It all started out so promisingly. You provided a place for people to catch up with old friends and make news ones. A place to share all our pictures, and ways to easily make plans to meet up, while building a business on the back of all that data. Our data.
Then you gave us better messaging tools, and started telling the world about how you were going to bring access to information to the poorest, most disenfranchised parts of the world with Internet.org.
Then you started forcing people to use their real names, because you thought it created a ‘more authentic’ experience. It certainly was more ‘authentic’ for members of the LGBT community that felt exposed and were victimised as a result. You saw the error in your ways though, and rolled it back a little.
We get it. It’s tough being the watercooler for 1.6 billion people. That’s a lot of discussions to keep on top of, and you mostly do a pretty good job given the scale of the task, even though you can’t get it right every time.
You even committed to a EC agreement to proactively block hate speech from sitting idle on your platform, albeit only two months ago,
See, here’s Mark celebrating Pride Day and the LGBT community. You do a lot of good things, seriously. Awareness is a powerful tool.
But we’d expect that of you, Facebook. You are that meeting point for a billion and a half people, so we’d sort of expect you not to let them stand there screaming hate and throwing shit at each other. That’s not a place anyone wants to hang out.
There is one thing bothering us, though, and it’s a bit embarrassing to have to bring up as we’re all adults, but you seem to be a bit of a prude.
Of course, Facebook is no Pornhub, and no one would want it to be – except perhaps Pornhub. But why do you refuse to let accurate information about notoriously confused topics, like the legality of sex tech in India, reach their intended audience?
I mean, we’re literally trying to pay for that privilege of reaching an audience we think would be interested, but it’s often repeatedly deemed unacceptable by your ad guidelines.
It’s a bit of a confusing mess when all you’re trying to do is clear up myths about regulations around products, in that one example. There are others though.
As adults, shouldn’t people be allowed to decide whether they want to read that or not?
We could advertise other items aimed at adults though, right? As long as we selected an audience over the age of 18? We’ve looked Facebook. Really we have, but we’re still not sure how we’re repeatedly breaking advertising rules.
Ads must not promote the sale or use of the following:
- Illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs;
- Tobacco products and related paraphernalia;
- Unsafe supplements, as determined by Facebook in its sole discretion;
- Weapons, ammunition, or explosives; or
- Adult products or services (except for ads for family planning and contraception).
It’s that last one that’s the problem, isn’t it? You think discussion of sex laws in India or an app to help stop sex trafficking or to keep sex workers safe is just wholly distasteful? That it’s likely to ‘reflect badly’ on you? That’s all we can think; that you just don’t want to deal with the topic at all.
We reserve the right to reject, approve or remove any ad for any reason, in our sole discretion, including ads that negatively affect our relationship with our users or that promote content, services, or activities, contrary to our competitive position, interests, or advertising philosophy.
You’re not alone, Facebook. In a world of constantly evolving attitudes and technology, we all need to find ways to understand and relate to topics that might once have made us a bit squeamish. But it’s the only way forward if what you want is an educated, sex-positive population. Mentioning the word sex doesn’t make all content pornographic. Mentioning the word porn doesn’t make it explicit.
Perhaps it’s the potential legal issues? We’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Some countries wouldn’t even allow discussion of certain topics, perhaps. We’re not experts in the legality of every country, so maybe that makes it more difficult for you. But that’s not a challenge you’re allowed to shy away from as home to 1.6 billion people’s digital existence and access to information.
You can’t espouse to be a platform for democracy and good, a platform to ‘Connect the World‘ while censoring entire swathes of the human experience because it might not look so great to some people.
And yes, it’s your giant playground, you can make the rules as you see fit, make money as you want, or introduce any restictions that fit your ideological outlook. But you don’t get to do that while censoring certain topics in the same breath as talking about providing universal access to information.
Facebook, you do a lot of good, and get a lot of things right, but you really need to stop being such a prude around the entire topic of sex and sexuality.
We contacted Facebook for comment but hadn’t received a response at the time of publication.