Well, well. As we’ve covered for a while now, FOSTA became law almost entirely because Facebook did an about-face on its position on the law — which only recently was revealed to have happened because COO Sheryl Sandberg decided it was important to appease Congress on something, even against the arguments of Facebook’s own policy team. As we pointed out at the time, this was Facebook basically selling out the internet, and we wondered if Facebook would then help clean up the collateral damage it causes?
The early indications are that, not only will it not help clean up the mess it caused, it’s leaning in on this new puritanical internet that it wants to create. We’ve already noted that Facebook has been sued under FOSTA by someone arguing that it has helped facilitate sex trafficking. And now, just days after Tumblr’s weird pivot away from sex, Facebook has put up a bunch of new guidelines in its “community standards” document, under the head of “sexual solicitation” that ban a wide variety of things from naughty words to expressing a sexual preference.
Among the banned:
- Vague suggestive statements, such as “looking for a good time tonight”
- Sexualized slang
- Using sexual hints such as mentioning sexual roles, sex positions, fetish scenarios, sexual preference/sexual partner preference, state of arousal, act of sexual intercourse or activity (sexual penetration or self-pleasuring), commonly sexualized areas of the body such as the breasts, groin, or buttocks, state of hygiene of genitalia or buttocks
- Content (hand drawn, digital, or real-world art) that may depict explicit sexual activity or suggestively posed person(s).
Got that. Expressing sexual partner preference may now be deemed as “sexual solicitation” and thus not allowed on Facebook, as, you know, it might violate FOSTA. A law that Facebook actively fought for under Sheryl Sandberg’s direction.
Obviously, this is Facebook’s platform and it can make whatever stupid rules it wants, but it’s not difficult to see how this is likely to impact all kinds of perfectly acceptable content on its site. It also seems quite hypocritical, given that the early versions of Facebook were… very much about helping college students hook up with one another.
We warned that FOSTA would lead to widespread censorship online, and that seems to be exactly what’s happening. And this should be especially troubling for sex positive people, or people who have, historically, used the internet and Facebook to discover like-minded groups, or to better understand themselves and their own preferences. We did warn, very early on, that one of the groups that was most vocal in lobbying for FOSTA was going off script and admitting that — contrary to the public arguments made by politicians supporting the bill, that it was about stopping child sex trafficking — that the bill was really designed to end online pornography. It seems to be taking some steps towards that goal.
Now, some might argue that this is fine. That the “mainstream properties” like Facebook and Tumblr should get rid of all this stuff, and let it live in the dark corners of the internet. But, considering how broad these rules are, and the kind of content we’re already seeing banned from Tumblr, what we’re ending up with on the “mainstream” internet is losing what has always made the internet special — that you could explore all kinds of topics, meet all kinds of people and learn about all different ideas. In the two and a half decades that the internet has been “mainstream,” there has always been an effort by some to falsely describe it as the “wild west” that needed “taming.” This has always been ridiculous. What they wanted was an internet controlled by gatekeepers — turning a communications medium with anything you want — into a broadcast medium, where anything can be sold.
Unfortunately, it looks like those forces are finally winning.