The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Facebook ‘filters’

Facebook has taken on the formidable task of enabling worldwide “social networks.” The stated goal is to provide access to everything all the time to everyone. The case of Steve Stevens, the man who live-streamed a random homicide, has revealed the ghastly downside of social networking. It seems to be an exception to the general rule that most people most of the time choose to use so-called social media wisely. (“So-called” because social media are operated primarily for the benefit of advertisers, not society. The “social” aspect of these systems is elaborate window-dressing.) Facebook’s fecklessness in this matter, however, is appalling.

Facebook’s response to the very few violent crimes distributed by its system has been worse than lame, and its approach to issues posed by, for example, live streaming doesn’t take into account what lies at the very root of the problem: Facebook invites and encourages narcissism, and it’s clear that violent narcissism – from rape to murder – is an integral piece of that package. How dare a company offering commercial service enabling unfiltered violence with nothing in place to prevent it? It took hours for this video to be removed from Facebook; meanwhile, it spread to other so-called social networking systems.

How lame is Facebook’s filtering system? Well, here’s an example – and if you’re put off by nudity and/or sexually suggestive images, stop now. What follows may offend you.

Photo 1: Risque, perhaps, but why did Facebook’s so-called ‘security system’ find it objectionable?

An old friend’s birthday is today. He’s a gay man I’ve known since our college days, and he played an instrumental role in my becoming an Episcopal churchman and priest. He’s not in the closet and has a great sense of humor. So, I decided to post a photo on Facebook as a birthday greeting: “Happy birthday, you sexy beast.” (See photo 1.) This photo ran afoul of Facebook’s content guidelines. First, I got the “message failed” notice, so I clicked through to express why I thought Facebook had made a mistake.

My case for the image was simple. The primary content of the image is humor not nudity; and, in any case, the nudity in question generated no prurient interest. It was not, in other words, pornographic. It was harmless and funny. Facebook, of course, has not – and likely will not – reply to my message. No big deal. I found another image and posted the birthday greeting.

There was, however, another image offered by my Google search that seemed somewhat out of place with the search terms I used. “Come with me,” it said, and you can see for yourself (Photo 2) what it looked like. More than a little suggestive, wouldn’t you say? I’m no prude, but I wouldn’t want my FB friends to be exposed to something like this. So why expose it here? To make the point that, as far as Facebook is concerned, this image is just fine!

I’m sure I could go on and on about why inoffensive nudity with a gay message is deemed unacceptable by Facebook while the sexually provocative image of a woman is just fine; however, I will desist, except to say that it indicates that Facebook’s efforts at monitoring content is a complete sham, no less a sham that the very concept of its being something of social value rather than the means by which Mark Zuckerberg has become a multibillionaire.

And, now, we have live-streamed random homicide – and Facebook is still clueless.

Photo 2: Facebook’s ‘security system’ didn’t block this image. Is it more or less objectionable than Photo 1?

Thank you, Mr. Zuckerberg, for bringing us all together.

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