An open letter to Facebook recently put the company under fire for turning a blind eye to the misogynistic hate speech taking up residence on its network.
The letter — a collaboration between groups Women, Action, & The Media, and the Everyday Sexism Project, along with activist Soraya Chemaly — cited active pages celebrating rape and domestic abuse. The writers singled out a few examples, including “Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs,” “Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich” and others containing content and graphics featuring abused women. The groups call for the company to take action and address the material on the site.
Perhaps Facebook is used to being a target now, but there’s no business on Earth that wants to be linked to rape or domestic abuse. In its Terms of Service, the company bans such displays — indeed, it prohibits hate speech in general — but the network does little to enforce those rules.
Well, advertisers didn’t ignore it. They couldn’t. Activists flooded Facebook’s sponsors with more than 5,000 e-mails and sparked more than 60,000 tweets pointing out the issue. This led to Nissan and several other companies to pull ads from the site until the matter gets addressed.
Now this got Facebook’s attention. In a blog posted on Tuesday, the company positioned itself as a defender of free speech, but also admitted it didn’t do a very good job of policing the network for violations of its own terms. It now pledges to take a firmer hand in dealing with offending pages with an action plan that includes updated guidelines, better training for moderation teams, and increased accountability for offenders.
That last one is particularly noteworthy. Facebook writes that it is zeroing in on anything deemed “cruel or insensitive” by using what PC World calls the “name and shame” approach, i.e. making users put their real identities on offensive content. The company started testing that a few months ago, so the protocol is already in place. And it’s sure to make casual offenders think twice before posting ill-advised content on a whim.
As for the hardcore deviants rallying on the site, the review process will be fine-tuned to pinpoint these pages. And for those users who slip through the cracks, the “naming and shaming” measure could make them and their fans easier to identify. Knowing the authorities’ penchant for digging into social media, we wouldn’t be surprised if this leads to arrests.