Does Facebook Engage in Information Bias?
Written by Michelle Sawicki
When you think of websites featuring the latest news broadcasts, CNN, BBC and Fox News probably come to mind. However, a recent study found that 30% of Americans get their news stories through Facebook (Pew Research Center, 2013, October 25). While Facebook is certainly a popular website, controversy surrounds its news feeds. Some people disapprove of Facebook news, claiming certain topics are censored. These people believe Facebook news is a biased source of information. In contrast, other groups have fought vehemently to remove particular subjects from Facebook news feeds. The controversy over Facebook’s news feeds has some people questioning if the website is engaging in information bias.
A Community Standards Policy governs the information posted on Facebook. The social networking site does not allow violence and threats, promotions of self-harm, bullying and harassment, hate speech, phishing and spam, graphic content, pornography, certain types of nudity, or breeches of identity, privacy, security or intellectual property (Facebook, 2013). It wasn’t always this way though. Facebook’s Community Standard Policy has gone through some remarkable changes since it was first developed.
“Until recently, Facebook viewed violence against women as a suitable topic for humor. Posts that slammed Jews, gays, or Muslims were classified as “hate speech” and taken down; posts that shamed women were labeled “offensive,” “poor taste,” or “crude attempts at humor” and allowed to remain” (Reynolds, n.d.) Public outrage was expressed in May 2013 after Soraya Chemaly, a media critic and feminist activist, uncovered “videos of girls and women frightened, humiliated, bruised, beaten, raped, gang-raped, bathed in blood, and beheaded. One Facebook page displayed a picture of a woman with a taped mouth and this advice: “Don’t wrap it and tap it. Tape her and rape her” (Reynolds, 2013).
When Facebook officials were confronted with the violently abusive material, they originally defended their policy. A representative from Facebook’s Public Policy Communications division reportedly stated in an email, “occasionally, we make a mistake … but this is not a flaw of the policy” (Williams, 2013, May 29).
Facebook officials re-thought their policy though after public outcry led to businesses pulling their advertisements from the social media network, which hit the website where many believe it hurts the most: money and reputation. Under fire, Facebook decided to review and update its guidelines (Williams 2013, May 29).
However, in October 2013 Facebook once again changed its Community Standards Policy. Previous restrictions were lifted, and Facebook now allows videos of re-life beheadings to once again appear in news feeds (Welch, October 21). Facebook asserted that policies were revised because administrators feel users should have the “freedom to view (and hopefully condemn) violent content” (Welch, 2013, October 21). That’s the same stance Facebook administrators originally held on the subject of violence. Surprisingly, Facebook’s return to allowing murders and other violent content occurred shortly after a University of Michigan study found that the more young adults used Facebook, the more their life-satisfaction levels declined (Kross, Verduyn, Demiralp, Park, Lee, Lin, Shablack, Jonides, & Ybarra, 2013). This study may very well be used in an effort to substantiate the arguments of those who believe Facebook’s violent news feeds may have negative effects on viewers.
We will more than likely once again see public opposition to Facebook’s decision to allow violent content. However, those who oppose videos of live beheadings on Facebook may soon be able to block these videos from appearing in their newsfeeds. Facebook officials claim they are working on creating measures to allow users to have more control over the content they see (Kelion, 2013, October 21). In the meantime, people have no fool-proof way to stop violence and real life murders from appearing in their newsfeeds.
I personally feel Facebook does have a history of engaging in Information bias, but I also believe Facebook administrators did so in an attempt to placate their community and avoid losing sponsors. How do you feel about information bias and Facebook’s stance? Is Facebook right to oppose information bias? Do you believe Facebook should censor videos of beheadings for the good of society, or do you think removing videos of beheadings constitutes objectionable information bias?
Facebook. (2013). Facebook community standards. Retrieved October 26, 2013, from https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards
Kelion, L. (2013, October 21). Facebook lets beheading clips return to social network. BBC News: Technology. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-24608499
Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., Park, J., Seungjae, D. L., Lin, N., Shablack, H., Jonides, J., & Ybarra, O. (2013). Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLoS One, 8(8). Retrieved October 28, 2013, from http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.po ne.0069841
Pew Research Center. (2013, October 25). The Facebook news experience. Pew Research Center. Retrieved October 26, 2013, from http://www.journalism.org/2013/10/24/the-facebook-news-experience-infographic/
Reynolds, J. (n.d.). Facebook cracks down on domestic violence. Law Enforcement Today. Retrieved October 25, 2013, from http://lawenforcementtoday.com/tag/facebook%E2%80%99s-community-standard/
Welch, C. (2013, October 23). Facebook decides to allow videos of beheadings in your news feeds. The Verge. Retrieved October 25, 2013, from http://www.theverge.com/2013/10/21/4863628/facebook-allows-beheading-videos-in-your-news-feed
Williams, M. E. (2013, May 29). Facebook finally addresses its rape culture. Salon. Retrieved October 28, 2013, from http://www.salon.com/2013/05/29/facebook_finally_addresses_its_rape_culture/