FACEBOOK’s been copping a lot of flak in recent weeks following the of release the company’s training manuals for moderators – dubbed the “Facebook Files”.
The documents, released by The Guardian, expose the secret rules and guidelines for deciding what its two billion users can post on the site, placing the social media giant at the centre of a global debate about ethics and censorship.
From its inception, Facebook has positioned itself as a bastion of free speech. But the leaked guidelines reflect an increasingly unrestrained, malicious and sordid online space that the media giant is struggling – and according to its critics, failing – to police.
The company set out with a mission to bring people together in a global community by “fostering an environment where everyone can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights of others.”
A commendable notion, but the sad fact is – people don’t.
The documents portray a fairly bleak picture of our online community, detailing what is and is not permitted on the platform, covering graphic violence, bullying, hate speech, sexual content, terrorism and self-harm. It is jarring to see so many examples of human cruelty and depravity laid bare.
Evidently, photos of non-sexual physical abuse and bullying of children do not have to be deleted or “actioned” unless there is a sadistic or celebratory element. And comments such as “To snap a b***h’s neck, make sure to apply all your pressure to the middle of her throat” are left untouched as they are not deemed a credible threat, while “Someone shoot Trump” must be removed.
The ambiguous and sometimes questionable nature of the guidelines has left many people asking if Facebook’s users are comfortable with the lines the company has drawn and if the company can, and should, be doing more.
It’s clear that Facebook has an unprecedented challenge on its hands. It is a colossally tough call to define the parameters for the entire planet while sifting through reams of death and rape threats to figure out if the person means it.
The sheer scale of abuses means that all content cannot possibly be monitored. And spare a thought for the moderators who are tasked with overseeing this sewer of the most painful and hateful parts of human existence.
We are certainly within our rights to call on Facebook to do everything it can to minimise the reverberation of pain from these depraved acts, but what of the people committing them?
There is a level of responsibility that comes with the use of social media, just as there is in with any face-to-face interaction. We have been gifted an immensely powerful tool for human connection – and while the majority use it for good – many choose to use it to berate, humiliate and demean.
If Facebook is a reflection of humanity, then it is brutal.
The leaked documents show that in a single month, Facebook assesses a staggering 54,000 cases of revenge pornography and “sextortion” and moderators identify more than 1,300 posts that are deemed “credible terrorist threats”. Not to mention the several rapes and murders that have been streamed on Facebook Live.
Anyone who has ever spent any time on the site can testify to the rampant racism, xenophobia and misogyny that seems to make its way into even the most unlikely of discussions.
These are not faceless, soulless entities that are carrying out this abuse; these are people. And while Facebook may have a responsibility to curb the worst of the content, these people also have a responsibility to maintain a level of human decency.
Can we really blame Facebook for us being assholes?
The bleak nature of the leaked documents and the staggering number of infringements that it details just shows why us as a species are not allowed nice things. Facebook is an awesome tool with enormous power – something I’m sure Zuckerberg and his fellow founders couldn’t possibly have anticipated at inception – but, to quote Stan Lee, with great power comes great responsibility.
When it began thirteen years ago, no one could have anticipated the scale or level of social impact the platform would reach, and at such a speed. It has grown to be a beast, and a seemingly untameable one at that and company bosses are scrambling to catch up. Facebook is desperately trying to fix the train while it is tearing down the tracks, and the leaked documents reflect this.
Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But it’s an impossible mission to expect it to be the gatekeeper for human decency… eventually we have to look to ourselves to take responsibility. The Facebook Files don’t just show the flaws in the company, they show the flaws in humanity.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent