Since the advent of the first social media site — SixDegrees — in 1997, such sites have become a prominent part of most American lives.
According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who use at least one social media platform rose from 5% in 2005 to 72% in 2019.
The widespread use has coincided with a global rise in the prevalence of online pornography, and the two frequently converge, according to research and watch groups.
Mainstream social media
Despite the rise and fall of various social media sites, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (and their subsidiary companies) continue to be the most influential. They have dominated for the past decade and do not show any sign of slowing down.
Findings indicate most sites are making an effort to reduce pornographic content.
Here’s a summary of current policies as of early 2020.
Facebook is arguably the most influential social media company because of its ownership of Instagram and WhatsApp. The latter provides an unclear stance on nudity; Facebook’s official policy for WhatsApp reads:
“Our nudity policies have become more nuanced over time. We understand that nudity can be shared for a variety of reasons, including as a form of protest, to raise awareness about a cause or for educational or medical reasons. Where such intent is clear, we make allowances for the content.”
Facebook’s policy for itself is rather comprehensive, but for the most part it restricts nearly all pornographic content.
At the end of the statement, Facebook makes it clear that it allows those who are 18 and older to post and view content that meets the definition of sexual content as long as the “sexual activity isn’t directly visible.”
If Facebook users see content that goes against the platform’s community standards, they are encouraged to report it (choose “Find support or report post” from the drop-down list accessible through the three dots in the top right of the post).
While Facebook has a rather stringent policy overall on pornography, Facebook Watch is full of inappropriate content that has yet to be flagged and removed from the platform.
According to the platform, “in order for a video to appear in Watch, it must be published by either a page with 5,000 followers or a verified Profile with 50,000+ followers.”
However, a simple Google search provides several ways to find pornography on the Facebook Watch section. Parents should be hesitant to let their children use this feature without parental supervision.
Twitter is more lenient when it comes to allowing pornographic content. The policy reads:
“Pornography and other forms of consensually produced adult content are allowed on Twitter, provided that this media is marked as sensitive.”
Parents should be aware of preventive measures they can take to ensure their children don’t stumble across pornography on social media sites.
An informal poll of students, however, shows many who were accidentally able to access pornography on Twitter even when parental restrictions were set on their devices.
Users should be wary of how they use the site and remember that pornography is pervasive.
One of the world’s most viewed websites, YouTube was founded in 2005 by former PayPal employees and now is owned by Google. YouTube describes itself as a video-sharing platform, but it operates similarly to other social media sites. In terms of actual content restrictions, YouTube’s policy is more comparable to Facebook than Twitter.
While Facebook fails to outline the way the company will enforce its policies on pornography and nudity, YouTube clearly lays out a three-strike rule in the guidelines:
“If your content violates this policy, we’ll remove the content and send you an email to let you know. If this is your first time violating our Community Guidelines, you’ll get a warning with no penalty to your channel. If it’s not, we’ll issue a strike against your channel.
“If you get 3 strikes, your channel will be terminated. You can learn more about our strikes system here. If your content contains pornography, we may terminate your channel.”
YouTube, like Twitter, has an option for age-restricted content, but claims that explicit content meant to be sexually gratifying is banned from the platform.
YouTube contains millions of videos, which should warrant careful monitoring for children and teenagers.
In recent months, Americans have become more familiar with social media sites like Parler and MeWe.
In the weeks surrounding the U.S. presidential election, these sites gained popularity due to perceptions that they have less content moderation.
When it comes to pornographic content, Parler and MeWe’s restrictions seem looser than mainstream social media sites.
Following a one-month hiatus, Parler recently came back online after being removed from the Apple Store, Google Play and Amazon web-hosting services.
Many, including Jason Thacker of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, previously noted that in 2020 Parler eased its rules to allow for pornography.
As a result, pornographic images and spam proliferated on the site, according to Thacker.
Parler’s rules put it more in line with Twitter than other social media platforms regarding pornographic content.
Another site that has grown tremendously is MeWe, which markets itself as the next generation of social networking sites and attracts users due to its unusually light approach to content moderation.
While mainstream social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube feature multiple pages of restrictions, MeWe’s statement on pornography is short.
MeWe users are prohibited from “post[ing] unlawful, harmful, obscene or pornographic content.” The policy states: “We may suspend or terminate your account or cease providing you with all or part of the Services at any time for any or no reason, including, but not limited to, if we reasonably believe you have violated these Terms.”
The statement leaves the definition of pornography to interpretation. While it may provide a haven for those who are uncomfortable with heavier-handed content moderation and privacy issues, MeWe is filled with inappropriate content that is not being regulated.
In the end, social media is an imperfect platform started by imperfect people that brings together imperfect people.
While these sites can and, in many ways, should be used to spread the gospel, share Christ-exalting content and share in the intended purpose of keeping up and fellowshipping with each other, users of all ages must be cautious.
Parents should determine appropriate levels of monitoring and supervision over their children’s use of social media.
Most sites are making an effort to reduce the amount of pornographic content, but Christians who use them are wise to be familiar with how different platforms strive — or don’t — to provide a safe experience for all users.