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Opinion Editorials

Could Facebook’s newest censorship tactic decimate an entire industry?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Facebook’s last line of defense seems to be platform censoring and they’re using it to demolish businesses and advocacy groups.

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In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, proclaimed that Facebook was meant to be a platform for all ideas. This was in response to the public’s theory that Zuckerberg was censoring political posts on Facebook. Even then, it was pretty clear that Facebook was, in fact, censoring by removing pages, profiles, and content related to political posts they saw as misleading or inaccurate.

But recently, Facebook seems to be playing both sides of the fence when it comes to censoring, favoring policies supported by well-known organizations like PETA (People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals), self-proclaimed “animal activists” who claim to focus on 4 main areas related to animals and mistreatment in labs, the food industry, the clothing trade, and the entertainment industry.

Of course, it’s also pretty commonly known that they expand beyond their definition pretty often, frequently attacking the beliefs and practices of some of the best pet owners and wildlife activists out there, like Steve Irwin. In February of 2019, PETA even went so far as to tweet a post on Twitter about how much they think Irwin did both before and during his untimely death.

In more recent news, PETA actually purchased Facebook shares. They did this because they were showing videos on Facebook that were gory, disheartening, and downright sad, which Facebook also censored by requiring a warning before their videos played. PETA obviously didn’t like this, so in a strategic retaliation to end the censoring of them, they bought shares in Facebook. This allowed them to attend shareholder meetings and to ask questions of executives.

This was actually a very clever idea on their part, but it is in no way a new idea. Indeed, they’ve purchased shares from companies like Levi, BooHoo, and Louis Vuitton in the past for similar reasons.

But now, with PETA’s involvement with Facebook, policies that previously went un-policed are quickly becoming top-of-mind for the tech giant. Facebook’s official policies have been notoriously obscure and are only really explained in-depth to Facebook employees or legal entities.

Plus, Facebook doesn’t really have a dedicated customer service team, so even if you found and vaguely understood their policies (again, mostly written in a way only a legal team or Facebook employee would understand) there’s no real avenue to get clarification. More recently though, Facebook posted their policies for all of its users to review.

One big policy that PETA’s involvement looks to be affecting is in relation to animal sales and rehoming. Facebook has had a rule against animal sales and rehoming for many years, but until now, many of its users (breeders, rescuers, and animal advocates included) weren’t aware or fearful of it.

That’s quickly changed over the last few months as Facebook’s vendetta against anyone selling, rehoming, or even reposting content with certain key words that remotely resemble animal sales or rehoming, has continued. Not only is Facebook now taking down pages, groups, profiles, Marketplace listings, and even comments. They’re also rejecting fundraisers, which we’ll talk about more in a few minutes.

Another scary thing they’re doing is putting some power in the hands of the typical Facebook user, in the form of a new content-reporting button, like the one below.

facebok report button

With that, it’s no surprise that legitimate and well-known animal breeders, rescues, and even long-time pages/groups are being affected negatively.

Facebook has historically been an outlet for pet owners, breeders, and rescuers alike, and it makes sense why. Facebook is supposed to be a platform where your friends, peers, enemies, and even “frenemies” come together to create an online community. It’s meant to support both the social and business aspects of a user’s life, but in recent months, it’s certainly not living up those standards. The result: Facebook is quickly being abandoned by users – especially animal lovers and those within the pet space.

Let’s take breeders as an example. Breeders often post animals on Facebook. In the past, they’ve posted photos and pricing. This is something they can no longer do.

Legitimate breeders are usually not too pushy, nor do they typically spam. They don’t usually sell on Facebook directly ether, which is what Facebook strictly prohibits. Instead, they opt for a 3rd party service like Paypal or Square, but that makes no difference to Facebook. Although the animals aren’t being sold on the website, just including a picture and a price are enough for them to take content down. In truth, they’re taking pages down left and right as a direct result of the metaphorical pitchfork they’ve handed users (the “report” button).

Now, not all breeders are good, just like not all taco stands are good, but does that really give Facebook the right to censor you or ultimately close your Facebook account down? I don’t think so, and neither do breeders.

I spoke with Scott Poe of Poe’s Pogonas in Corona, California this week, too. He’s a reputable breeder of high-quality Bearded Dragons (a very popular pet). When asked how Facebook’s policies have affected him, he said “It certainly has made it a little challenging to list Dragons as available for sale…”. He goes on to offer Facebook advice, suggesting that they certify vendors on their site to proactively vet through quality breeders who are looking to improve their niche’s gene pool, and not those who are simply looking to make a quick buck.

We agree that, of course, there are bad breeders out there, but putting a blanket policy over an entire niche of business owners is like prohibiting alcohol – it doesn’t work!

If we were to go a little further into this topic, we’d see that Facebook’s stance on policies is actually likely to deter many other business types that don’t sell exactly what Facebook deems to be “appropriate”. Obviously, this type of practice can have a major impact on those types of businesses.

