Overly prudish censorship by Facebook is in the firing line again today for giving offence to yet another large group of its users before being forced into a hasty retreat.
This time, with word spreading rapidly around the US and UK gay communities of homophobic prejudice on the part of Facebook moderators, the social media website may have bitten off rather more than it can chew.
The spark point for this latest confrontation between Facebook and some of its users is an attempt by one subscriber, Robyn Webb, to put up a profile pic that showed two people kissing. That is two "fully clothed adult men", with no nudity and no other indication of erotic activity going on.
Shortly after, however, the picture disappeared, and a stern warning was winging its way back to Robyn. Facebook moderators explained: "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."
Ironically, as Robyn comments in a blog about this removal, the picture itself was first put up on a Facebook page created to garner support for a "kiss-in" at the John Snow pub in Soho which was targeted after two gay men were allegedly asked to leave for kissing in public.
However, as regular readers will be aware, this is far from the first time that over-swift moderation by Facebook has left them looking decidedly red-faced. Over the last 12 months, there has been the strange case of the disappearing breast-feeding site. There has also been a head-on clash with the curators of the New York Academy of Art over whether certain pictures constitute art or smut. And there is continuing discussion as to whether mere discussion of kink activities constitutes an un-Facebook-like activity.
In this instance, a certain amount of fancy footwork by Facebook may be called for. As Apple recently discovered to its cost, when it was forced to withdraw an app widely perceived to be homophobic from its stores, the gay lobby has clout. There is also a question of whether this action breaches UK Equalities legislation.
Reacting with unaccustomed swiftness, a spokesman for Facebook informs us: "The photo in question does not violate our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and was removed in error. We apologize for the inconvenience".
According to the same spokesman, the event page has not been removed. He explained: "It is a secret event, so it can only be seen by current attendees and invitees."
However, this claim is challenged by individuals supporting the new "Kissing is Cool" Facebook page, which has already gained some 12,000 supporters since yesterday, protesting at what they see as Facebook's stance on this issue. ®