Facebook Cracking Down On Hate Speech

Dennis Faas's picture

Facebook says it will review the way it vets hateful and offensive content. The social networking site will also force people who post offensive material to reveal their identity.

The move follows an open letter by dozens of groups aiming to challenge sexism and abuse against women. These groups argued that Facebook was wrong to allow organizations to post images that make light of violence against women.

According to the letter, Facebook has repeatedly failed to remove such content. The letter insists that this is particularly shocking because the site regularly removes harmless images of female nudity, such as photos of women breastfeeding:

Those behind the letter insist that "Facebook considers violence against women to be less offensive than non-violent images of women's bodies, and that the only acceptable representation of women's nudity are those in which women appear as sex objects or the victims of abuse." (Source: womenactionmedia.org)

Those behind the letter demand that Facebook provide a public statement recognizing that comments and images making light of violence against women are a form of hate speech. These groups also want Facebook to hire moderators to find and remove such material.

Advertiser Boycott Adds to Pressure

The letter was backed by several petitions, one of which had more than 200,000 signatures. The groups also persuaded some advertisers to boycott Facebook until it took action on the matter.

Industry experts believe that targeting advertisers may have been the main reason Facebook took note of the protests, particularly now that it is a publicly-traded company.

Facebook responded by conceding that its vetting system had failed in two ways: 1) it had used outdated criteria to assess content, and 2) it had taken too long to remove hateful material. (Source: facebook.com)

The company says it will update its moderation systems, which use a combination of automated filters and human reviewers. It also says it will work with the groups that wrote the letter to improve training for moderators.

Facebook Distinguishes Between Hate Speech, Humor

However, Facebook noted that some of the highlighted content does not fall into the category of hate speech (which is banned on the site) but rather is "cruel or insensitive." According to Facebook, such content does not breach its rules.

Instead, the site says it will develop a new policy designed to force people posting such "humor" to include their "authentic identity", allowing people who object to the comments to hold them directly responsible.

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