In a closed-door session with shareholders on Tuesday, Facebook executives wheeled out a set of new rules which, when implemented later this year, will ban their users from creating status updates and image posts related in any way to religion, while also vowing to disband groups and take down pages with religious goals or affiliations.
Facebook will introduce their new rules in three waves. The first will see religiously-themed pages being removed, as well as religious groups, private or otherwise, being disbanded. The second wave will prohibit the posting, sharing, and general distribution of religious images and memes; images asking Facebook users to pray, or encouraging them to believe in one or any religion, will be banned, with warning messages and even account suspensions for those who repeatedly attempt to violate the rule.
The third and biggest wave, which is due to come near the end of the year, will impact regular Facebook users themselves, with new filters which will seek out status updates that use “religious keywords,” such as “Jesus,” “prayer,” “Church,” or “God.” Facebook staffers will read flagged status updates to determine whether they should be removed or not, with warning messages and suspensions going out to those who violate the rule.
Not all religious content will be banned from Facebook, though. Paid advertisements for religious organizations, services, and events will still be allowed. Also, promotional pages for movies, books, and video games with religious themes will be exempt from the new bans, though what Facebook refers to as “primary religious texts,” such as the Bible, The Torah, and the Quran, will not be given this exemption.
The new anti-religion rules come after several waves of protests from atheist and agnostic groups, who claim user-created religious content is offensive to them and, as one group put it, “promotes generation after generation of forceful indoctrination into their belief systems, which we do not want our children exposed to.”
“For years, religious groups have been allowed to spread their propaganda on Facebook and other social media sites freely, so this is a huge win for thinking people everywhere,” says Amber Wallace, founder of the American Atheist Coalition, the group that led the charge on the new Facebook changes. “Religion is fraudulent in nature. I consider this a win not for atheists, but for humans of free will everywhere. A life without religious dogma is definitely a life worth living.”
Atheist author John Rush says the new rules will end one of Facebook’s most nefarious double-standards. “Last year, Facebook announced `satire’ tags for satire websites, and this week, they announced a new war on `hoax sites,’ like Daily Currant or The Onion. They say they want to ban hoaxes and get them out of News Feeds. But what about religion? That’s the greatest hoax ever carried out on mankind, but you didn’t see anyone at Facebook taking a stand, not until now anyway. It’s nice to see an end to their hypocrisy, at long last.”
But Facebook users of faith aren’t thrilled about the new rules. “When is Facebook going to realize that it isn’t their job to police their social network?” asks Reverend Mike Weis, who plans to file a lawsuit over the bans. “There’s such a thing in this country as freedom of speech. Facebook isn’t obligated to the first amendment, but we, as users, should expect it of them. Blocking content because some minority of users finds that content offensive is the exact antithesis of what this nation of ours was founded on. And that means, in the very least, that Facebook is about as anti-American as a website can get.”