Facebook Banning Emojis, But Not Hate Speech?
Tue, 10 Dec 2019 || By Perdana Karim

What was once a website made for Harvard students to interact with one another, Facebook has now become the largest social media network boasting more than 2.45 billion monthly active users.[1] Facebook has become a platform where anyone and everyone can post and share whatever content they desire. Recently, Facebook has tried to maintain its website as friendly as possible to entice more people to use its services. One way that Facebook ensures its users’ safety is through its guidelines, also known as the Community Standards. Facebook utilizes the Community Standards to ensure that its environment is safe for their users.

This article would like to discuss the recent changes that Facebook has made towards its Community Standards regarding the recent ban on using 'sexual emojis.[2] The Community Standards[3] was updated early this month with a new clause that bans the use of “…contextually specific and commonly sexual emojis or emoji strings…”[4] This article would like to compare Facebook's indifference of stance between banning emojis that contain sexual imagery and hate speeches. This article will do so by answering two questions: (1) is Facebook's action on banning emojis, a rational one, and (2) what the implications of prohibiting sexual emojis are?

Q1:      Is Facebook’s action on banning emojis a rational one?

A1:      The short answer to this question would be no. Facebook's reasoning behind its current crackdown on sexual emojis is because it wants to ensure the safety of its users. We know that Facebook is used by all people of all ages as a platform to express themselves. Facebook suffers a dilemma; whether or not it should give everyone freedom of speech without limits or ensure the safety of its platform by limiting what users can do but by doing so would receive backlash[5] From its users, It's apparent that Facebook has chosen to do the latter, by erecting the Community Standards as a guideline. One of its way in making sure that the community is safe is that Facebook cracks down on content that falls under its definition of Objectionable Content that includes: hate speech, violence and graphic content, adult nudity and sexual activity, sexual solicitation, and cruel and insensitive.[6]

Although Facebook ensures that it would take down objectionable content when it finds them, it doesn't always happen. In a case of hate speech that happened during the 2016 US Presidential Election, Facebook opted out to not delete the said post. Their justification is that they are impartial and won't take a side, even though Mark Zuckerberg believes that it is a form of hate speech.[7] The problem with this wishy-washy stance only happens to hate speech posts that tend to have political content. With the justification of 'preserving the rights to democracy,' Facebook tends to be more lenient in cracking down on political hate speech content. However, when other contents that contain other forms of objectionable content, Facebook won't hesitate to take immediate action. Such as the case of Kendra James, who was banned from Instagram[8] Kendra, who is an adult performer, was banned after she told a man to join her adult site instead of asking free nude pics on her Instagram. According to the Community Standards, what she did was considered as an attempt to provide commercial sexual services.[9]

Seeing how Facebook is so indifferent in tackling two different community standards violations, it can be inferred that Facebook's action to take down posts that contain sexual emojis and or anything that falls under said category can be considered as an irrational move.

Q2:      What are the implications of banning sexual emojis?

A2:      First, it is a limitation of people's rights for freedom of speech. By banning people from using emojis, even if it includes sexual connotations, it is a limitation of users' freedom of speech. One could argue that both hate speeches and sexual content should be both treated as equals and be banned altogether, but that shouldn't be the case. Emojis are an expression of oneself in a sense that does not require traditional methods such as texts and words. Regardless of how people use emoji, the essence itself should be considered innocent and should not garner the ban that Facebook imposes on it.[10] Meanwhile, hate speech has an evident and detrimental impact on people when left unchecked.[11] Technically, Facebook won't be able to find and ban all forms of hate speech. However, one could also argue that the power and resources used by Facebook to find and filter sexual emojis could be used to find other hate speeches instead.

Second, the banning of sexual emojis could be an entry door for Facebook to ban other ways of expression.[12] Although it has not come to mind yet what the next thing that Facebook would ban, the fact that Facebook has the power to ban things is what's scary. Facebook, as a company, is granted the freedom to set their own rules. If the reign of Facebook's vague Community Standards continues, then no one is safe from Facebook ban. With the ultimate power and freedom that Facebook has, putting the users under total control is not out of reach.[13] Maybe in the future, no one will be able to use Facebook unless Facebook favors them so they can have total control over what narratives should be posted on their site. That being said,  less vague Community Standards and  more rigid tool that could detect contextualised posts is needed to differentiate which post(s) are contradicting towards the community standards.

Author: Perdana Karim
Editor: Amelinda Pandu Kusumaningtyas

Read another article written by Perdana Karim


[1] Zephoria.com. (2019). [online] Available at: https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/ [Accessed 16 Nov. 2019].

[2] The sexual emojis demonstrated by Facebook consists of, but not limited to, the eggplant, peach, and sweat emoji.

[3] III. Objectionable Content, No. 16 Sexual Solicitation

[4]Facebook.com. (2019). Community Standards | Facebook. [online] Available at: https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards/sexual_solicitation [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].

[5]. What the author means by the backlash in this sentence is that in a sense, the users would distrust Facebook for the bad choices that they make.

[6] Further explanation of Objectionable Content defined by Facebook could be found at  https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards/objectionable_content

[7] Seetharaman, D. (2019). Facebook Employees Pushed to Remove Trump’s Posts as Hate Speech. [online] WSJ. Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-employees-pushed-to-remove-trump-posts-as-hate-speech-1477075392 [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].

[8], one of Facebook's other social media networks and services that share the same Community Standards.

[9] Refinery29.com. (2019). RIP, Peach: Facebook & Instagram Limit Sexual Emojis. [online] Available at: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/11/8655330/facebook-instagram-bans-sexual-use-of-emojis [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].

[10] Lo, S.K., 2008. The nonverbal communication functions of emoticons in computer-mediated communication. Cyber Psychology & Behavior, 11(5), pp.595-597.

[11] Calvert, C., 1997. Hate speech and its harms: A communication theory perspective. Journal of Communication, 47(1), pp.4-19.

[12] The logic behind this statement is that if Facebook gets away with banning emojis, we never know what else they'll get away without consequences.

[13] Jeong, S. (2019). It turns out Facebook moderation sucks because its guidelines suck. [online] The Verge. Available at: https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/24/17276794/facebook-moderation-guidelines-community-standards-nudity-hate-speech [Accessed 22 Nov. 2019].