Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Facebook Says Most Photos Flagged by Users Aren’t Actually Offensive — Just Unattractive

Last year, Facebook determined that the majority of photos its users reported as offensive were not actually offensive. Much of the time, they just involved unflattering angles or situations.

We are vain creatures, as it turns out!

The thing is, you don’t necessarily own the rights to a picture someone else takes of you, and Facebook accentuates the awkwardness of that situation.

Below every photo on Facebook is a button to flag it for violating the service’s terms of use. Since Facebook users upload an average of more than 250 million photos per day, this is a way for the company to patrol its site without employing warehouses full of people scanning pictures for violence and nudity.

After Facebook noticed how often users were putting the flagging tool to unintended use, the company changed its photo-reporting dialogue in August, allowing users to message the person who posted the photo and complain.

New options include, “I don’t like this photo of me,” “It’s harassing me” and “It’s harassing a friend.”

Those complaints, and the conversations they inspire, tend to trigger compassion on the part of photo posters, according to Facebook engineering director Arturo Bejar. This week, he spoke about Facebook’s effort to encourage compassion, on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”

Facebook takes down offensive photos, but it doesn’t delete unwanted photos — the uploaders have to decide whether or not to do that themselves.

After I heard the stat about the majority of flagged photos being inoffensive, I followed up with the company to confirm that it was true.

On the radio show, Bejar got questions from people with various reasons for wanting photos to be taken down. One woman said her employer would object to a picture of her at a political event; another didn’t want her brother-in-law to post pictures of her two-year-old son on Facebook.

To be fair, neither of these problems are about vanity. They both seem like pretty reasonable complaints.

Bejar said Facebook wouldn’t take the photos down, and suggested to both women that they should try harder to convince the posters to remove them.

Update: A Facebook spokesperson offered the following correction to Bejar’s answer:

“Our policy does in fact allow parents to ask that photos of their children under age 13 be removed from Facebook. By typing ‘How can I get an image of my child removed’ in the Facebook Help Center, parents can find a simple form to fill out to make that request. We’d like people to know that most questions about Facebook and how it works can be answered by checking our Help Center at, and that this information is available to everyone, whether or not they use Facebook.”

(Image credit: iStockphoto|mediaphotos)

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus