Richard Metzger: How I, a married, middle-aged man, became an accidental spokesperson for gay rights overnight

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58 Responses to “Richard Metzger: How I, a married, middle-aged man, became an accidental spokesperson for gay rights overnight”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have found FB’s response time to complaints to vary hugely from almost instantaneous to weeks on end, but what bugs me most is how the more serious and often blatantly abusive, vile, bullying, sexual etc pages are the ones that take the longest to come down when a simple complaint about more innocent images can be down with hours.

    A friend of mine has been reporting for weeks the use of her photos from her private FB page on random profiles that promote bullying, homophobia and in one instance paedophilia. These photos are of her, her wedding and even her son and FB have done nothing – not even responded to her.

    Their censorship policies are too hit and miss and not enforced accurately but it seems they don’t want to learn from the mistakes that keep being made.

  2. Richard Metzger says:

    @oncogenesis

    Yes, yes I do.

  3. jphilby says:

    “Facebook is a powerful tool of communication.”

    Facebook is a piece of slag in the Ozymandias shit-dump of history. In ten years noone will admit ever going there.

  4. rks1157 says:

    Ideally think of ourselves of being socially evolved but the world is still largely homophobic. If you post a photo of a spider it will ignite fear in a great many people. A photo of men kissing evokes the same fear response but in a larger population. People react to their fears. Facebook is reacting to theirs.

    Facebook has clearly decided that they are the arbiter of their user’s behavior on many levels. Whiz in their pool and you’re out of there.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m not even sure if Facebook even needs a complaint. One time I uploaded a video, with the permission of the copyright owner, and it was deleted immediately. There wasn’t time for anyone to complain because it never made it on to my profile. I fought them for months, filling out its appeal form daily till the video was reinstated (a bit can be found here: http://jackyan.com/blog/2009/08/uploading-video-to-facebook-you-are.html). As far as I can tell, Facebook is completely random with its so-called policies.

  6. Anonymous says:

    For the record, not all “heavy metal guys” are homophobic.

  7. Anonymous says:

    How about a simplier explaination?
    Maybe facebook’s policy here is to protect the individual and quell ligitgation. Someone posts a photo and someone complains. Now I think you are right that Facebook doesn’t have people that can investigate every claim throughly, so what is the efficient thing to do? Remove the photo. Perhaps the people in the picture don’t want to be in it, their privacy was invaded, etc. Well, if facebook waited around to sort it out that would continue for how long?
    Better to remove it, you could always put it back up.
    However, that doesn’t mean a sense of heterocentrism wasn’t involved either just that it could be sensible policy with some imperfections.

  8. rrh says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook uses the presence of heated argument in the comments as a strike against the image. I’ll have to test this with my “man in daisy-dukes riding a fixie” photo.

  9. Robert says:

    Facebook does this often. Some child has a tantrum and sends a complaint about J. Random Group and the group gets immediately taken down. It takes weeks and weeks to get the group reinstated — happened to some non-profits I know. Facebook does need to take their censorship activities more seriously.

  10. Jablko says:

    The “flag as objectionable” feature on YouTube is a similar story. While the video might not be deleted, it will forever after wave a red flag of judgement and lose any casual visitors who now have to log in … all based on the click of some troll and the split-second judgement of an overworked employee in a third-world country. I’ve seen it used to censor political and religious speech in addition to reinforcing heterosexual privilege.

    As a webmaster myself, I get how hard it is to deal with the sort of volume YouTube and Facebook have. It’s a systemic nightmare. But I do think there are solutions.

    For instance, I would like a “flag as non-objectionable” button added. If a certain threshold of users clicked it, the video would be re-reviewed or just go back to being available. I’ve recommended this to YouTube, but naturally never got a response.

  11. erg79 says:

    Facebook also has a big problem with photos of women breastfeeding, even ones where no nipple is visible. They’ve also deleted groups for discussion of breastfeeding.

  12. Anonymous says:

    What facebook considers “abusive material” also seems to vary to fit the emotion of the day. I have a friend who only wrote a simple note on her wall called the “Facebook Double Standard” that actually went viral detailing how Facebook will delete photos of babies nursing from their mothers, but won’t delete pictures of women’s breasts in a more sexual format. It even included several pictures of nursing that were removed by FB, as well as a ton of pictures of women stripping, or wearing extremely revealing clothing that are still available out there.

