Facebook plans to take more careful steps to leave posts vital to the public interest untouched – even if they violate the site’s guidelines.
The social media company has come under fire for playing a heavy-handed role in censorship in the past few months. While trying to suppress posts that violate its guidelines, such as stories that contain nudity or violence, the site has also blocked newsworthy content, such as an iconic Vietnam War photo and the profiles of Palestinian journalists. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said that the network is a technology platform, not a media company, but the site’s growing role in distributing news and information to its users has led many to decry Facebook’s role in curating content on its platform.
Now, Facebook is trying to focus on protecting content that has value to the public interest, such as from news or charity organizations.
“In the weeks ahead, we’re going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest – even if they might otherwise violate our standards,” Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy, and Justin Osofsky, the vice president of global operations and media, said in a statement on Friday. “Our intent is to allow more images and stories without posing safety risks or showing graphic images to minors and others who do not want to see them.”
Facebook said it plans to work with experts, publishers, journalists, photographers, and law enforcement officials to better understand which posts should be allowed and which constitute obscene or hateful content.
But walking the line between protecting free speech and promoting a safe online community free of harassment and obscenity could prove a tricky territory to navigate.
"Observing global standards for our community is complex," the company's statement said. "Whether an image is newsworthy or historically significant is highly subjective."
Policing the site’s 1.7 billion users has also become more complicated for the site, especially with the advent of Facebook Live, a service whose use has quadrupled since May alone. With some videos – such as the police shooting death of Philando Castile –containing graphic yet important content, the company will have to straddle the line between shedding light on issues of violence and allowing perpetrators to glorify their actions before an audience.
Facebook has employees who monitor video broadcasts garnering lots of views, and also allows users to flag content they feel may warrant removal. Still, the streaming service is relatively new territory for the company, and one it must learn to guide along with its new standards.
"[Violence] is something we take extremely seriously, and there have been a lot of challenges because of everything that happens is immediate," Fidji Simo, the director of product for Facebook Live, told CNNMoney. "The line on violence is one that's hard to get right."
Facebook will likely see similar conflicts on other issues, but a more nuanced approach to content that clashes with the site’s guidelines could prevent the company from becoming entangled in any more high-profile censorship issues.
“Respecting local norms and upholding global practices often come into conflict. And people often disagree about what standards should be in place to ensure a community that is both safe and open to expression,” the Facebook statement said. “As always, our goal is to channel our community’s values, and to make sure our policies reflect our community’s interests.”