The Joys & Griefs of Facebook

Facebook is my favorite social networking site. While I watch the tumbleweeds roll by at Google+ and Twitter is my go-to network for news and resources, Facebook is where I connect with friends, engage in interesting conversations, and cultivate personal interests. Like the internet in general, you can harness the power of Facebook for good, for evil, or for plain old silliness.

Earlier this week, Tourism Australia launched a terrific new Facebook app. Discover Australia Through Your Friends merges Google Maps and Facebook technology to turn your friends down under into virtual travel assistants. Using geolocation, you can see where your friends have checked in and photos they have taken there.  People can add travel insights and you can message your friends to find out more about a place that piques your interest. It’s a clever way to put to use something that many Facebook users already do (i.e. checking in). I’ve mentioned its There’s Nothing Like Australia app for iPhone and iPad before and this is another great example of how Tourism Australia successfully uses social technology to promote travel.

On the flip side, Facebook can be a platform for trolls, bullying, and hatred. This week it has also been a platform for racism under the guise of humor aimed at Aborigines.

I first learned about this story when I came across a petition calling for the removal of a Facebook page called Aboriginal Memes. By the time I discovered the petition, the page had been removed. Whether it was removed by Facebook or its creator is not clear and another page called Abo Memes quickly sprung up in its place. At the time of this writing, the second page is still up. It features photos of Aborigines with captions that mock their tribal lifestyle and socio-economic status and characterizes them as drug addicts and alcoholics abusing the welfare system.

I reported the page, but since I opt out of email notifications, I didn’t receive Facebook’s response. According to the Verge, users that reported the page received the following response:

Thanks for your recent report of a potential violation on Facebook. After reviewing your report, we were not able to confirm that the specific page you reported violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

Someone over at Facebook needs to revisit the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

5. Protecting Other People’s Rights

We respect other people’s rights, and expect you to do the same.

  1. You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.

And the Community Standards section on hate speech:

Facebook does not permit hate speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, it is a serious violation to attack a person based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

But how does Facebook define hate speech?

Content that attacks people based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease is not allowed. We do, however, allow clear attempts at humor or satire that might otherwise be considered a possible threat or attack. This includes content that many people may find to be in bad taste (e.g. jokes, stand-up comedy, popular song lyrics, etc.).

To complicate matters further, the Australian Communications and Media Authority is investigating whether the Facebook page is a violation of the Racial Discrimination Act, but can an Australian law be successfully applied to an American online company?

What do you think? Is it humor or hate speech? Should Facebook take the page down?

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