On Sunday Facebook attempted once again to lend clarity to its Community Standards and policies as they apply to government requests. Specifically, Head of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert and Deputy General Counsel Chris Sonderby set out to provide "more detail and clarity on what is and is not allowed" on the site, citing in particular “nudity” and “hate speech” as areas in need of particular attention. In addition, Bickert and Soderby stated that circumstances may arise in which Facebook will need to remove or restrict access to content due to said content being against the law in a particular country; this despite it not being in violation of the social media giant's set-forth standards.
Strangely, Bickert and Sonderby write, "(Facebook's) policies and standards themselves are not changing", and then proceed to call the Facebook posting an “update” in the very same sentence. All potential confusion aside, though, let's explore the non-changing updates to Facebook's standards and policies.
The Facebook Community Standards are now broken into four distinct areas designed to promote good citizenship on the site, targeted to the encouragement of user safety, respectful behavior, information security, and intellectual property protection. The company says specifically that their standards are now providing "more guidance on policies related to self-injury, dangerous organizations, bullying and harassment, criminal activity, sexual violence and exploitation, nudity, hate speech, and violence and graphic content."
This all reads right, however, Bickert and Sonderby go on to speak of the difficulties in applying standards that "meet the needs of a diverse global community" and continue to caveat the issue with "We know that our policies won’t perfectly address every piece of content, especially where we have limited context, but we evaluate reported content seriously and do our best to get it right."
Of course, all of this begs the question, "When is a standard a standard? Or an actionable policy?"
In conjunction with Facebook's statement, the company also released its Global Government Requests Report, which lays out the number of government content restriction and account data requests Facebook received during the second half of 2014, as well as national security requests. According to the report, requests for restriction are up and requests for account information are flat. No mention is made of how many national security requests are reflected in the report. And, as one might expect, the Facebook statement ends with a forthright declaration meant to assure the reader that the company will "will continue to scrutinize each government request and push back when we find deficiencies".
Perhaps Bickert and Sonderby were merely seeking to offer a look into Facebook's Community Standards and detail on government requests, and that the meat is on the other end of a click. If that is the case, however, it is highly curious that the statement — whose obvious purpose is to garner "Let's Play Nice" points for Facebook on the provision and enforcement of community behavior strictures and government intervention transparency — reads so much like a preemptive legal shield designed to provide cover of good intent.