Same-Sex Snog Sparks Facebook Flap
A blogger whose photo of two kissing men was deleted from his Facebook account as "inappropriate content" says that the widely reported "apology" he received from the social media site was nothing of the sort.
DangerousMinds.net blogger Richard Metzger had posted a photo of two male characters from British evening soap opera EastEnders sharing a kiss on Facebook in connection with a kiss-in that had been organized--via Facebook--to protest two patrons of the John Snow pub in London’s gay Soho neighborhood having been ejected from the premises.
As previously reported at EDGE, Jonathan Williams and James Bull shared a "snog" at their table at the John Snow in the trendy London neighborhood, but, they say, they were not behaving in an "obscene" manner, as the landlady claimed they were.
"We weren’t being over the top; there wasn’t anything that would be deemed unseemly," Williams told British newspaper the Guardian, which published an article on the incident on April 15. "I’m not the kind of person to do that kind of thing in public."
Williams took his complaint public via Twitter.
"Seven years in London & I’ve never been made to feel bad for being gay," he tweeted on the night of April 13. "45 min ago the John Snow pub, W1F had me removed for kissing a date." W1F refers to the pub’s London locale.
London’s gay community was outraged. The tweet was picked up and passed around, two Facebook pages were established, and it wasn’t long before two kiss-ins were scheduled to take place at the pub in protest, one of them slated for April 15 and the follow-up for about a week later. Hundreds signed up for the events.
But though Facebook served as an effective means for activists to organize around the issue, the site itself became embroiled in a headline-generating debacle. Metzger had linked the Dangerous Minds post on the kiss-in by Niall O’Conghaile to his Facebook page in order to promote the event and the blog.
"I put up all of the Dangerous Minds content on my wall," Metzger wrote in an article that appeared at Boing Boing on April 19. "Sometime mid-day is when this would have gone up." That evening, Metzger’s wife told him she had noticed that someone named "Jerry" had posted "a bunch of childish and homophobic things about this picture on my Facebook wall, saying that he found it ’disgusting.’ Predictably, a bunch of people jumped all over him," Metzger added.
But the next morning, the EastEnders photo--which had originally been a publicity still for the show--had been scrubbed from Metzger’s Facebook page, and Metzger received a notice that the image was "inappropriate."
"Content that you shared on Facebook has been removed because it violated Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities," the notice, signed by "The Facebook Team," read. "Shares that contain nudity, or any kind of graphic or sexually suggestive content, are not permitted on Facebook.
"This message serves as a warning," the message continued. "Additional violations may result in the termination of your account. Please read the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities carefully and refrain from posting abusive material in the future. Thanks in advance for your understanding and cooperation."
"Ah...yeah... it seems that the sight of two fully-clothed men kissing was too much for Facebook, or too much for some closet-case asshole... who complained about it," Metzger blogged at Dangerous Minds in an update to O’Conghaile’s original posting.
An April 17 ChicagoPride.com article said that Dangerous Minds blogger Niall O’Conghaile asked Facebook users to post the photo at their own pages in protest, and added that the blogger had identified a number of photos depicting heterosexual couples kissing--all, evidently, without violating Facebook’s guidelines.
However, that text was part of the update added to O’Conghaile’s original post by Metzger, who related getting the "inappropriate content" message and then asked for others to take action on his behalf.
"I’ve written to Facebook asking them why this content was removed, but have at this point received no reply," Metzger wrote in the update to O’Conghaile’s blog item. "I’ll update this post when I do. In the meantime, why not share this photo on FB as much as you can? I’m hoping they’ll restore the post as it was so everyone can pile on the jerk who wrote all the homophobic stuff on my FB wall."
Facebook seemed to agree, in time, that the photo was innocuous. In a comment left at Dangerous Minds following the Metzger-updated post, a message attributed to "Facebook" read, "The photo in question does not violate our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and was removed in error. We apologize for the inconvenience."
The online press, mainstream as well as GLBT, seized upon that comment as an official public apology from the administrators of the social networking site, but on April 22 Metzger blogged that the comment "was nothing more than generic ’Oopsie! We goofed’ text left by a low level Facebook employee six pages in on the comments to the original Dangerous Minds post," and slammed the press for "lazy" reportage.
"THIS two sentence squib is what is being described as ’an apology’ and repeated over and over again by SHITLOADS of extremely lazy reporters as an ’official’ statement from Facebook!" Metzger posted. "Is it? Doesn’t look that way to me. I mean, at least say it like you mean it! (Italics and bold are the original posting’s.)
"Furthermore, it’s not saying anything specifically about a gay kiss," Metzger continued. "This generic text could also refer, for example, to a photo of a breastfeeding woman that someone reported as ’abusive’ (their word not mine) to Facebook’s censors. Don’t break out the champagne so fast, folks."
Metzger’s post quoted an article from The Atlantic Wire that had quoted him.
"The real problem here is certainly not that Facebook is a homophobic company," Metzger had told the media. "It’s that their terrible corporate policy on censorship needs to stop siding with the idiots, the complainers and the least-enlightened and evolved amongst us."
Facebook won accolades earlier this year, when the site unveiled new "relationship status" options for its users that reflected the reality of contemporary family life. The full palette of relationship status options Facebook users can choose from now include widowed, separated, divorced, in a civil union, and in a domestic partnership.
But, Metzger wrote, the public relations snafu in which Facebook found itself stood to damage the site’s reputation.
"That ill-advised policy [regarding "inappropriate" content] can cause huge--and otherwise avoidable--international public relations problems for them," Metzger wrote. "Why just give that power to dummies and homophobes to use like a caveman club on the rest of us?"
Metzger speculated that once a complaint had been made about the EastEnders publicity still, a worker glanced at it and, perhaps out of personal or religious prejudice, deemed it inappropriate for Facebook. But speculation was all that Metzger was left with, in absence of any official word from the site’s administrators.
"There are protests planned all over the world now," wrote Metzger. "It has a life of its own now, but one that resulted from a mistake, ultimately."