    It’s ridiculous.

    This seems to be yet another extension of the same to me. I agree wholeheartedly that they shouldn’t remove material (which is probably completely inoffensive to most people) at the request of one.

    If you don’t like what you see…. move on. Grow up. Get over it.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if people tried to flag Jerry’s posts as abusive and the original link was flagged instead.

    Whatever the situation, FB certainly does need to improve their policy/procedure for dealing with potentially offensive material.

  14. princeminski says:

    Shit, I didn’t know Metzger was “middle aged.” Are there no standards anymore? Cancel my subscription.

  15. Douglas DeMille says:

    Great post old pal….I see Mr Digioia has suggested we be friends! We should!
    I would love to see you in person!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Lots of important topics here:

    1. the value of good reporting, as Richard notes. The web thrives on hits and recommends, and all too often sensationalism sells at the expense of reporting. The issues were swamped by inaccurate reductions to the banal either-or “choices” our media thrives on.

    2. Business expediency: yes, yes and yes, this is the issue. FB and every other media corporation seeks to eliminate sources of potential pain (in this case, the complaints of a homophobic user who they feared might spark a s**tstorm of ugly PR)as cheaply as possible rather than invest in “doing the right thing” which ultimately costs money. So instead they triggered a s**tstorm of ugly PR anyway.

    3. as yahoo discovered with its once-popular Finance groups and Yelp is discovering via various lawsuits, there is no substitute for monitoring abuse with live employees. When you have 600 million users, that’s going to cost a lot if you’re actually doing it.

    Yahoo’s demise as a host for once-vibrant groups reveals the pitfalls of the hands-off approach–you lose credibility fast when voluntary online associations are tarnished by spam and trolls or mindless “deletes” by the host.

    It would interesting to see the metrics FB collects on the number of abuse claims and how they’re resolved.

    4. the amazing power of social networking quickly scaled up Richard’s commentary in uncontrolled ways. In a way, we “lose control” of the content when it goes viral and others have the opportunity to make of it what suits their agenda.

    Excellent essay, Richard, thank you for using your own experience to critique some of the major open issues in social media.

  17. willy says:

    “According to Facebook’s FAQ on matters like this, EVERY claim of “abusive” posts is investigated by an actual live human being. If we take them at their word, it wasn’t automatically deleted. ”

    Best guess? Policy is ‘Auto-delete first, investigate later’.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hey this isn’t a reply to you willy that was just the simplest way to post.

      I don’t represent/even like facebook, but I’m a big fan of misunderstandings.

      In my opinion it sounds like the content removed by the facebook team was this Jerry persons comments.

      Or scenario 2 of 3, that this image is copyrighted.

      3 being of course that facebook is a homophobic organization, which honestly I’ll buy that.

  18. Nightflyer says:

    Facebook’s decision to censor this pic is appalling. I think it’s a gorgeous, tasteful image, appropriate to the topic being discussed, and I’m certainly not offended by it. I’ve seen far more explicit posts from both members and the quiz games they play… and nothing is ever done about them. Maybe if enough users speak up, Facebook will review and/or change the policy, as they’ve done with their privacy issue flubs. Hey, it couldn’t hurt.

  19. zyodei says:

    Why do they even bother to police images and posts, beyond illegal content?

    Assuming that most walls are private – which is what most people want – it is clearly the individual’s business, not facebook.

    Eh, whatever. I still have a facebook account, but I don’t use it much anymore. They’re scumbags.

  20. strangefriend says:

    Caption for your photo:
    ‘Rob decided it would be stupid not to kiss him after the man in the purple shirt saved him with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. . .’

  21. udqbpn says:

    Nice.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Facebook is a monopoly and has zero duty of care to either its users or to society as a whole. They can be as homophobic (enabling users homophobia, backing it up with their human censors) as the market will let them be (which turns out to be quite a bit).

    The root problem here isn’t Facebook’s scumminess as an entity, it is that people somehow expect better from them. They are bad citizens of society, there are few laws against their negative behaviours, there’s a strong financial incentive for them to behave badly, etc. Why are people surprised at what evolved in that environment? Facebook will do what it can, not what it should – they’re no Google.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Maaaybe we should just stop with the Facebook altogether? Regain control over our own material? STOP handing all that power to cavemen?

