Friday, April 15, 2011

I am studying Facebook for my final project and I will also be looking at the rules that govern it. Facebook posts its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (, Facebook Principles (, and Privacy Policy ( on their website.


Under their Facebook Principles, they list:
1. Freedom to Share and Connect
2. Ownership and Control of Information
3. Free Flow of Information
4. Fundamental Equality
5. Social Value
6. Open Platforms and Standards
7. Fundamental Service
8. Common Welfare
9. Transparent Process
10. One World

Their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities are based of their Facebook Principles. Some of the rules that are included on this page are:
• You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.
• You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.
• You will not use your personal profile for your own commercial gain (such as selling your status update to an advertiser).
• You will not use Facebook if you are under 13.
• You will keep your contact information accurate and up-to-date.
• You will not tag users or send email invitations to non-users without their consent.

Broken Rules

1. This first example violates the rule; “You will not use your personal profile for your own commercial gain”. This user is using his status as a way to advertise the sale of his belonging.

Admin response: I don’t think it is an issue for people to be posting advertisements for personal belongings as long as it’s not for personal businesses. It would be hard to determine if the user is in fact selling the object as a business, but I think it would be out of the scope of an admin to go through every status to look for business ads. There are already options for users to hide posts from a user or “Mark as spam”, so users who don’t wish to view these status are able to block them. These features are similar to those Gazan (2009) saw in Answerbag. If a user reported this posting, I would be forced to remove it because it does break the rules that the user agreed to when they signed up to use Facebook.

2. This second example is in clear violation of the rule; “You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” This status update is extremely violent and is very threatening towards the subject.

Admin response: Users are encouraged to share what is on their mind. Their current thoughts may not always be the happiest thoughts. Gazan (2009), writes that a result of self-aware behavior has both positive and negative effects. Grimes et al. (2008) cited Koster (2006) who said, “Users have the right to speak and express themselves freely…” I would let this go if I came across it, but if a user reported it; I would probably remove the posting. This falls under the sticky subject of censorship, but it clearly breaks the terms that the user agreed to. Dibbell (2008) wrote that the Internet is serious business, but caring too much is what the “griefers” want. Again, users have the option of blocking this user’s posts or reporting it as spam.

3. The third example violates the rule; “You will not tag users or send email invitations to non-users without their consent.“ Facebook allows users to tag themselves and others of their current location. Although not obvious, I personally know that this person was not informed that they would be tagged in posting.

Admin response: Facebook already has the option toggle if “Friends can check my in to Places”, but it is turned on by default. I think there is a privacy concern with this feature and people may not want to allow people to tell Facebook where there are. Also, users may not be interested in where users are at any given time. I think that this still does have its uses. Madison (2006) wrote that physical spaces can “enliven and stimulate a group, or deaden it”. I would turn off this feature by default and if a user would like to use this feature, they have the option to turn it on.

“Unwritten Rules”

• Value users trust
• Encourage informal groups (Madison, 2009)
• Use oversight from other users to filter out bad postings (Cosley et al, 2005)
• Encourage self-aware behavior (Gazan, 2009)
• Inform and provide users with the tools to share/hide their information


  1. Your last rule got me thinking. I usually review and adjust my privacy settings about once a month. (Okay, I get bored and start clicking random links until I end up on the privacy settings page.) But I know most users don't do this. Maybe Facebook could incorporate and make the privacy settings more visible throughout the use of the site.
    They have taken a step toward this by providing the little padlock icon under posts so you can customize the settings, but it would be more obvious if they actually listed the setting there without requiring a mouse over or click to see it. That way you don't have to remember your default privacy setting or take active steps to see it - you are reminded of it with every post.
    Other possibilities are additions to the "Remove Post" menu when you delete somebody's comment from your wall. Maybe you could also choose between blocking the user, not letting the user view your posts, and not letting the user post on your wall. The same goes for checking in to places. Instead of just removing the post showing that you have been checked in, it should give you the option right there to change the setting.
    There are a lot of privacy settings now, but they are treated like an afterthought, pushed back to a long page of check marks and drop down lists. Incorporating them through the site would be a better way to show their importance and provide users an easy, on-the-fly way to change them. Thanks for bringing that up!

  2. Your post illustrates many good examples of exactly the kind of data collection I'm asking people to do for their final projects--you've identified good, clear examples, backed them up with screenshots, commendably edited to protect the posters' privacy. As I've said to others who are working with the same site, I'd like you to be sure to read other people's posts and comment threads related to Facebook.

    Two quick questions about your proposed unwritten rules--what would constitute an "informal group" on Facebook, and is it always a good thing for users to be self-aware? HCI design principles imply that a good tool should essentially disappear, you can use it without even being aware you're using it. The small set of people I studied were mostly experienced users who used the Q&A and social functions of the site to discuss the site itself, but the majority of users may wish for a less self-conscious experience.

  3. Nice, post, It's interesting to find out more about a site most of us are probably using without ever having read the rules we agreed to. i really like your examples too, especially the last one about being able to tag friends. Leaving the default on "on" for such features is one of the reasons I don't trust Facebook with any of my private information... in essence they're violating their own rules.
    Their rule forbidding hateful or violent content is also interesting, because it raises the questions of how to define those terms. If I post a rant about someone cutting me off in traffic, does that count as hateful? I guess one way to deal with this is to only enforce the rules in cases that are very obviously threatening to another person.

  4. For your first example, I'm not quite sure that explicitly falls under the conditions of the rule, “You will not use your personal profile for your own commercial gain.” I can't think of the exact terminology, but to me, commercial implies repeated business. In your example, he's just trying to sell something in what I assume is a one-time deal. Just me nitpicking, that's all.

    The second example is something I see all too often on Facebook. People seem to use it for everything, including venting their frustrations at others. I wonder where the line between true freedom of opinion and self-censorship is, what is deemed acceptable and what is deemed unacceptable for posting, and how a person is supposed to know just how close they can get to the line.

    For your third example, I didn't know you could disable the ability for others to tag you. I generally don't care if my friends tag me or not, but there have been a few occasions where I basically had to play a game of tag with someone and untag myself from all of the stuff I didn't want to be tagged on. While my situation was all fun and games, I can picture a situation where it isn't so friendly. I agree that Facebook needs to make that option more prominent, as I do remember going through all of my privacy settings and I don't remember seeing that one.

  5. @Andrea: Yeah I agree completely. Having the settings available is only half of the solution. The users need to be able to see them easily and be informed of these settings.

    @Dr. Gazan: That is a very good point. As you wrote, there are many benefits to users becoming self-aware, but there may also be problems with it.

    @Julia: I have seen many postings that appear to break the rules of Facebook, but I don't see that they are dealt with (maybe it is removed and I am unaware). It seems that unless someone explicitly complains, Facebook won't take action against it.

    @Guy: You could be right. I'm not sure exactly what their rules cover. That is exactly the problem. Settings may exist, but unless they are clear to the users, they might as well not exist.