Facebook Moves to Ban Some Forms of Talking About Sexuality

While the fallout of Tumblr’s new porn ban is continuing, Facebook is also further cracking down on sexuality – even banning discussing it in some cases.

Back in March, the Cambridge Analytica data mining practices on Facebook was causing a lot of controversy. In response, some users sought refuge on alternative social media site Tumblr.

6 months later, Tumblr revised its policy and began automatically banning pornography on their website. The automation, as one would expect, didn’t really work that well. The fallout is that a lot of users are now leaving Tumblr. While users are seeking alternatives, it almost seemingly left an opening for Facebook to get some of those users back.

Unfortunately for those thinking of running back to Facebook, that isn’t the case.

In a recent policy update, Facebook is further cracking down on pornography and even going as far as to banning discussing some forms of sexuality on their site. Digital rights organization, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), is raising concerns over the move:

Facebook just quietly adopted a policy that could push thousands of innocent people off of the platform. The new “sexual solicitation” rules forbid pornography and other explicit sexual content (which was already functionally banned under a different statute), but they don’t stop there: they also ban “implicit sexual solicitation”, including the use of sexual slang, the solicitation of nude images, discussion of “sexual partner preference,” and even expressing interest in sex. That’s not an exaggeration: the new policy bars “vague suggestive statements, such as ‘looking for a good time tonight.’” It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that asking “Netflix and chill?” could run afoul of this policy.

[P]eople use Facebook to discuss and draw attention to sexual violence and exploitation. We recognize the importance of and want to allow for this discussion. We draw the line, however, when content facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual encounters between adults.

In other words, discussion of sexual exploitation is allowed, but discussion of consensual, adult sex is taboo. That’s a classic censorship model: speech about sexuality being permitted only when sex is presented as dangerous and shameful. It’s especially concerning since healthy, non-obscene discussion about sex—even about enjoying or wanting to have sex—has been a component of online communities for as long as the Internet has existed, and has for almost as long been the target of governmental censorship efforts.

Until now, Facebook has been a particularly important place for groups who aren’t well represented in mass media to discuss their sexual identities and practices. At very least, users should get the final say about whether they want to see such speech in their timelines.

It’s a particularly puzzling move considering what is happening with Tumblr. If anything, a great move would be to implement a new policy that provides a safe space to discuss such topics. At that point, it gives users a chance to consider going back to Facebook. Instead, Facebook seems to be driving more users away from the site in the process of trying to crack down on what they see as solicitation.

It can lead to the question of whether or not Facebook just thinks of itself as invulnerable. We are aware of many examples where organizations and companies felt that no matter what they did, people will always continue to use their products and services. Any misstep is seen as a temporary issue that will just magically resolve itself just because they are [insert big name here]. That has led to the downfall of a lot of big names. We’re not saying that this is exactly what is happening with the site, but the pattern does fit.

At this point, there is certainly a chance for other social media sites to take advantage of the situation. Whether it’s an old name or some new up and comer, this is, the ideal time to start trying to attract new users and establish a foothold in the market. There is a lot of users shopping around for a new site to establish themselves.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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