Open Letter Criticizes Facebook For Allowing Hate Speech
May 29, 2013

Open Letter Criticizes Facebook For Allowing Hate Speech

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Following a successful grassroots campaign which resulted in advertisers fleeing the site, Facebook has now responded to complaints about hate speech and violence, particularly when it´s aimed at women.

The group Women, Action & the Media (WAM!) issued an open letter to Facebook on May 21 and urged Facebook users across the globe to email and Tweet the social network and their advertisers to call for change.

Several advertisers, such as Nationwide and Nissan UK, pulled their ads from the site while other brands, such as Dove beauty products, faced pressure from their fans to remove their advertising. WAM!, along with The Everyday Sexism Project, took issue with disturbing and violent photos posted by users in very offensively titled groups, often glorifying violence toward women or making light of the issue of rape.

In a response to the open letter, the social network's Facebook Safety page wrote a note on Tuesday afternoon, stating they would begin revisiting the policies which govern the user-generated content. Facebook also said they would update the training for the teams who review possibly offensive content and “increase the accountability” of the creators of this content.

For instance, users who post an image which may not qualify as hate speech but as cruel or insensitive humor will be required to attach their actual identity next to the content. Facebook hopes this move will allow the users to hold one another accountable.

“These are complicated challenges and raise complex issues. Our recent experience reminds us that we can´t answer them alone,” wrote Marne Levine, vice president of global public policy for Facebook.

“As we´ve grown to become a global service with more than one billion people, we´re constantly re-evaluating our processes and policies. We´ll also continue to expand our outreach to responsible groups and experts who can help and support us in our efforts to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected,” he continued.

Soraya Chemalay launched their campaign against user-generated content posted on Facebook with WAM! and The Everyday Sexism Project and was understandably pleased with Facebook´s response.

“It is because Facebook has committed to having policies to address these issues that we felt it was necessary to take these actions and press for that commitment to fully recognize how the real world safety gap experienced by women globally is dynamically related to our online lives,” said Chemalay in a statement.

Facebook has also asked these groups and others to help them develop their Community Standards around hate speech and other violent messages.

The open letter to Facebook by WAM! took particular issue with the supposed shifting guidelines by which moderators remove pictures posted on the site for being either offensive or pornographic.

For instance, women´s rights group and concerned users have taken Facebook to task over removing pictures of women breastfeeding or images of post-mastectomy patients posing in non-sexual and non-pornographic ways. Yet as Facebook routinely pulled these pictures from the site, labeling them as “offensive” or “pornographic,” groups with titles like “Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won´t make you a Sandwich,” or “Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs” were allowed to remain on the site. What´s more, users in these groups would sometimes post pictures of women being duct taped, bruised and battered and captioned with text which made light of, or even encouraged, domestic violence.

One such group posted a picture of a young girl with a black eye and tape on her mouth. The caption accompanying the image read: “Don´t wrap it and tap it, tape her and rape her.”

Facebook´s suggested ad algorithms came into play here, sometimes placing women-friendly ads next to these violent images.

Dove, for example, had some of their Campaign for Real Beauty ads posted next to the offending images, causing some fans to ask the company to remove their ads from the site. Dove later said they were working with Facebook to resolve the issue.