Does Facebook ever listen?
Apparently yes. A coalition of feminist groups is declaring victory in a campaign to get Facebook to crack down on posts and groups that threaten and belittle violence against women.
Photos and gross memes about beating and raping women run rampant on Facebook, despite the social network's policies that are supposed to ban hate speech. While Facebook has been rather diligent about policing "obscene" images of naked breasts, the company seems to take less interest in removing photos that, for example, joke about kicking pregnant women down stairs. Last week, Everyday Sexism, Women Action & the Media, and a long list of other groups joined forces, launching the FBRape campaign. The action pressured Facebook to take violence against women more seriously and targeted advertisers whose Facebook ads show up next to content promoting violence against women.
Today, Facebook's administrators issued a statement admitting their policies aren't up to snuff and promising immediate change. "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," reads the statement.
It's easy to dismiss the violent speech that happens on Facebook as unimportant, because social media feels trivial. At the end of the day, who cares what happens on Facebook, amid the cat videos and baby photos? But the bullshit people post on Facebook is part of our cultural conversation just as much as dinner table discussions. Jokes and dialogue that paint rape as normal, expected, or not a dig deal can trigger horrible feelings of vulnerability and isolation and lead people to not take violence seriously, as numerous funny people and academics have noted.
As part of "doing better" to crack down on rapey speech and violence-promoting groups, Facebook says it will make a couple immediate changes:
- 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.
It's important to note, as the campaign does, that this change is just the beginning. Policies mean nothing if they're not enforced, so it will be up to the groups working with Facebook to make sure these great-sounding changes actually get written into real rules that are then used to make Facebook a less safe place for people promoting violence.