures of toddlers doing ordinary toddler things, with gushing captions from their parents who are not only subjecting us to this mundane nonsense but also putting their children’s every move on the internet without their consent.
And it certainly bothers me a lot less than seeing statuses about how great Brexit is, memes victim-blaming survivors of sexual assault, or the endless messages I receive from people who disagree with what I write on the internet and think that justifies hurling insults and abuse at me.
Come to think of it, a picture of a baby being born, which happens to include a vagina, is less offensive to me than the appalling misuse of language regularly on display throughout my timeline in what sometimes feels like an endless stream of incorrect spelling, bad grammar and semantic disasters.
Of course, it would never occur to me to suggest Facebook ban a status that confuses ‘your’ with ‘you’re’, but neither should it fall to the company to decide at what point nudity constitutes pornography.
When it comes to issues of taste and decency, we need to realise that any decision will always be subjective, and Facebook shouldn’t be criticised for choosing to avoid this slippery slope by banning any image that involves any level of nudity, sexual or otherwise.
By demanding Facebook makes the choice of what we should and should not see for us, we remove all nuance from the topic, which leads to bizarre decisions that we’ll then be outraged by.
As long as we rely on Facebook to ban ‘pornographic’ content, we have to accept that sometimes its judgement will fail, which is why it should be our individual responsibility to self-regulate our exposure, as we do in a number of other areas of life.
You wouldn’t expect Royal Mail to take responsibility if you received images in the post that you didn’t like – you’d simply throw them in the bin and avoid opening any further packages from the same person.
Facebook offers us the opportunity to block, hide or unfriend people whose behaviour oversteps our individual boundaries – we shouldn’t expect it to police the content we choose to receive for us.
Creating a space free of content that is abusive or dangerous is already hard enough, and Facebook has a responsibility to ensure no one’s rights are violated on its platform.
But expecting them to also make sure we don’t see anything that we might find a bit distasteful is simply too much to ask.
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