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Facebook to crack down on gender-based hate following outcry

Categories: Community, Science & Technology

Women, Action & The Media posted this image, which has been close-cropped to remove a crude slogan, in their roundup of flagrantly violent yet permitted Facebook posts. (WAM/Facebook)

Facebook has pledged to "do better" when it comes to rooting out posts that trivialize rape, target women or otherwise incite gender-based violence.

The social media giant's five-step pledge to overhaul its policies on controversial, harmful and hateful speech follows mounting pressure from critics and concerned advertisers.

A detailed open letter from a long list of groups, including YWCA Canada and the Canadian Women's Foundation, pointed to widespread images of battered and bloodied women, crude slogans and other posts that degrade or threaten women.

The coalition called for swift action, and invited supporters to use the Twitter hashtag #FBrape to spread awareness of the campaign.

Facebook's response came in the form of a blog post published Tuesday.

"[W]e realize that our defense of freedom of expression should never be interpreted as license to bully, harass, abuse or threaten violence," wrote Facebook's VP of Global Public Policy, Marne Levine.

"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."

Levine went on to admit that problem content often stays up too long, or falls through the cracks due "outdated criteria."

A group behind the campaign - including the The Everyday Sexism Project - and like-minded observers online celebrated the company's pledge to tighten up their policy.

Among other things, Facebook promised to update its guidelines, consult marginalized groups, re-train employees and make it harder for users who post "cruel and insensitive" comments to hide behind pseudonyms.

Advertising dollars at stake

Supporters of the campaign reached out to major advertisers, such as Dove and Nissan, asking that they consider pulling their ads on Facebook. At least 13 agreed, according to Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates.
"As such an enormous social networking platform that has over a billion users worldwide, we felt that Facebook obviously has a huge influence on social norms and what's culturally acceptable," Bates said in an interview with CBC's Jian Ghomeshi, which aired Tuesday.

Bates pointed out that Facebook has removed images of women breastfeeding, or bearing their chests post-mastectomy, or using their own bodies for political protests.

"Of course we can't control what happens everywhere on the internet, but Facebook does already choose to censor content that it considers to be ... unacceptable."

Bates added that many companies, including Nissan's U.K. division, were "shocked and distressed to realize their adverts were coming up alongside this material."

What do you make of this campaign and Facebook's response?

Have you seen images promoting or making light of gender-based violence on Facebook? Have you ever reported them? Why or why not?

Tags: Community, Technology

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