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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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censoring mark

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.

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Opinion Editorials

Job listings are popping up left and right, so what exactly *is* UX writing?

(EDITORIAL) While UX writing is not technically new, it is seemingly becoming more and more prevalent. The job titles are everywhere, so what is it?

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UX writing

The work of a UX writer is something you come across every day. Whether you’re hailing an Uber or browsing Spotify for that one Drake song, your overall user experience is affected by the words you read at each touchpoint.

A UX writer facilitates a smooth interaction between user and product at each of these touchpoints through carefully chosen words.

Some of the most common touchpoints these writers work on are interface copy, emails, and notifications. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling stuff, but imagine using your favorite apps without all the thoughtful confirmation messages we take for granted. Take Eat24’s food delivery app, instead of a boring loading visual, users get a witty message like “smoking salmon” or “slurping noodles.”

Eat24’s app has UX writing that works because it’s engaging.

Xfinity’s mobile app provides a pleasant user experience by being intuitive. Shows that are available on your phone are clearly labeled under “Available Out of Home.” I’m bummed that Law & Order: SVU isn’t available, but thanks to thoughtful UX writing at least I knew that sad fact ahead of time.

Regardless of where you find these writer’s work, there are three traits an effective UX writer must-have. Excellent communication skills are a must. The ability to empathize with the user is on almost every job post. But from my own experience working with UX teams, I’d argue for the ability to advocate as the most important skill.

UX writers may have a very specialized mission, but they typically work within a greater user experience design team. In larger companies, some UX writers even work with a smaller team of fellow writers. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. You can be the wittiest writer, with a design decision based on obsessive user research, but if you can’t advocate for those decisions then what’s the point?

I mentioned several soft skills, but that doesn’t mean aspiring UX writers can’t benefit from developing a few specific tech skills. While the field doesn’t require a background in web development, UX writers often collaborate with engineering teams. Learning some basic web development principles such as responsive design can help writers create a better user experience across all devices. In a world of rapid prototyping, I’d also suggest learning a few prototyping apps. Several are free to try and super intuitive.

Now that the UX in front of the writer no longer intimidates you, go check out ADJ, The American Genius’ Facebook Group for Austin digital job seekers and employers. User-centric design isn’t going anywhere and with everyone getting into the automation game, you can expect even more opportunities in UX writing.

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Opinion Editorials

Have an in-person job interview? 7 tips to crush the competition

EDITORIAL) While we all know the usual interview schtick, take some time to really study for your next face-to-face job interview.

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Job interview between two women.

So, you’re all scheduled for an in-person interview for a job you’d kill for. It’s exciting that you’ve made it to this step, but the question is, are you ready? Especially with remote interviews being the new norm, your nerves may feel shaken up a bit to interview in person – but you’ve got this! And many of these tips can be applied no matter the interview setting.

We all know the basics of a job interview: dress nice, get there early, come prepared, firm handshake, yada, yada, yada… However, it’s good to really sit and think about all of the requirements of a successful interview.

There are seven steps for crushing a face-to-face interview. Do your homework upside down and inside out in order to walk into that room.

Which brings us to the first step: know everything you need to know backwards and forwards.

This can be done in two steps: getting to know the company and getting to know yourself. By doing website, social media, and LinkedIn research, you can get a feel of the company culture as well as the position you’re interviewing for.

By getting to know yourself, have a friend ask you some interview questions so you can practice. Also, take a look at your resume through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know you. Make sure everything is clear and can compete with other candidates.

The next step is to anticipate solving future problems. Have some insight on the department that you are interviewing for and come prepared with ideas of how to better this department. (i.e. if it’s marketing, give examples of campaigns you’ve done in the past that have proven to have been successful.)

Step number three requires you to go back to the research board and get some information on the employer. Find out who you’re meeting with (head of HR, head of the department, etc.) and make your self-presentation appropriate for the given person.

Next, work on making the interview conversation a meaningful one. This can be done by asking questions as people like to see you take an interest in them. Also, be sure to never answer the questions as if it’s your regular spiel. Treat each job interview as if this is the first time you’re presenting your employability information.

