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Facebook (Finally) Gets With the Program, Promises To Shut Down Hate Speech, Threats of Rape and Violence


Better late than never.

In the past Facebook’s attitude toward content promoting violence, both sexual and otherwise, has been, well, messed up, to say the least. (Other adjectives you might find applicable: Disgusting, harmful, awful.) The web has been rife with stories of posts and pages that, more than just being distasteful or offensive, actively threaten violence not being pulled by Facebook despite the fact that their terms of service clearly don’t allow that sort of thing. For just one example, check out our post on a page making violent jokes targeted at female marines that was up for three years before Facebook yanked it because its mods were using fake accounts.

Due in part to the works of organizations Women, Action, and The Media and The Everyday Sexism Project, Facebook has stepped forward and outlined how they’ll change their attitude toward controversial, harmful, or hateful speech relating particularly (but not exclusively) to gender.

Wrote Marne Levine, Facebook’s VP of Global Public Policy (full text here; emphasis mine):

We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial. We define harmful content as anything organizing real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual (e.g. bullying)… In addition, our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities… prohibits “hate speech”… We work hard to remove hate speech quickly, however there are instances of offensive content, including distasteful humor, that are not hate speech according to our definition. In these cases, we work to apply fair, thoughtful, and scalable policies. This approach allows us to continue defending the principles of freedom of self-expression on which Facebook is founded… That being said, we realize that our defense of freedom of expression should never be interpreted as license to bully, harass, abuse or threaten violence. We are committed to working to ensure that this does not happen within the Facebook community…

In recent days, it has become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate. In some cases, content is not being removed as quickly as we want.  In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria. We have been working over the past several months to improve our systems to respond to reports of violations, but the guidelines used by these systems have failed to capture all the content that violates our standards. We need to do better – and we will.

Among the steps Facebook will take is updating its guidelines relating to hate speech and retraining employees that evaluate reports of violations. In doing so they will engage “representatives of the women’s coalition and other groups that have historically faced discrimination.” What’s more, writes Levine, “We will establish more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working in this area, including women’s groups, to assure expedited treatment of content they believe violate our standards.”

As for the people posting things that don’t qualify as hate speech but are “cruel and insensitive” (like bullying, for example), Facebook’s going to hit ’em where it hurts: Their anonymity.

“A few months ago we began testing a new requirement that the creator of any content containing cruel and insensitive humor include his or her authentic identity for the content to remain on Facebook.  As a result, if an individual decides to publicly share cruel and insensitive content, users can hold the author accountable and directly object to the content. We will continue to develop this policy based on the results so far, which indicate that it is helping create a better environment for Facebook users.”

So, basically, if you want to bully someone, or a group of people, on Facebook, you’re going to have to own up to it by having your real name attached. I’m not sure how that’s enforceable; couldn’t someone just create a fake e-mail account/name and post using that? But hey, I don’t really use Facebook, so maybe there is a way they could make this work. It’d be pretty great.

This whole this is pretty great, actually, aside from the part where it should’ve happened years ago.

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