On The Beat With Facebook's Pornhounds

Everybody knows that Smutslayer, omnipotent Facebook god of purity, is responsible for smiting pornographic images that mortals foolishly try to upload to the site.

What not so many people know is that Smutslayer doesn’t do all the work himself. He’s got a trusty team of decency deputies working full-time to fight for truth, justice and the absence of boobies.

Newsweek reports that of the 850 employees Facebook has on its payroll, 150 are part of its User Operations division, which is charged with tracking down user-submitted violations of the site’s code of conduct, which disallows nudity, porn and drugs. Fully exposed butts, visible crackage and nipples give your photos a one-way trip to Deletionville. Also, no calling anyone a “jerk.” Seriously, that’s also a code violation.

Part hall monitors, part vice cops, these employees are key weapons in Facebook’s efforts to maintain its image as a place that’s safe for corporate advertisers-more so than predecessor social networks like Friendster and MySpace. “[They were] essentially shanghaied by pornography and sexual displays,” says David Kirkpatrick, author of the forthcoming book “The Facebook Effect.” It’s a tricky job: by insisting that users sign up under real names and refrain from posting R-rated photos, Facebook hopes to widen its user base to include upscale professionals, but at the same time it’s aware that too much heavy-handed censorship could upset its existing members. “If [Facebook] got polluted as just a place for wild and crazy kids, that would destroy the ability to achieve the ultimate vision, which is to create a service for literally everyone,” Kirkpatrick says-and then its potential for profits would disappear, too.

The virtual lawmen make about $50,000 a year, a pittance in the face of the $900 million in revenue the social networking site is expected to make in 2009.

The presence of the porn cops isn’t much of a surprise, considering Facebook has been known to go a little George Orwell on its users. Of course, the company has also caved when its overbearing policies are brought to light.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for a classy, porn-free online network, and it’s tough to forge cleanliness without substantive muscle.

Yet it seems that the powers of these gumshoes could somehow go to more productive ends. Who’s up for waging a campaign to get these watchmen to eliminate all those obnoxious quizzes?

Facebook’s ‘Porn Cops’ are Key to its Growth [Newsweek]
(Photo: pbm)