To drive this point home further, ask yourself this: what if Facebook disagreed with the produce or service you provided. Would you be okay with them taking your page down, one you’ve worked hard at and one with a lot of followers? How would you feel if 3rd party users, who are not even Facebook employees, started reporting you based on their own beliefs?

It’s important to note that Facebook does seem to allow you to post if you are a brick and mortar, so pet stores, you may be safe… for now.

The same logic applies to animal rescuers, except that rescues are most often not for profit. Facebook doesn’t discriminate though, so if you do rescue (even as a person and not a group), they’ll treat you exactly the same way as they do for animal sales-related posts. What we know is that this will absolutely crush any attempts to re-home or adopt out animals in need.

There are a growing number of animals in need of homes, many of which will actually be put down at kill shelters if not adopted within a 3-5 day period, and with Facebook’s policies in place, it has essentially banned helping animals and their advocates through their platform.

To understand more clearly, I reached out to Jeff Stewart, one of the founders of Sunshine’s Shoulders Rescue in Tenaha, Texas, about their experience. He and his wife run a rescue out of their home. Stewart, like most other rescues, rely on donations from a few people to help feed and give care to their rescues, and while they have a vet that works with them on their bills, sometimes it’s not enough.

Stewart goes on to say that he used to do Facebook fundraisers, but there were two issues that forced him to stop. First, Facebook takes a cut of any fundraiser on Facebook, so if you’re donating to a charity, just know that all of those funds are not going to the charity of your choice and are, in reality, lining Facebook’s pockets. The second reason they stopped was due to Facebook’s declining of their fundraisers. Stewart said, “The past 3 times we have tried to have a fundraiser I have gotten a message telling me that it goes against community standards.”

He goes on to say that “the new [Facebook] policy also prevents us from finding adoptive homes for any of our animals through the FB platform.”

Due to the issues they’ve encountered with the platform, Stewart can no longer take in rescues. They’re costs for dog food alone are upwards of $500/month and their vet bills can get pretty extreme, too, reaching more than $2000 a times (even with the negotiated pricing from the vet). And it’s no wonder why they have to stop. Without the support from Facebook patrons, they’re paying for all rescue products and services 100% out of their own pocket.

To clarify though, Facebook’s policies surrounding rehoming are pretty vague. They strictly say no to “live animals”, but they don’t draw any conclusive lines as to what that could mean for a legitimate rescue who has paid their dues (literally) to become an official nonprofit organization. However, because the power now lies in the hands of the Facebook user, discretion seems to be up to them as to what they deem inappropriate.

Playing devil’s advocate here, there are many animals in need of homes as a direct result of a lack of regulation when it comes to pet ownership and breeding. I definitely agree that these things need to be monitored and regulated, but by censoring content for both entities, Facebook appears to be taking a very strong stance that they don’t want to be involved at all with animal-related content unless it’s funny, cute, or meme-worthy.

Finally, it’s important to know that although Facebook seems to want you to learn what you’re doing wrong, they definitely don’t act like they do. When a user is reported, Facebook will let you know. If you disagree with their assessment, you can appeal it. However, again, there’s no way (no easy way, at least) to talk to a real person. Often times the reported post will come back to the poster with some kind of vague warning that doesn’t go into details on what they did wrong. That means that even when your posts are taken down, you may have no idea as to why.

At the end of the day, Facebook does have the right to choose which policies to include and which to enforce, but it’s pretty clear that they don’t really have an understanding of how any of this is impacting their users.

I have one tip for Facebook: I invite you to take another look at your policies (as well as who’s supporting them and what their agenda is), reporting capabilities, and education on restrictions when reported and to consider lifting some of the bans on animal-related posts, groups, pages, and ads. It’s affecting the livelihoods of thousands of breeders and rescuers worldwide, as well as in-need animals that desperately need a home.

Note: The author has years of experience with breeding bearded dragons as well as marketing, and has unique insight into the aforementioned online niche.

Rachael Olan is a Texas-based Staff Writer at The American Genius and jack-of-many-trades. She's well known for her abilities in Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service, with a focus on SaaS and eCommerce businesses. Outside of writing, Rachael spends much of her time with her swarm of pets, including a 70 lb tortoise named Frankie.

Opinion Editorials

Will shopping for that luxury item actually lower your quality of life?

(EDITORIAL) Want to buy yourself a pick-me-up? Have you thought of all the ramifications of that purchase? Try to avoid splurging on it.

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shopping bags

In an era of “treat-yo-self,” the urge to splurge is real. It doesn’t help that shopping – or what ends up being closer to impulse shopping – provides us with a hit of dopamine and a fleeting sense of control. Whether your life feels like it’s going downhill or you’ve just had a bad day, buying something you want (or think you want) can seem like an easy fix.

Unfortunately, it might not be so great when it comes to long-term happiness.

