Facebook has been accused of participating in the oppression of LGBT people by withholding a pro-Gay Pride feature it has introduced in Western markets.
The social network rolled out a new “reaction” feature in June, aka LGBT Pride Month, to celebrate gay movements around the world.
Alongside the traditional reacts – “like”, “heart”, “wow”, “angry”, “sad” – users who sign up to the LGBTQ@Facebook page get to use an extra, rainbow flag-themed “pride” response to posts, as seen on this randomly selected example post:
The feature is easily available in the West – and can be seen in abundance on posts originating in the US, UK, and most of Europe.
However, according to BuzzFeed News, the feature is conspicuously unavailable in countries with track records of repressing LGBT lifestyles.
It noted that Facebook users in Russia cannot access the feature, while users in Malaysia have complained about the absence of the feature too.
Both countries have been criticized for their repressive approach to homosexuality.
Users in India and Singapore (where gay sex is illegal), Lithuania and the Philippines (both of which ban gay marriage) all said they couldn’t use the feature.
Facebook has not spelled out where the feature can and cannot be used – though it said it was focusing on “people in major markets with Pride celebrations”.
In answer to public user complaints about not being able to use the reaction, Facebook would only say “this isn’t yet available in some areas, but we hope to roll it out in more soon.”
Advocates for free expression online were unimpressed.
Jillian C York, the director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the limited roll-out “shameful”.
She said: “Facebook isn’t even “kowtowing” to anti-gay states, they’re doing their job for them.”
Such a decision would fit with previous Facebook strategies, which are devoted to minimising complaints by sticking to local customs, even if they would be objectionable in countries like the US.
In a major essay on the future on Facebook in February, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg effectively pledged to ban more things in areas like the Middle East, by making content filters more severe to achieve “local governance” in line with “cultural norms”.