Facebook's censorship policy is culture specific: Dr. Robert Pepper, Facebook

Dr. Pepper, who attended the India Telecom 2016 summit in New Delhi, spoke about Facebook’s censorship rules after it faced flak for blocking a Vietnam war photo of a nude child

e4m by Ruhail Amin
Published: Nov 3, 2016 8:14 AM  | 3 min read
Facebook's censorship policy is culture specific: Dr. Robert Pepper, Facebook

Of late Facebook has been in news for a different reason, especially concerning its censorship policy. The debate sparked a few weeks ago when Facebook removed the historic Vietnam war photo and later restored its publication accompanied with a mild apology.

Facebook on its part has maintained that it has a well defined policy which can easily regulate content that violates its censorship framework.  However, the recent incident of the removal of the Vietnam war photo points at some gaping lapses which Facebook’s censorship policy needs to address at the earliest. 

One of Facebook’s decision-makers, who runs the community operations division, even wrote a Facebook post acknowledging that the removal of the war photo was a “mistake.”  As soon as Facebook blocked the war photo, the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten printed the image on its front page and posted it on Facebook, which was promptly blocked. Soon after even the Norwegian Prime Minister posted the same photo on Facebook, which surprisingly was removed again.

Though this action by the social media giant came under severe criticism, Facebook later issued a statement defending the action, saying it was “difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others.”

While many question Facebook’s censorship rules, at the same time it is a well known fact that Facebook’s censorship policy has largely been kept away from public discourse and little information is available in the public domain about the criterion to block content. Some activists even have labelled Facebook’s censorship policy as an assault on the freedom of expression.

Speaking to exchange4media about the controversy surrounding Facebook’s censorship policy, Dr. Robert Pepper, Head of Global Connectivity Policy & Planning, Facebook Inc. said, “We believe in the freedom of expression and we take extreme caution to ensure that our content does not violate sentiments of any section of the society. For ensuring this, our policy takes into account the cultural nuances of content that is projected in a particular region and we make sure that it is culture specific and suits the sentiments and beliefs of that particular community or culture.”

Elaborating specifically on the historic Vietnam war photo, which depicted a nude girl  child running for safety which was removed by Facebook, Dr. Pepper added, “Though the photo was restored, initially it was removed because it violated our censorship policy which lays great onus on banning child nudity. This particular photo could have been interpreted in a different way in many regions of the world, so our policy is to take into account all those different interpretations too so that no one’s rights are violated.”

Maintaining that Facebook places highest priority on the freedom of expression, Dr Pepper further added that such incidents also reflect the new challenges that need to be tackled, especially in the area of content monitoring.

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