Inside ‘Facebook Jail’: The Secret Rules That Put Users in the Doghouse


Professor Olivier Sylvain shares his expert opinion on Facebook regulations and the flow of information with The Wall Street Journal.

Alex Gendler, a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y., got a similar ban after sharing a link to a story in Smithsonian magazine about tribal New Guinea. Nick Barksdale, a history teacher in Oklahoma, served 30 days recently after jokingly telling a friend “man, you’re spewing crazy now!”
None of the three quite understand what they did wrong.
“If you use the term ‘crazy,’ does that automatically get you banned?” asked Mr. Barksdale.
The plight of baffled users caught in Facebook’s impenetrable system for adjudicating content has reinforced the company’s reputation for heavy-handed and inept policing of its online platforms. The problem, which has been mounting for years, is increasingly acute as lawmakers and the public focus on the vast power social-media companies hold over the flow of information.
The company’s newly formed Oversight Board—a group of 20 lawyers, professors and other independent experts who consider appeals to decisions made by Facebook—has been charged with interpreting Facebook’s numerous detailed rules governing everything from the depiction of graffiti to swearing at newsworthy figures.
“This is what you get when you build a system as big as this,” says Olivier Sylvain, a professor of law at Fordham University, who has researched Facebook and content moderation generally. “I don’t think it’s unhealthy or wrong for us to wonder if the benefits that flow from such a big service outweigh the confusion and harm.”

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