Facebook Leak Exposes “Alarming” Internal Handbook For Handling Violent And Sexual Content

Policing the world's largest social playground in which there are nearly 2 billion monthly active users must be a rather daunting task. This is the Internet, after all, where many people feel empowered to say inappropriate things and act in a manner that is completely different than how they might act in real life. Underscoring this challenge is an in-depth company handbook that exists at Facebook, parts of which have been leaked to the web sparking a controversy.

Through thousands of slides and pictures, Facebook illustrates to employees what should be done when encountering hate speech, violent content, and more. But there are inconsistencies in some of Facebook's examples that have made it susceptible to criticism. For example, the handbook states that remarks such as "Someone shoot Trump" should be deleted because he is in a protected category. However, it is permissible to say, "To snap a b*tch's neck, make sure to apply all your pressure to the middle of her throat."


Facebook's justification for allowing the latter is that it is not viewed as a credible threat, versus someone calling for the assassination of the President of the United States. But in making that distinction, Facebook is effectively playing the part of censor, and with that comes a lot of judgement calls, some of which are in the spotlight now that portions of the handbook are out in the open.

Here are some other controversial policies:
  • Videos of violent deaths do not necessarily have to be deleted if they are marked as disturbing and might help create awareness of certain issues, including mental illness.
  • Photos depicting animal abuse can be shared, so long as the most upsetting ones are marked as disturbing.
  • Users are allowed to livestream attempts to self-harm, as Facebook "doesn't want to censor or punish people in distress."
That is just a small portion of the policies that not everyone is going to agree with. Therein lies one of the main challenges—Monika Bickert, Facebook's head of global policy manager, told The Guardian that with nearly 2 billion users it was difficult to reach a consensus on what to allow.

"We have a really diverse global community and people are going to have very different ideas about what is OK to share. No matter where you draw the line there are always going to be some gray areas. For instance, the line between satire and humor and inappropriate content is sometimes very gray. It is very difficult to decide whether some things belong on the site or not," Bickert said.

Facebook Laptop

For more controversial subjects, Facebook seems to fall back on the idea of raising awareness. That is why it allows people to share image of animal abuse, including mutilation and torture. But it is also confusing. For example, all handmade art showing nudity and sex is allowed, but digitally made art showing sexual activity is against the rules. And when it comes to child abuse, there are some instances where Facebook will allow images so long as it is not sexual in nature. This is "for the purpose of helping the child," though not everyone agrees.

"This insight into Facebook’s rules on moderating content is alarming to say the least," a spokesperson for UK's National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children told TechCrunch. "There is much more Facebook can do to protect children on their site. Facebook, and other social media companies, need to be independently regulated and fined when they fail to keep children safe."

One thing is for sure, we do not envy the responsibility that Facebook is faced with.