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Leaked Documents Reveal Facebook’s Secret, Baffling Moderation Guidelines

A document containing examples of permitted and prohibited Facebook comments. Photo:

Leaked documents posted by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung appear to show the thorny guidelines established by Facebook for removing content from its platform. The guidelines, which Facebook provides to third-party content-moderation contractors, mostly pertain to original sharing — status updates, photos, and so on. They don’t concern outbound links (in other words, nothing on fake news). It’s unclear how old the guidelines are. We’ve reached out to Facebook to confirm their legitimacy and find out when they were created.

Broadly speaking, Facebook does not permit attacks on what they call “protected categories.” These categories include sex, religious affiliation, national origin, gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability. According to the English translation of the article, there is some wiggle room: “while members of religious groups are protected, religion itself is not. The same applies to countries. While speaking badly about France or Germany is allowed in general, condemning people on the basis of their nationality is not.”

Diagrams and practice exercises for controversial statuses provide some examples of what is and is not permitted. The status “Fucking Muslims!” is not allowed, while the status “Fucking migrants!” is.

There is also distinction between stances and insults. “Migrants are scum!” violates Facebook policies, but “Asylum seekers out!” does not.

It appears that broad attacks on personal traits are not allowed, but specificity makes things permissible. The status “Don’t trust boys!” violates Facebook’s terms, but writing “Don’t trust boys who say they love you” is within the bounds of the policy.

These rules do not apply to public individuals, defined as people elected to public office, with more than 100,000 social-media followers, media personalities, and people who appear in news reports frequently.

Showing bodily functions such as urination and menstruation operates on a sliding scale. If the content is meant to humiliate the subject, then it gets deleted. It can stay up if there is no bullying context or if it concerns a public figure. One absolutely perfect section of the leaks contains photos of Fergie and Owen Wilson peeing and Harry Styles puking as illustrations of permitted content.

The general rule is that bullying is not allowed. The leaked guidelines explicitly prohibit ranking private individuals based on physical appearance or personality. If that’s the case, then Facebook is going to be livid when they hear about how Facebook started.

Leaked Slides Reveal Facebook’s Secret Moderation Guidelines