As you might have already guessed, purchasing new goods doesn’t fall in line with the minimalism trend that’s been sweeping the globe. Being saddled with a bunch of stuff you don’t need (and don’t even like!) is sure to make your mood dip, especially if the clutter makes it harder to concentrate. Plus, if you’ve got a real spending problem, the ache in your wallet is sure to manifest.

If that seems depressing, I’ve got even more bad news. Researchers at Harvard and Boston College have found yet another way spending can make us more unhappy in the long run: imposter syndrome. It’s that feeling you get when it seems like you’re not as good as your peers and they just haven’t caught on yet. This insecurity often arises in competitive careers, academics and, apparently, shopping.

Now, there’s one big caveat to this idea that purchasing goods will make you feel inferior: it really only applies to luxury goods. I’m talking about things like a Louis Vuitton purse, a top of the line Mercedes Benz, a cast iron skillet from Williams Sonoma (or is that one just me?). The point is, the study found that about 67% of people – regardless of their income – believed their purchase was inauthentic to their “true self.”

And this imposter syndrome even existed when the luxury items were bought on sale.

Does this mean you should avoid making a nice purchase you’ve been saving up for? Not necessarily. One researcher at Cambridge found that people were more likely to report happiness for purchases that fit their personalities. Basically, a die-hard golfer is going to enjoy a new club more than someone who bought the same golf club to try to keep up with their co-workers.

Moral of the story: maybe don’t impulse buy a fancy new Apple watch. Waiting to see if it’s something you really want can save your budget…and your overall happiness.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer got you down? Does it make your job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment without budget worries.

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better equipment, better work

Aside from bringing the boss coffee and donuts for a month before asking, what is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes. In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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Opinion Editorials

Minimalism doesn’t have to be a quick process

(EDITORIAL) Minimalism is great and all…but how do you get started if you’re not sold on getting rid of basically everything you own?

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minimalism desk

Minimalism. This trend has reared its head in many forms, from Instagram-worthy shots of near empty homes to Marie Kondo making a splash on Netflix last year. If you’re anything like me, the concept of minimalism is tempting, but the execution seems out of reach. Paring down a closet to fit into a single basket or getting rid of beloved objects can sometimes seem too difficult, and I get it! Luckily, minimalism doesn’t have to be quite so extreme.

#1 Digitally

Not ready to purge your home yet? That’s fine! Start on your digital devices. Chances are, there are plenty of easy ways to clean up the storage space on your computer or phone. When it comes to low stakes minimalism, try clearing out your email inbox or deleting apps you no longer use. It’ll increase your storage space and make upkeep much more manageable on a daily basis.

It’s also worth taking a look through your photos. With our phones so readily available, plenty of us have pictures that we don’t really need. Clearing out the excess and subpar pictures will also have the added bonus of making your good pictures easily accessible!

Now, if this task seems more daunting, consider starting by simply deleting duplicate photos. You know the ones, where someone snaps a dozen pics of the same group pose? Pick your favorite (whittle it down if you have to) and delete the rest! It’s an easy way to get started with minimizing your digital photo collection.

#2 Slowly

Minimalism doesn’t have to happen all at once. If you’re hesitant about taking the plunge, try dipping your toe in the water first. There’s no shame in taking your time with this process. For instance, rather than immediately emptying your wardrobe, start small by just removing articles of clothing that are not wearable anymore. Things that are damaged, for instance, or just don’t fit.

Another way to start slow is to set a number. Take a look at your bookshelf and resolve to get rid of just two books. This way, you can hold yourself accountable for minimizing while not pushing too far. Besides, chances are, you do have two books on your shelf that are just collecting dust.

Finally, it’s also possible to take things slow by doing them over time. Observe your closet over the course of six months, for instance, to see if there are articles of clothing that remain unworn. Keep an eye on your kitchen supplies to get a feel for what you’re using and what you’re not. Sure, that egg separator you got for your wedding looks useful, but if you haven’t picked it up, it probably has to go.

#3 Somewhat

Sometimes, minimalism is pitched as all or nothing (pun intended), but it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because I want to purge my closet doesn’t mean I’m beholden to purging my kitchen too. And that’s okay!

Instead of getting overwhelmed by everything that needs to be reduced, just pick one aspect of your life to declutter. Clear out your wardrobe and hang onto your books. Cut down on decorations but keep your clothes. Maybe even minimize a few aspects of your life while holding onto one or two.

Or, don’t go too extreme in any direction and work to cut down on the stuff in your life in general. Minimizing doesn’t have to mean getting rid of everything – it can mean simply stepping back. For instance, you can minimize just by avoiding buying more things. Or maybe you set a maximum number of clothes you want, which means purchasing a new shirt might mean getting rid of an old one.

The point is, there are plenty of ways to start on the minimalist lifestyle without pushing yourself too far outside your comfort zone. So, what are you waiting for? Try decluttering your life soon!

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