In the spring of 2011, two men were on a first date at the John Snow pub in London. They were apparently thrown out of the pub after another patron at the bar complained that the two men were kissing each other in the corner. The story of being thrown out of the pub for kissing began to go viral on social media, followed by a plan for a protest at the pub in question. In a sign of support for the protest, many people on social media posted images of two men kissing each other as well.
The Dangerous Minds Facebook page wrote about the protest, and included a promotional image from the BBC of two male characters from the popular soap opera EastEnders kissing to illustrate the post. The image had become well known in the UK a few years prior, as the scene in question had kicked off complaints to the BBC which the BBC responded to by noting that the relationship between two men was treated no differently than many other relationships displayed on the show between a man and a woman.Soon after this, Facebook removed the image, telling Dangerous Minds that it “violated Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”
Soon after this, Facebook removed the image, telling Dangerous Minds that it “violated Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”
Content that you shared on Facebook has been removed because it violated Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Shares that contain nudity, or any kind of graphic or sexually suggestive content, are not permitted on Facebook.
This message serves as a warning. Additional violations may result in the termination of your account. Please read the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities carefully and refrain from posting abusive material in the future. Thanks in advance for your understanding and cooperation.
The Facebook Team”
Given that the image itself was to promote a protest over two men being removed from a restaurant for kissing, the removal of the image sparked further anger directed at Facebook. Many pointed out that there were plenty of images of men and women kissing each other all over Facebook, and they were not being removed.
Decisions to be made by Facebook:
- Is a picture of two people kissing “graphic or sexually suggestive content” in violation of rules
- Should the identities of the people within the images matter in making content moderation decisions?
- Should the reason for the posting of an image (e.g., as part of a larger protest) matter in determining if the image violated the rules?
- How well trained is the content moderation staff to recognize relationships that might differ from their own preferred relationships?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
- Should Facebook be deciding which kinds of legal relationships are acceptable to display and which are not?
- As seen with the complaints to the BBC, there remain some segment of the population who will vocally protest non-heterosexual relationships. Are there rules, policies, or training that can be put in place to educate content moderation teams that they may receive different types of reports regarding such content?
As the story drew more and more mainstream press attention, Facebook quickly apologized, saying the image does not violate any policies, and the takedown was a mistake.
“The photo in question does not violate our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and was removed in error. We apologize for the inconvenience”
No further explanation of how the image came to be taken down in the first place was given.
Written by The Copia Institute, May 2021