It’s 4:30 am on Monday morning, my typical post-bartending bedtime.
I grabbed my puppy, took a swig of my leftover Smart Water and tucked myself in for the night. It had been a long day of training at my new job in the Meatpacking District, and I was relieved that my requisite 12-hour hiatus from monitoring the "Girl on Girl" documentary film Facebook fan page had gone off without a hitch. On my walk to the subway home, I skimmed through the insights tab which revealed a post-reach approaching 25 million people.
I unabashedly did a happy dance.
Out of habit, I decided to check the page one last time before nodding off. I grabbed my phone and pressed the Facebook icon. I waited. In my impatience, I pressed it again. Suddenly, I saw a rotating blue circle — the signal that I was being logged out. Annoyed, I chalked it up to the fact that I was way overdue for an upgrade. I logged in again, but my not-so-smart phone seemed more confused than usual. Then it popped up: the little screen indicating that you’ve done something clearly unacceptable. “We removed this from Facebook because it violates our Community Standards.”
My first thought — there must have been a nip slip, as Facebook is notorious for their censorship of all things nipple and areola related. The offending image popped up on the next screen.
My contact-less eyes combed the photo for signs of a nipple or butt crack violation. No dice. Yet, the message I read from Facebook stated that it somehow violated their Community Standards on Nudity and Pornography. I clicked the hyperlink to read what was written:
For a moment, I was compelled to laugh. Their “strict policy” is nothing short of a joke; its imprecision borders on legal parody, and its utility would be more convincingly demonstrated in the context of an SNL skit.
Back in my bed, elbow propped on my pillow, I clicked “continue.” I was redirected to another page and asked to verify that the rest of the content on Girl on Girl’s page was in compliance. I clicked “yes.”
I came to the last message, which explained that I would be banned from using Facebook for 24 hours -- no posting, no commenting and no reporting of actual offensive content allowed. By now, I was exhausted and annoyed. I tried to sleep.
I woke up a few hours later and went forth as a woman on a mission.
Thankfully, I was still able to edit my page’s moderator settings even though I couldn't post any content or interact with anyone. I decided to circumvent the problem by granting full-on access to my 86-year-old grandmother. I logged in under her name, knowing the feminist in her would definitely approve. Nana is now the official moderator of my lesbian documentary’s page -- content viewed by over 125 thousand fans worldwide.
First things first, I created and posted the following notice:
A slew of messages came in. One of them stood out -- it was a link to a photo on celebrity poker player, Dan Bilzerian's, Facebook fan page. I clicked the link. Underneath the photo was the caption, “Somebody’s gotta do it, these girls aren’t gonna f--k themselves. Actually, maybe they will!” The message contained a screenshot and Facebook report explaining that the photo was not in violation of any of Facebook’s Community Standards and was not going to be removed.
So I decided to conduct an experiment. Girl on Girl shared Dan's photo on our timeline.
Then we waited to see what would happen.
No surprise, it seems that Facebook is playing favorites. This image that we shared did not get taken down even though it is arguably even more graphic and sexual in nature than any of the photos we had posted in the past. It's almost as if when an erotic lesbian photo orginates on a heterosexual page it is somehow deemed acceptable and we are safe in sharing it because it caters to the male gaze.
One after the other, fans began reporting photos that clearly exploited women, their bodies and their sexuality from Facebook pages likes Dan's. Our inbox filled up with screenshots of graphic images that were reported, and then subsequently deemed acceptable by Facebook.
There is, without question, a flagrant double standard in Facebook censorship.
I find it extremely telling that lesbian content in the context of a heterosexual man's fan page is deemed wholly acceptable (indeed defendable via Facebook’s automated response system), while similar imagery in the context of our fan page about lesbian visibility, created for and by women, is a punishable offense.
I am left wondering, what constitutes nudity and pornography?
Is it a butt crack? A nipple?
Is a professional photograph of two women embracing each other in violation because side-ass and side-boob are visible? But an Instagram shot of a woman in high heels, bending over with her crotch exposed somehow okay because she’s wearing a g-string and catering to the male gaze?
What about a woman tied up and gagged in the trunk of a car?
Is it acceptable… if the woman isn’t naked?
The bottom line is that nowhere in Facebook's public terms and policies does it delineate or describe what’s really going on behind the scenes when a post is deemed unacceptable and subsequently removed.
At worst, this inconsistency in censorship by Facebook's monitors is consciously homophobic and discriminatory. At best, it is arbitrary.
Arbitrary is not excusable. Facebook's refusal to acknowledge the existence of their content removal bias is undeniably problematic and needs to be seriously addressed by the powers that be.
In the meantime, I’ll keep posting photos of women in love -- while actively protesting on Facebook's rival Twitter using the hashtag #ENDFacebookHomophobia.
Because guess what, Mark Zuckerberg?
You're in violation of my community's standards.