    • mniejiki says:

      “Maaaybe we should just stop with the Facebook altogether? Regain control over our own material? STOP handing all that power to cavemen?”

      Probably better than giving them a lot of page views and ad impressions as this seems to be doing. There’s something hilarious about people protesting what facebook does by using it even more.

  24. Hugh says:

    What does it mean for a corporation to by homophobic? Even if its employees aren’t widely homophobic, and its policies aren’t explicity homophobic (i.e. “delete photos that may offend some users”) it can still produce homophobic results.

    I’m satisfied that if the results are homophobic, the company may fairly be called homophobic. That’s kinda stern I known, but shaming bigoted outcomes is the only way to force companies to root out the non-bigoted policies that may produce them.

  25. Uniquack says:

    This is all the more reason for an alternative to facebook to finally become popular. We need a system that offers the social networking features without the centralized, server-side corporate system of facebook. I want to see a torrent-based social networking software that would keep encrypted personal information, photos, video, links, status updates, etc. in a “cloud” shared by everyone. A system that no government or corporation could ever censor.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Hi,

    I’m the person who started the Kissing is cool event on Facebook. Over 200k people have been invited. The event has over 40k people pledging to change their profile picture to two people of the same sex kissing. I got confused by the story about Facebook maybe deleting the snogging event in England. That is probably my fault. I have posted all the articles as more information came out during the past two days in the event information.

    One of the other things I asked people to do, besides change their picture, was to post a comment on Chris Hughes wall asking for an explanation. I gave an example of what they could post. I gave a few reasons of why Facebook had removed the photo. Malicious worker auto delete or acceptance of homophobia.

    I totally agree with Richard. I don’t believe Facebook is homophobic but by deleting the article from Richards wall they appear to be accepting of it.

    I’m being pressured by some members of the media to shut down my event. They claim it is based on false pretenses. I disagree. I have updated people, without sending them offending emails, through out the story. People have shared updates on the story on the wall of the event as they came out. There is yet to be a news story that proves the claim is entirely false.

    I support Richard in taking a stand against censorship and homophobia. One of the claims to come out of this is that Facebook has to censor based on the most conservative person to use the internet. I believe this to be false. The picture was in regards to a political event that took place in England. While Miller v California does say that Facebook has to censor based on “the average person, applying contemporary community standards (not national standards, as some prior tests required), would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest”. Facebook also has to take into account “whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, POLITICAL, or scientific value.” Based on that third part of the decision Facebook had no reason to take down the picture for obscenity. All three parts of the decision have to be met for something to be declared obscene.

    Thank you Richard for taking a stand!

  27. teapot says:

    Name and shame Jerry! I’m sure the guy is a fat, ugly slob. Put a picture of his fat ass on the popular post with a caption like “this is what a homophobe looks like”.

    You know where such people also belong:
    http://poorlydressed.failblog.org/

  28. chgoliz says:

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

    We all have to fight this kind of fundamentalist censorship, every single time. They’re trying to take over our schools, our government, and even the internet…and they’re banking on the fact that it is frustrating and time-consuming to defend basic human and civil rights every moment of the day.

  29. chgoliz says:

    My previous post might seem to be about Facebook, too. Oops. I was referring to the “Jerrys” of the world.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Across the board, people who make censorship calls simply don’t have the cultural studies backgrounds that many of their critics have. If they did, they probably would not work in classification/censorship roles.

  31. turn_self_off says:

    Stand alone complex and memetic mutation comes to mind while reading this.

  32. Anonymous says:

    One could test your automatic delete theory by finding homophobic’s fb pages, and tagging their (assumably innocuous) photos as offensive? Personally, I am offended by the faces of homophobic congressmen.

  33. Anonymous says:

    That’s hot.
    (Somebody had to say it.)

  34. Anonymous says:

    Thanks! As someone who did re-post your original FB comments, it’s good to know that the situation is at least possibly not the fault of a homophobic FB policy, but rather a dumb company policy in general. I’ve shared this too.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately I was suckered in to reading the whole article when all I really needed to know was in the first two paragraphs after all, dammit.

    That conservative or foreign schmuck at your company who makes a homophobic move represents your company. Maybe not to the extent that the CEO represents the company (cf. Go Daddy), but it’s still the company’s responsibility to set things right. If it doesn’t, then it’s implicitly condoning such behavior. And in that case, I think it’s fair to say you’ve got a *homophobic company* on your hands.

