Turning a blind eye to threats of violence: The problem with Facebook’s ‘community standards’

A couple of days ago suggestions of violence were made towards a Facebook friend. This included the address of this person’s workplace and a call for others to join him. The reply directly below this was an image of a gun being held to a figures head at point blank range, blood spluttering from the victim’s head. This post was reported on Facebook repeatedly, but all who reported received the same message. Apparently, it did not breach “community standards”.

According to Facebook’s so-called community standards, co-ordinating harm is not allowed. They “prohibit people from facilitating or coordinating future criminal activity that is intended or likely to cause harm to people”. Further, they claim to disallow “Statements of intent, calls to action or advocation for…..acts of physical harm committed against people”.

Despite this, time and time again we hear of breaches of these community standards. The most serious of these has been the use of Facebook to spread hate speech and incite violence against Rohingya Muslims. UN human rights experts investigating in Myanmar were even concerned about the role Facebook played in the genocide. Even after repeated warnings and promises to act, hate speech and calls to violence still remained, and possibly still do.

The question becomes if these call to arms are clearly prohibited, why is Facebook allowing them to occur? Why, even after being reported time and time again, do posts such as this remain? Why do clear breaches of their community standards go ignored? What is wrong with the system?

The best case scenario is that its incompetence. And as much as I’d like to believe this, given the regularity with which it occurs, I’d say this is highly doubtful. A more likely scenario is that Facebook’s community standards represent a very specific part of the community. It goes beyond the noble and just sentiments suggested in their policies, to a shameful code set by those who are happy to turn a blind eye to bigotry.  A code which empowers those who fear and seek to persecute those who are different from themselves. 

In short, their community standards represents the worst among us. How many people have to be harmed by their double standards before they adhere to the standards they claim to espouse?