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Social Issues
Facebook Promises Action Over Misogyny Content
May 29, 2013
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Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California in 2011

Facing intense public pressure, Facebook is now promising to change how it monitors content that celebrates violence against women.

A week ago, several women's groups sent the company an open letter urging it to ban pages that promote rape and abuse.

Protesters sent more than 5,000 e-mails to Facebook's advertisers, got more than 225,000 signatures for an online petition, and more than 60,000 posts on Twitter.

Now, in a blog post, the company has admitted: "We need to do better - and we will."

Facebook said it will review how it deals with "controversial, harmful and hateful" content and start making changes right away.

It also admitted that its systems to "identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate."

The company said it will improve training for staff to recognize and remove such content,
and said it will increase user accountability, by forcing anyone posting "cruel or insensitive" content to attach their real identity to their posts.

"In some cases, content is not being removed as quickly as we want," said Marne Levine, Facebook's vice president of Global Public Policy. "In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria."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," she said.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at his office in Palo Alto, California in 2007

The campaign was created by 'Women, Action and the Media' in the U.S.; The 'Everyday Sexism Project' in Britain; and Soraya Chemaly, an American writer and activist.

Together, they called on Facebook to "ban gender-based hate speech on your site" and listed a number of pages as examples with names such as "Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs" and "Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won't make you a Sandwich."

They also called on advertisers to boycott Facebook, targeting companies whose ads were next to controversial material - prompting more than a dozen brands to suspend their Facebook marketing.

Emma Barnett of The Telegraph has a piece entitled 'How Three Women Took On Sexist Facebook And Won.' She writes...

"Having toiled as a tech hack for years, enduring an endless stream of bland comments from Facebook executives toeing the corporate line, this is no small moment.
Facebook's PR team's de facto position is usually "no comment" when asked about the service or alternatively they make some kind of reference to its ever evolving terms and conditions.

To make Facebook to change its mind about anything, never mind something as large as its moderation technique and what it considers hate speech, in only one week, have achieved something quite remarkable indeed."

The Facebook office in Menlo Park, California in 2012

She goes on to write...

"Until today - Facebook - which disallows any such equivalent hate images or messages broadcasting homophobia, racism or anti-Semitism, has been blithely letting these images by shared, 'liked' and commented upon across its network for years.

"And what made no sense at all was why Facebook was treating this form of hate speech differently to other forms of hate speech it proactively bans - especially once alerted to it."

Laura Bates, the founder of the 'Everyday Sexism Project', told Barnett "I really don't think the Facebook team had fully grasped how angry and upset people were about this. Men and women felt very uncomfortable about the normalisation of these images and the deeply ingrained misogyny underpinning them."

Of course, as the BBC points out, there are those who wonder why it took so long for Facebook to take action.

As one user commented "It took incredible public pressure for you to look at it... you should have had the guts and morals to do it on your own!"

Barnett wraps her piece in The Telegraph with this...

"This change today is yet another sign of Facebook evolving into more a law-abiding and hopefully civilised society - where a 'jokey rape' photo is no longer allowed. It may have taken an uncomfortably long time for the network to act but at least it has. Now it just needs its members to follow suit."

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