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May 29, 2013

Facebook to Crack Down on Pages, Content that Degrades Women

Decision Comes After Advertisers Pull Ads in Protest

Facebook is pledging to work harder to keep its site free of hate speech directed at women after outraged clients pulled advertising from the social network.

Facebook has been under fire in recent days for allowing pages that, at best, are offensive and degrading to women and at worst promote violence and rape, to remain on the social network.

Pages such as ‘I know a silly little bitch that needs a good slap’ and ‘Riding your Girlfriend softly, Cause you dont want to wake her up’ have raised the ire of both women’s groups and advertisers who were unfortunate enough to have their advertisements appear alongside the questionable content.

Dove was one of the more than 15 companies to pull its advertising from the social media site.

Dove told The BBC it was “most upset” by the content.

Dove takes this issue very seriously and does not condone any activity that intentionally insults any audience,” Dove global communications director Stacie Bright was quoted by the BBC before Facebook’s decision to remove the content.

“We are working to refine our targeting terms in case any further pages like these are created. Facebook advertising targets people’s interests, not pages, and we do not select the pages our adverts appear on.”

Other examples of content called into question by groups such as Women, Action & the Media (WAM!) and The Everyday Sexism Project were a picture of a woman lying at the bottom of a flight of stairs with the phrase “Next time, don’t get pregnant” underneath. Another image of a man holding a rag over a woman’s mouth, was captioned “Does this smell like chloroform to you?”

The women’s groups, which formed a campaign demanding Facebook take action, used Twitter to raise awareness for the issue, tweeting under the hashtag #FBrape. More than 60,000 Twitter users tweeted in support of the campaign that called on Facebook to:

• Recognize speech that trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech and make a commitment to not tolerate this content.

• Effectively train moderators to recognize and remove gender-based hate speech.

• Effectively train moderators to understand how online harassment differently affects women and men, in part due to the real-world pandemic of violence against women.

A separate online petition, dubbed ‘Demand Facebook Remove Pages That Promote Sexual Violence,’ attracted nearly 225,000 signatures as of Tuesday night.

Facebook, which has already removed the majority of the content, thanked the groups for their “constructive” feedback in a statement Tuesday (May 28). The statement also addressed the site’s continual struggle to balance freedom of speech with good taste.

“In light of this recent attention, we want to take this opportunity to explain our philosophy and policies regarding controversial or harmful content, including hate speech, and to explain some of the steps we are taking to reduce the proliferation of content that could create an unsafe environment for users,” said Global Public Policy vice-president Marne Levine in a statement.

“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.

“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.”

Facebook has promised to take the following steps:

We will complete our review and update the guidelines that our User Operations team uses to evaluate reports of violations of our Community Standards around hate speech.  To ensure that these guidelines reflect best practices, we will solicit feedback from legal experts and others, including representatives of the women’s coalition and other groups that have historically faced discrimination.

• We will update the training for the teams that review and evaluate reports of hateful speech or harmful content on Facebook. To ensure that our training is robust, we will work with legal experts and others, including members of the women’s coalition to identify resources or highlight areas of particular concern for inclusion in the training. 

• We will increase the accountability of the creators of content that does not qualify as actionable hate speech but is cruel or insensitive by insisting that the authors stand behind the content they create.  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.

• 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. We have invited representatives of the women Everyday Sexism to join the less formal communication channels Facebook has previously established with other groups.

• We will encourage the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Cyberhate working group and other international working groups that we currently work with on these issues to include representatives of the women’s coalition to identify how to balance considerations of free expression, to undertake research on the effect of online hate speech on the online experiences of members of groups that have historically faced discrimination in society, and to evaluate progress on our collective objectives.

WAM congratulated Facebook for “admirably” addressing the coalition’s concerns with its policy update.

“Facebook addressed our concerns and committed to evaluating and updating its policies, guidelines and practices relating to hate speech, improving training for its content moderators and increasing accountability for creators of misogynist content,” the group said in a statement.

“As part of these efforts, we will work closely with Facebook on the issue of how Community Standards around hate speech are evaluated and to ensure best practices represent the interests of our coalition.”