Facebook pledges more action to combat hate speech

Following a call to action by several feminist groups, Facebook pledged this week to do a better controlling gender-based hate on the social network.

“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,” Marne Levine, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy, wrote in a blog.

“In some cases, content is not being removed as quickly as we want,” she noted. “In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria.”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,” she continued, “but the guidelines used by these systems have failed to capture all the content that violates our standards.”

“We need to do better—and we will,” she added.

To improve the company’s performance on controlling hate speech, Levine wrote that the company would:

  • Review and update the guidelines it uses to evaluate reports of hate speech;
  • Update the training given to the teams evaluating and reviewing hate speech reports;
  • Increase the accountability of authors of postings that may fall short of being hate speech but contains cruel and insensitive content; and
  • Establish formal lines of communications with groups working on hate speech issues.

Open letter triggers action

Facebook’s action comes after an open letter to the social network was posted to the Internet and signed by more than 100 groups and individuals, led by The Everyday Sexism Project, Women, Action, & the Media, and author Soraya Chemaly.

Soraya Chemaly
Soraya Chemaly

In the missive, the groups called on advertisers whose ads were placed next to content that targeted women for violence to withdraw their advertising from Facebook until the social network took “swift, comprehensive, and effective action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence” on its website.

The leaders of the coalition to get Facebook to act on gender-based hate speech were pleased with the social network’s actions. “Facebook has admirably done more than most other companies to address this topic in regards to content policy,” they said in a statement.

“We are hopeful that this moment will mark an historic transition in relation to media and women’s rights in which Facebook is acknowledged as a leader in fostering safer, genuinely inclusive online communities, setting industry precedents for others to follow,” they added.

Wild Internet frontier

Social media has been both good and bad for hate speech on the Internet, according to Debra Lauter, civil rights director for the Anti-Defamation League.

“The bad has been because it allows the free flow of hate,” she told PCWorld.

“We all love the Internet for how it makes connections between people, but we hope people understand that hate is a real growing problem,” she said.

“In our experience working with a lot of these companies, Facebook has been one of the more thoughtful companies to deal with and for us, they’ve exhibited a real willingness to engage in dialogue on the issue and to look for solutions,” she added.

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