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Facebook will ban monetizing on violence and tragedy, even for news and awareness

In a blog post released today, Facebook says it will change its guidelines on who can earn money through Facebook, as well as what kinds of content are acceptable to monetize. First, the company...

In a blog post released today, Facebook says it will change its guidelines on who can earn money through Facebook, as well as what kinds of content are acceptable to monetize.

First, the company says it’s laying out a new set of guidelines on what violates its policies for monetization programs like Branded Content and Instant Articles. Those rules go from the general — a ban on depictions of death, even if used for “educational” purposes — to the more specific: the first bullet on the list is a ban on the use of children’s characters engaged in “violent, sexualized, or otherwise inappropriate behavior.” Other monetization bans extend to depictions of violence or explicit acts.

But one part of the rules may generate the most controversy. Facebook says it will ban anything that “promotes attacks on people or groups,” but that ban extends even to publishers promoting that content “in the context of news or awareness purposes.” A similar rule applies to depictions of “tragedy and conflict.” As news publishers continue to try earning money through Facebook, the guidelines may once again raise questions about Facebook’s responsibilities. The rules, if taken as written, would seem to bar the monetization of news content with a high public service value, like the depiction of war crimes — depictions of “natural disasters” is cited specifically.

In a response to a request for comment, a Facebook spokesperson replied that the guidelines are industry-standard and that the company will continue to consider context. The decision, the spokesperson said, was partially made so advertisers feel comfortable about where their ads appear.

Another aspect of the policy seems designed to tamp down publishers of fake news. Publishers and other users planning to make money through Facebook’s monetization programs must have “an authentic, established presence on Facebook,” and must have used a page or profile for at least a month. Facebook faced controversy recently after it was discovered that Russia had used ads on Facebook as part of a disinformation campaign, but the company has been criticized well before that for allowing sensational, false news onto its platform.

As part of the announcement, Facebook separately said it would offer advertisers more options for tracking where their ads appear — and eventually will provide a system that “clearly identifies the publishers that their ads ran on.”

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