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Facebook’s moderator guidelines are disturbingly specific

(Photo: Getty Images/AFP, Josh Edelson)

In this age of online bullying and social media harassment, many have experienced reporting someone on Facebook for saying something hateful or dangerous, only to have Facebook shrug its shoulders and do absolutely nothing about it. The guidelines for what sort of behavior crosses the line of decency on Facebook can seem bizarre and complicated, but it turns out that there’s a reason for that: the guidelines really are bizarre and complicated. That’s according to The Guardian, at least, which managed to get its hands on “more than 100 internal training manuals, spreadsheets, and flowcharts” from Facebook that give it “unprecedented insight” into how the social media juggernaut handles controversial topics.

The basic guidelines are all very weird, and they put extremely fine points on pretty much every conceivable thing someone might complain to Facebook about. For example, posting “someone shoot Trump” is not allowed because it’s a specific call for violence against a specific person, but posting—and this is an exact quote from Facebook’s internal documents—”to snap a bitch’s neck, make sure to apply all your pressure to the middle of her throat” would be okay because it’s not a specific threat. Similarly, you can tell someone to “fuck off and die,” but you can’t say “I’m going to kill you.”


The rules about violence are probably (and predictably) the most shocking, with the documents explaining that videos of people violently dying will be marked as “disturbing,” but they aren’t banned from the site because they “can help create awareness of issues such as mental illness.” You can also share photos of animal abuse and children being bullied, as long as there is “no sadistic or celebratory element.” Facebook even allows people to livestream “attempts to self-harm,” because the site “doesn’t want to censor or punish people in distress.” Outside of violence, Facebook is also okay with “handmade” art that involves nudity, but “digitally made art” is not permitted. Videos of abortions are also allowed, but only if “there is no nudity.”

Basically, context is very important, which is why the rules can seem so inscrutable. A page raising awareness for animal abuse can pretty much post whatever it wants, but some jerk sharing a video of animals being abused and laughing about it will get flagged. Meanwhile, there are exceptions to everything, mostly based on whether or not something is newsworthy or important for history. For example, photos of “adult nudity in the context of the Holocaust” are permitted, provided that there’s visual evidence of soldier uniforms, the photos were taken “within a camp,” and the subject of the photo is suffering from “extreme emaciation”—all of which are rules that someone at Facebook actually felt the need to come up with.


You can see more of Facebook’s specific guidelines at The Guardian’s extensive “Facebook Files” section.

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