Facebook to Crack Down on Hate Speech Posts

By Daniel Bean

May 30, 2013 10:48am


Facebook will tighten its policies on hate speech posts after a coalition of activist groups launched a campaign to highlight the volume of such content on the site.

New steps that the site will be taking, effective immediately, include an update to the guidelines that Facebook user operations team members follow to better recognize reported hate speech materials, and an effort to work more closely with “legal experts and others, including representatives of the women’s coalition and other groups that have historically faced discrimination.”

Users have always had the ability to report or “flag” Facebook content for investigation when a post is perceived to violate community standards.

On May 21, Women, Action & the Media, the Everyday Sexism Project and author and activist Soraya Chemaly went public with a campaign to call on Facebook to stem gender-based hate speech on its site. Supporters have since sent over 60,000 tweets (with the hashtag #fbrape) and 5,000 emails.

“[We're now helping Facebook to remove] any kind of content that is glorifying or attempting to normalize violence against women,” Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action and The Media (WAM), told ABC News.

The WAM website shows some examples of posts that the new coalition of groups working with Facebook hope to put an end to.

One user-reported picture shows a woman’s beaten and bloodied head with the words “I like her for her brains” written on it. As WAM shows, the post was reported, but Facebook did not remove it, saying it “doesn’t violate Facebook’s Community Standards on graphic violence.”

“Over the last two years, activists and groups like ours had approached Facebook,” said Friedman. “We published the open letter last Tuesday morning, encouraging people to use #fbrape to spread awareness. Facebook eventually contacted us and sat down with us that week.”

Marne Levine, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy, posted to the site Tuesday to explain the company’s new effort on content promoting hate speech, as well as its philosophy and policies regarding controversial or harmful content.

“Facebook’s mission has always been to make the world more open and connected. We seek to provide a platform where people can share and surface content, messages and ideas freely, while still respecting the rights of others,” Levine wrote.

Facebook has recently been looking into measures to keep anonymous offensive material off of the site as well. A few months ago, Facebook began testing a new system that would remove “cruel and insensitive content” that was posted by a user who was not disclosing “his or her authentic identity.” Levine wrote that this system could help other users “hold the author accountable and directly object to the content.”

Levine said the site already prohibits content deemed to be directly harmful, but, to promote “openness,” does allow content that is offensive or controversial.

Examples of things deemed “harmful” by Facebook’s community standards would be the organizing of violence or online bullying. The Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities prohibits “hate speech,” the VP’s post said, but this new effort will help to better define and identify it.

READ: Facebook Sometimes Too Much ‘Drama’ for Teens, Study Says

Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel and policy adviser for the American Civil Liberties Union, told ABC News that, since Facebook doesn’t necessarily have to allow any offensive materials on its site, he applauds their attention to the value of free speech while they carefully approach this hate speech issue.

“While it’s certainly true that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to Facebook and other private publishers, as more of our speech migrates from sidewalks and parks to social media, these companies have an enormous amount of power to influence the marketplace of ideas,” he said.

“These new gatekeepers should be commended when they apply First Amendment principles to keep their platforms as open as possible.”

Friedman told ABC News that that the specifics of how Facebook and WAM will systematically cooperate have yet to be worked out, but she said, “We’re thrilled. We’re really looking forward to seeing what comes of [the efforts]“

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