Facebook Community Standards vs. Soh Lung Teo


Νote; In the midst of the confusion following the removal of a post on Soh Lung Teo’s Facebook timeline, it appeared that many of the outraged netizens were drawing conclusions without having studied the terms and conditions of the Facebook Community Standards.

Without a thorough knowledge of the standards, how can anyone challenge their enforcement? 

After comparing the content of Soh Lung Teo’s post with the Facebook Community Standards I compiled the following observations. On 5 July 2016 these observations were submitted to the Straits Times Forum. Since then the ST Forum exclusivity (Rule no. 2) lapsed without any contact from SPH, so I am now publishing the piece here. 

Since 5 July several reposts of Soh Lung Teo’s original Facebook post have also been removed and the respective account holders were temporarily suspended. This article only looks at the alleged Facebook Community Standards violations. For information regarding the reporting and removal process, you may wish to read another article; Facebook Police: Bot or not? 

One last point to reduce potential misunderstandings regarding the intention of this article; This evaluation of whether the rules as embodied in the Facebook Community Standards were applied and enforced correctly is not in any way an endorsement of the rules themselves nor is it in any way a criticism of the views expressed in the post made by Soh Lung Teo. It is simply an attempt to improve netizens’ understanding of the boundaries established by the Facebook Community Standards. With a better understanding, there is a reduced risk of facing similar consequences.

Facebook Community Standards vs. Soh Lung Teo

SINGAPORE 5 July 2016: This week a Facebook post made by Ms. Soh Lung Teo was taken down by Facebook for violating the Facebook Community Standards (FCS).

This raised many eyebrows amongst Singaporean Facebook users. Those who felt that Facebook’s removal of the post was unjustified quickly began a campaign to re-post the text on their own Facebook timelines.

When removing such posts, Facebook does not inform the offending user of the exact nature of such infractions. Instead, only a general statement with reference to the FCS is issued.

Under such circumstances the only way to determine what the violation might have been is to compare the entire text of the ‘offensive’ post with the restrictions found in the FCS.

With this approach, it does not take long to see where things went wrong for Ms. Teo.

Direct threats

Facebook is clear on their stand against violence, stating that they; “carefully review reports of threatening language to identify serious threats of harm to public and personal safety. We remove credible threats of physical harm to individuals.”

If you have read Ms. Teo’s post, you might recall this sentence right at the start, in the third sentence of the first paragraph;

“My old classmate, (Name removed to avoid possible liabilities), a loyal and vocal Singaporean offered me a safe haven at her farm, assuring me that she would set her dogs on the police if they dare go there to arrest me.”

Whether or not the offer to set dogs on police officers was sincere or only made in jest, there is little doubt that it falls afoul of the FCS.

Bullying and Harassment

Moving on, the FCS also prohibit bullying or harassment, including the purposeful targeting of private individuals with the intention of degrading or shaming them.

Ms. Teo’s references to fellow Facebook user Bryan Lim, implying that he is a member of the secretive Internet Brigade (IB), adding that he is a “hot-head,” just might have been enough to qualify her post as being degrading and shaming towards Mr. Lim.

Attacks on Public Figures

Finally, whilst Facebook maintains that it permits “open and critical discussion of people who are featured in the news or have a large public audience based on their profession or chosen activities,” it reserves the right to  “remove credible threats to public figures, as well as hate speech directed at them…”

A team of lawyers could easily twist and bend terms like ‘credible threats’ and ‘hate speech’ to apply to a wide range of statements and accusations. In that regard Facebook has handed potential accusers a virtual wild card by using terms which at best are very subjective.

As a result the potential trap that Soh Lung has wandered into becomes a huge dark gaping hole.

In particular, could statements she posted that imply criminal activity authorised and executed by elected public officials and civil servants qualify as ‘credible threats’ or ‘hate speech’?

An accusation that any party committed a crime does inherently carry with it the possibility of prosecution. Is that a ‘credible threat’?

Maybe, maybe not, however, returning to the FCS Bullying and Harassment section, a legal mind could seek to argue that such statements were made with the intent to degrade and/or shame.

Facebook posts do not end poverty or cure cancer

The Facebook users passionately reposting Ms. Teo’s post in defiance of Facebook’s Community Standards may believe that they have joined a meaningful freedom of speech revolution, in the same way that many Facebook users think that liking or sharing a post will eliminate poverty, cure cancer, end animal cruelty or stop climate change.

Sadly, as long as Facebook users continue to use the service without petitioning its owners to amend the Terms of Use and review the enforcement of the Community Standards, nothing will change, and such posts will continue to be removed.

After all, most of the one billion Facebook users appear to be quite ok with that.

Photo credit: Graphic created by Thomas Timlen using Gimp


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