With this, your next step is to have stories prepared for the job interview. Anecdotes and examples of previous jobs or volunteer/organization experiences can help bring life to an otherwise run-of-the-mill resume.

After this, you’ll want to make sure that you’re showing enthusiasm for the position you’re interviewing for. Don’t jump on the couch in the lobby like you’re Tom Cruise on Oprah, but definitely portray that you’re excited and up for the challenge.

Lastly, make a good impression by being impressive. Be professional and in control of your body language. Put yourself in the mindset of whatever position you’re interviewing for and show them that you have what it takes.

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Opinion Editorials

The benefits of remote work are just too good to overlook

(EDITORIAL) Employees scream it from the rooftops and businesses don’t want to admit it: Remote work is just too beneficial to pass up- and here’s why.

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Work from home written with scrabble letters.

Remote work has been rising in popularity in the past several years. Especially following the COVID-19 global pandemic, more companies saw significant benefits for both their business and their staff that went beyond the realm of finances by allowing remote labor.

Less happily, many people lost their job during the pandemic, but they ended up having more time to put toward their passions or were compelled to get creative with their remote business ideas to ensure a consistent stream of income.

If you remain on the fence about allowing your employees to work remotely, or are considering a career shift yourself, take a look at the top four benefits of working remotely, which may sway your decision.

Better Overall Quality of Life

Allowing your employees to work remotely doesn’t necessarily mean they work from home full time. There are benefits to having your employees work in an office part of the time – say, two or three days – and working from home, in more familiar surroundings, the rest of the week.

In this way, your workers enjoy some freedom and independence while retaining the ability to interact face-to-face with their peers. That provides human interaction, which can play a substantial role in terms of improved mental health for your staff.

Happy employees means healthier employees, which can save your outfit money in the form of healthcare costs and lost productivity. But we will get further into the cost-saving benefits a little further on.

If you’re a remote worker, you should see yourself becoming significantly more productive. But why would this be the case if you don’t have a manager over your shoulder watching your every move?

It’s true that when employees have a greater sense of independence, they also experience a significant sense of trust on the part of their employers and managers. This is one of the huge benefits of working remotely because it has a trickle-down effect on the quality and overall production of people’s work.

Can Work Anywhere with Internet

Whether you are a small business owner or have crafted your work to tailor toward a life of remote labor, this is an opportunity for someone who has dreamed of being a digital nomad. You have the ability to work anywhere in the world as long as you have access to the Internet. If you love to travel, this is a chance to spend time in various places around the globe while continuing to meet your deadlines.

Multi-member Zoom call on a Apple Mac laptop with a blue mug of black coffee next to it.

Set Your Own Hours

In some cases with remote businesses, you have the freedom to set your own hours. Content writers, for instance, tend to enjoy more flexibility with regard to when they work because a lot of what they produce is project-based rather than tied to a nine-to-five schedule.

When you’re a business owner, this can be incredibly useful when you outsource tasks to save money. You can find a higher quality of performance by searching for contractors anywhere in the world and it doesn’t limit you to workers who live near to your office.

Saves Everyone Time and Money

 In the end, remote work typically saves money for every person and entity involved. Businesses save costs in terms of not having to pay for a physical space, utilities, Internet, and other expenses. This allows you, as the owner, to spend more of your income on providing quality software and benefits for your employees so your operation runs more smoothly and efficiently.

According to FlexJobs, employees or remote business owners may save around $4,000 on average every year for expenses such as car maintenance, transportation, professional clothing in the office, or even money spent dining out for lunch with coworkers. Eventually, the costs add up, which means extra money in your pocket to take that much-needed vacation or save up for a down payment on your first home.

These benefits of working remotely only skim the surface. There are also sustainability factors such as removing cars from the roads and streets, because people don’t have to travel to and from an office; or employees missing fewer workdays since they have the ability and freedom to clock in from home.

Weigh the pros and cons as to whether remote work is right for you as a business owner or online professional. You might be surprised to find that working from home for more than the duration of the pandemic is worthwhile and could have long-lasting benefits.

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