I’m Very Glad

May 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

…that Facebook has publicly admitted that their moderation practices –which are grossly slanted against women– are woefully lacking. I’m also glad that feminist groups have found a way to force the issue. I’m not glad, however, that the only reason Facebook ended up budging is because advertisers started pulling out. Not because that sort of content is disgusting, not because people shouldn’t have to see that sort of thing (unsurprisingly Buzzfeed has a whole listicle of the worst and most disturbing images posted to Facebook; head over there if you want to ruin your day, but I won’t be linking out because ugh), but because, well, money.

Not that their position is all that surprising; Facebook’s moderation practices have always been pretty weird. While I was in high research mode for my Facebook memorial page trolling project, for example, I was struck by the fact that although Facebook took a hard line against trolls and troll content (which was pretty easy to sniff out via algorithm), they seemed to have little to no interest in addressing non-trollish hate speech (I don’t want to say “real” hate speech, because that gets into motivations which is too hard a nut to crack in a three-parahraph blog post). I couldn’t figure out why a troll saying the N-word was a bannable offense while a Klansman saying the N-word was a-ok until I realized that, as fake throwaway profiles, trolls had absolutely no monetary value to Facebook. They were, from an advertising perspective, worthless, and/so the pushback was swift. But “real” racists (again, I’m not interested in having a conversation about intentions here) were real (persistent; connected) profiles and therefore could be commodified, so apparently were tolerable. Facebook may have found a way to defang the trolls, but their reasons for doing so seemed inconsistent at best and disingenuous at worst.

The question is, does doing the right thing for the wrong (or at least for cynical corporate) reasons negate a positive outcome? In the case of pro-rape and misogyny pages, I would argue that no, it doesn’t — these feminist groups hit Facebook in the only place that matters (to Facebook and its shareholders), the violently sexist content was taken down, and Facebook was forced to acknowledge their considerable failures. That’s good; that sends a message. But it does not mean that Facebook can suddenly be placed in the feminist camp. It means that in this case, Facebook’s bottom line lined up with progressive politics. I’ll happily take that win, but not without shooting Facebook some serious side-eyes first.

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