Facebook Toys With New Policies That Crack Down On Sexual Content

In 2017, Facebook usage among people ages 12 to 17 dropped by nearly 10 percent. This year, it’s predicted that Facebook will lose more than 2 million users ages 25 and under, building on a loss of nearly 3 million users in that same demographic last year. If this didn’t already spell trouble for the dying social media giant, they’ve also decided to crack down on sexual content in a manner that seems superfluous at best, and puritanical at worst.

The company recently updated their community standards related to sexual solicitation, showing that they’re intent on either being killjoys or further protecting themselves from potential liability (perhaps a mix of the two). Although the policy was updated in mid-October, journalists and users only caught on to this change earlier this week.

Comments and practices now deemed unacceptable by Facebook include “implicit sexual solicitation” which could mean “vague suggestive statements such as ‘looking for a good time tonight’” and “sexual hints at the mention of sexual roles, positions or fetish scenarios.” What this means is that a person’s silly pun about a sex position could now get their content flagged and scrutinized by hawklike social media overlords. For fans of free speech, jokes, or the general freedom to verbally push boundaries on the Internet, this shouldn’t be hailed as a good thing, nor will it make us measurably safer from content we don’t wish to see.

It might be one thing if Facebook were currently a wild west of untamed sexual solicitations and pornographic posts (like Tumblr, which also recently announced a tightening of standards on sexual content that will take effect on December 17). But Facebook isn’t like that; old community standards existed and mostly did their job just fine.

Now, Facebook wants to censor things like “content that offers or asks for other adult activities such as…partners who share fetish or sexual interests.” Not only is this not necessary, but it also won’t stop people from organizing for that purpose. Perhaps people will adopt more coded language, but people who want to create sexually exploratory-type groups already do coordinate sexual activities using euphemisms, slang terms, and whatever other inoffensive or cutesy roundabout words they can muster. Whether these actions are moral is beside the point; they’re not dangerous or widespread, nor do they need to be stopped.

I’m not going to die on the hill of “we need social media platforms that can help people orchestrate swingers’ parties.” But it is an odd choice for a company with dwindling revenue to become more focused on crackdowns like these, which will inevitably lead to (mostly) innocent jokesters and consenting adults getting accounts flagged or suspended for activity that is conducted in private groups and messages.

Per PC Mag, who talked to a Facebook spokesperson:

The company didn’t directly comment on concerns the new policy was too broad and might prohibit people from engaging in dirty talk on the site. But Facebook said it crafted the new rules with input from third-party organizations that specialize in women’s and children’s safety issues.

Facebook’s content moderation has a spotty track record; it’s come under fire for failing to pull bad content, such as terrorist videos, propaganda, and fake news. Meanwhile, other critics have accused the social network of accidentally taking down legitimate posts from real users.

Facebook seems to be attempting to use vague justifications of “women’s and children’s safety” as the reasoning for this decision. It’s totally unclear what that means, which misdeeds they’re reacting to, or how this will help. They have, however, voiced an intention to hire more content reviewers and improve their existing algorithms.

Of course, it’s worth noting, as any good libertarian or conservative should, that Facebook is within their rights to crack down on sexual or otherwise suggestive content. They’re a private company and we consent to their community standards and terms of service when we sign up.

They shouldn’t, however, expect that this will do much to increase their popularity and dwindling user count, especially when it comes to the millennial (people born between 1980 and 1996) and Generation Z (people born after 1996) demographics. Apparently, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat are dominating the marketplace right now, capturing the attention of the youths, per Pew’s March and April 2018 polling.

It’s not like Facebook’s descent hasn’t been a long time coming. It’s just odd that they’re choosing to expedite it.