    • Anonymous says:

      Quote: “That conservative or foreign schmuck at your company who makes a homophobic move represents your company. Maybe not to the extent that the CEO represents the company (cf. Go Daddy), but it’s still the company’s responsibility to set things right. If it doesn’t, then it’s implicitly condoning such behavior. And in that case, I think it’s fair to say you’ve got a *homophobic company* on your hands.”

      That’s not homophobia. It’s indifference.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I just saw this because a friend of mine hot linked it. I think though i took the time to prowl through the linkage to get to this point. BTW I’m in Florida.

    You Have posed a very valid point. And sadly it is something that touches far to many people than it should because of certain beliefs and values.

    It is part of human nature to be one’s self. Being that self is not always accepted by the masses. Or by the dogma that we have all been raised with in our various cultures. It takes a lot of strength and bravery to be yourself in a world where your not fully accepted for being who you are.

    I want to tell you thank you. You may have accidentally done this but you have brought attention in a different way over the same issue that LGBT individuals have been fighting for many years.

    It may have been an accident but you have taken the leading step in a new direction. And that is what I thank you for.

  37. Anonymous says:

    It’s their sandbox. They are all corporate pigs. We already knew that, didn’t we?

  38. Anonymous says:

    Even if a bit by accident this has transpired, as a gay man I thank you.

  39. Anonymous says:

    The best way to have free speech is to not trust a centralized capitalist owned service for your data. We should be using decentralized social networking services that are robust and follow Gilmore’s Law (The Internet treats censorship as damage and routs around it).

    Think appleseed (http://opensource.appleseedproject.org/) running on top of Tonika (http://pdos.csail.mit.edu/~petar/5ttt.org/)

  40. Anonymous says:

    @ teapot – why do you have to bring fat shaming into the conversation. A person’s size is no reflection of their moral character. C’mon!

  41. Oskar says:

    While I don’t think Facebook is especially homophobic either, I strongly think that hitting them over the head about this is absolutely the right thing to do. Dealing with stuff like this is terrible PR and a huge pain in the ass for them as a company, and if it happens enough times, they’ll rewrite their guidelines for their reviewers to be very clear that same-sex kissing is not offensive. And that’ll be a very good thing. So keep protest, you people who are protesting! Yer fightin’ the good fight!

  42. Anonymous says:

    Firstly I would like to say “Bravo” for adopting a mature and educated opinion on the matter. I think you would be a great person to work within facebook dealing with “offensive material” as you seem to actually have an understanding of what it means.

    Friends of mine who are ARTISTS have had their work removed because someone who is uneducated or spiteful wishes to report them. All because you might see a nipple or it depicts fake gore.

    I agree that Facebook needs to overhaul their reporting system so that it is more fair towards those who dont actually wish to offend others. Sure a person has the right to an opinion but when that opinion demeans another person then it is overstepping the bounds of acceptable. The team hired to “investiage” these claims should be open minded and understanding to circumstances.

    This “Jerry” is simply someone who does not understand equality and respect. His circumstances in life have prevented him from learning how wonderful the world could be if we all treated one another as we would like to be treated. One day someone will show him how it feels to be a minority and perhaps he will learn and grow as a person from that experience. But the world will unfortunately remain this way until we begin to teach our children better. He has probably learnt this behavior from his parents and may even pass it onto his children.

    Facebook is a powerful tool of communication. It can affect your opinion, deliever news both good and bad and ultimately bring people together. The riots in Egypt began as a protest on facebook about the treatment of a prisioner… The government tried to supress this information and look what happened! So sure it allows idiots to produce literary vomit but at the same time it also provides those with a message to share it with the world and ultimately make a change for the better. With children growing up with computers and social networking lets hope that it will educate them to make better choices about how we treat the planet and eachother.

  43. Anonymous says:

    So it is okay to be homophobic and abusive without getting these warnings? If FB was serious they would cancel all those accounts that led your friend going private…

    Ottherwise they should get out of the censorship game entirely – because regardless of your defense of their intentions and apologetic tone they are picking a side here and it isn’t for gay rights.

  44. Anonymous says:

    I concur with Oskar; this isn’t an isolated incidence of reviewers getting it wrong at Facebook. See removing anti-internet-censorship groups in Australia or breast feeding. Just as I’m sure Facebook would report vile content to law enforcement, we need to report loud and clear that homophobic censorship from Facebook is unacceptable. Even if this is all a misunderstanding, an open memo from the top reminding reviewers that they must follow a very narrow and objective definition of unacceptable content would be well timed.

