Facebook is getting some heat for recently updated content guidelines that ban “sexual solicitation,” with some observers saying they prohibit mention of sexual orientation – but Facebook officials say that’s not the case.
The guidelines, revised in October but just now getting substantial media attention, ban discussion of “sexual preference/sexual partner preference” along with “vague suggestive statements, such as ‘looking for a good time tonight,’” “sexualized slang,” sexually explicit drawings or photographs, and several other types of content.
Some users “worry that the guidelines are so general, [they] could prohibit people from talking about their sexuality at all, like in queer- or gay-friendly groups,” tech news site The Verge reports. But a Facebook spokesperson told the site that’s not so.
“The company … says people should feel free to talk about their orientation without fear of their content being deleted,” according to The Verge. Facebook asserts that the ban is on posts that directly seek sexual partners.
“Simply saying, ‘I’m gay,’ doesn’t count as soliciting sex. But if someone says, ‘I’m a straight man looking for a beautiful girl to lick. Call me,’ that would count as solicitation and be subject to a takedown,” The Verge reports.
Facebook also told The Verge that posts on groups and pages devoted to sexual topics would be subject to deletion only if a member reported them, which is unlikely. Also, “if you’re in Messenger [a chat application] and chatting with someone who wants to talk about sex, they likely wouldn’t report your message, and Facebook wouldn’t remove it,” The Verge notes.
A Facebook spokesperson told Gay Star News, which likewise reported on the new guidelines, that discussion of “sexual preference” wasn’t banned, even though the guidelines state that it is – perhaps reflecting confusion over the term. “Sexual preference” was used in decades past to describe homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality, but it has been largely superseded by “sexual orientation,” which makes clear that sexuality is not a choice. “Preference” could refer to more specific characteristics desired in a sexual partner.
At any rate, the guidelines drew critiques from many social media users, especially given that Tumblr recently banned certain types of sexual content. Some were also concerned about the effect on sex workers. A sample of tweets:
First Tumblr bans NSFW imagery, now Facebook bans NSFW *words*!! pic.twitter.com/ozb0nwgEUr
— Vivian (@suchnerve) December 5, 2018
The new Facebook sexual solicitation policy bans "content [that] facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual encounters between adults." It will likely be used most against sex workers, but it covers huge swaths of adult communication. https://t.co/5prFo0SMzt
— Brynne O'Neal (@BrynneSO) December 6, 2018
"Hey guys can you at least try to get rid of Nazis, scam artists, and bots?"
Tumblr: Ok we banned all the female-presenting nipples
Paypal: Ok we banned all the thots
Facebook: Ok we banned all the kink
Twitter: Ok we suspended a handful of people at random https://t.co/U2SXD5gBQE
— Max Kennerly (@MaxKennerly) December 6, 2018
Would Ethel Merman pass muster with Facebook standards? pic.twitter.com/w2pvbl70iu
— Larry-bob (@larrybobsf) December 7, 2018