What's newsworthy? Facebook's guidelines are changing.

After critics decried the effects of Facebook’s censorship policies on posts that serve a public interest, the company says it will try harder to protect valuable content that clashes with its guidelines.

Jeff Chiu/AP/File
A man walks past a mural in an office on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook has announced that it will stop blocking posts that serve the public interest, even if they clash with some of the company's guidelines.

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.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to What's newsworthy? Facebook's guidelines are changing.
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today