To Ban Or Not To Ban – Facebook’s Dangerous Game With Censorship

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Living in a house without internet makes you realise how dependent we are on the web – this vast resource of information, fun and procrastination. What can you do to fill those free hours, normally full of time-wasting web browsing? It’s difficult and the idea of an internet-free world is unthinkable for most of nowadays. But let’s be honest here. It’s not the internet we’d miss. It’s Facebook.

A quick walk through the library; a scan over a student’s browsing history; a glance at those in lectures with their laptops -all these things tell us one thing. Students love Facebook.

As one of the key inventions of the modern age, Facebook has become synonymous with the internet; along with the other web giant Google. Indeed, so pertinent is Facebook to the 21st century, that ‘facebook’ and ‘unfriend’ can now be found in the English Dictionary. With over 800 million active users, its global reach increases by the day, affecting the way we think, find information, interact and socialise. 

According to DoubleClick, Facebook was the most visited website in the world in June 2011 with over a trillion page views

Facebook is not without its controversy though; mainly due to its privacy and security arrangements. This is especially true regarding the status of many of its groups. Last year, a group was sent up named ‘R.I.P. Raoul Moat You Legend’ in honour of the gunman who shot three people, killing one and blinding another, in Northumbria.

The issue is not, however, the existence of such a group – people should be able to post things freely – but Facebook’s refusal to remove it when it became clear it was insensitive, and in many ways, disgusting. Despite pressure from MPs and David Cameron himself, who described Raoul Moat as a “callous murderer”, to remove the page, Facebook declined. The page was eventually removed, but only due to the page’s creator personal decision due to a public backlash. In fact, a Facebook search reveals that similar groups still exist.

Facebook has recently hit the headlines again; this time with a group named ‘You know shes playing hard to get when your chasing her down an alleyway’. The issue with this group is that many believe it is hinting at and trivialising the issue of rape. Posts on the group has been quick to point out that this is not the case – and whilst its not to say that page itself is advocating or supporting rape – but, as my housemate said, has a clear undeniable “rapey vibe”.

So let’s look at this objectively; there are pages on the world’s biggest website commemorating a man who murdered one man – and attempted to kill another two people, his ex-girlfriend and a policeman – as well as another one that clearly is belittling the matter of rape. The question is whether such controversial groups belong on Facebook.

Facebook clearly believes they do. Both still remain on the site and have been refused removal despite the messages they are sending out.  The site’s statement of rights claim that “”You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” This is Facebook’s attempt to allow the sight to become an open discussion forum and an arena for free speech. 

Groups or pages that express an opinion on a state, institution, or set of beliefs – even if that opinion is outrageous or offensive to some – do not by themselves violate our policies.

It seems though that Facebook’s line on what is “hateful” or “threatening” is very fine indeed. On the ‘R.I.P. Raoul Moat’ page, there has been hate speech against the police as well as the victims of the attack. Similarly, the ‘rape’ page has had some members, who the BBC reports, have been “advocating rape” whilst some have been “apparently confessing to rape.”

More than this though, it is the message that these groups send out that is the real issue. Matters such as murder and rape should not be trivialised and disrespected so freely. These are real issue that have happened to real people. Facebook’s counter claims that they want the website to be “a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others” is fine in itself, but clearly, these groups are not respecting the rights of others.

Some people may agree with this and make two claims in defence of Facebook. Firstly, that this pages are jokes. Indeed, as Facebook rightly say “”It is very important to point out that what one person finds offensive another can find entertaining”. This may be the case, but clearly when these ‘jokes’ are trivialising major issues and are severely damaging and insensitive to the victims of these acts, then the joke is not acceptable. These aren’t just rude jokes, but ones that are hurtful and damaging which trivialise events that have happen to real people and, in many cases, will still be psychological damaged from these happenings. In such cases, the victim’s offense and distress from such groups is clearly more extreme, stronger and important than another’s entertainment from it. The policemen who Raoul Moat shot, for example, is now blind and thus, is both mentally and physically scarred for the rest of his life; no one deserves to find any entertainment out of this.

The second point that may be made is trickier; the idea of free speech. Now, the idea of freedom of expression is important and Facebook’s attempt to achieve this is noble. It should be a place where people are able to discuss and debate on matters from the trifling to the controversial. However, Facebook has a duty to protect its users from attacks like this; as while they are not necessarily personal, they are crass and inconsiderate. In many ways, they could be regarded as cyber-bullying. Free speech should have its limitations and, albeit as an oxymoron, control as otherwise it quickly becomes hate speech.

Furthermore, if people started posting racist or homophobic ‘joke’ groups; they would be removed due to the violation of Facebook’s conditions. That seems a strange moral high ground to take when pages that honour murders and mock rape are allowed to stand.

At the same time, it has been reported that women have had photos of them breastfeeding taken down; it is bizarre world where this natural healthy act is seen as more obscene and worthy of removal than these groups.

Facebook is, and will remain, a major social force in our lives. It should therefore act as a moral compass, indicating what is right and wrong on the internet; instead, it gives a worrying picture of how they view the world and what they regard as obscene and offensive. It is incredible that they believe groups like this fall under ‘free speech’ or as ‘entertainment’ due to their offensive nature to many. Indeed, when such a large majority disagrees with them, surely the response is to remove them. These groups are far beyond what should be regarded as acceptable in the very public domain that is Facebook. Joke or not, Free speech or not:  Facebook should just do the clever thing and play the safe game.

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