  45. Richard Metzger says:

    DOUGLAS DEMILLE! Friend me on Facebook, let’s get back in touch!

    @ocogenesis

    Historically, our mod has mostly deleted just *your* comments because they are always so inane and witless. I know who you are. You are the guy always calling me Stalin *each and every* time and then daring me to delete you.

    We repeated this same activity until we finally just blacklisted you. From about seven different IP addresses! The mark of an experienced troll.

    Aside from spam, you were troll #1. There are a few other trolls on Dangerous Minds, but not that many. Mostly one-offs, not “persistent types” like yourself.

    The other ones we just leave because they’re much better, funnier, smarter than yours. Your comments are just *moronic.* And pointless, except to you, maybe? And you DID, after all dare us to delete each one, didn’t you? Is that not what you wanted?

    Peace out, as the kids say!

    • oncogenesis says:

      That’s a nice bit of revisionism there, Richard. But since you’ve deleted all my comments on DM, made me an unperson there, no one else reading this will get to judge for himself. (Perhaps now you understand why I’ve given you the sobriquet “Stalin”.)

  46. bklynchris says:

    OK, should I “reactivate” my “deactivated” account just so I could post this as my profile photo? Oh wait, I already split from fb as this is just one more social face plant I would expect from a non-grassroots (cause Harvard is anything but) turned corporate cthulhu.

    ie-its not about the homophobia per se but fb policy which inadvertently undermines social freedom. ie-if you say you have a real person reviewing submissions, make sure said person is not homophobic.

  47. Anonymous says:

    I find your statement “Facebook is not a homophobic company” very hard to understand. Facebook did an obviously homophobic thing, that makes them a homophobic company. The photo obviously would not have been removed if it had portrayed a heterosexual kiss. The employee who removed the photo was acting on Facebook’s behalf and therefore Facebook is responsible for the actions in question.

    It seems like you think Facebook isn’t homophobic, Facebook just does homophobic things. I say bollocks to that distinction. If you do homophobic things then you are homophobic.

    • Tribune says:

      “I find your statement “Facebook is not a homophobic company” very hard to understand. ”

      I think the interpretation is that it could have been anything and the complaint followed by blind facebook staff removal is not homophobic it is… well stupid/ridiculous/other. Ie There could have been two Goldfish in a bowl and some one could have complained and ye olde facebook image scrutinized could have been there going “eerrrr, mmmm,” clicks “yes: Offensive” and the auto removal/warnings take place.

      Now I would say he is being far too generous in interpretation of facebook’s actions. I would consider this a homophobic act by the employee reflecting on face book as you have stated.

  48. Anonymous says:

    I used to be a “content agent” myspace.com . Our job was to delete offensive material. Stuff like this happened all they time, we were expected to go through thousands of images a day.. We were not paid well. Then they outsourced our jobs to the Phillipines.

  49. mark zero says:

    It’s not like FB is unique among popular social network companies in its apparent auto-delete practices: remember how the gay Apple employees’ video on Youtube was taken down overnight on the weekend, but then put back up within hours?

    I think auto-deletion (or suspension) of content on complaint actually makes sense when dealing with the amount of user generated content these two companies host; someone could otherwise post something truly obscene in the middle of the night, and it wouldn’t get taken down for hours or even days, if the complaints have to be reviewed, first. However, where FB fails (and YT succeeds, at least in this example) is that they never had a human review the content for reinstatement after, like YT apparently did. (Of course, the YT Apple employee video could have been an exception, as it may have been high profile enough that someone in the company personally pushed through a review right away — I never saw an explanation from them, either).

  50. Anonymous says:

    I dunno. After seeing The Social Network I can sort of imagine the frat house boys that thought it would be cool to rate all the girls at their college saying ‘yeah guys kissing is gross, man’

  51. Anonymous says:

    As a gay man with a bit of common sense, I challenged alot of people who branded the action and website as being homophobic. I agree that this whole to-do was completely uneccesary drama from some people who like a bit of attention and to shout ‘homophobe’ for no real reason. Makes the rest of us look like over-sentitive idiots. I’m so glad to see the original poster come out and basically agree with what I was saying from the start.

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