Facebook gives way to campaign against hate speech on its pages

Company agrees to update policies in response to protest by more than 100 advocacy groups

The Guardian
May 29, 2013
By Rory Carroll

Facebook has bowed to an outcry over content promoting violence against women after advertisers pulled ads in protest.

The company said on Tuesday it would update its policies on hate speech, increase accountability of content creators and train staff to be more responsive to complaints, marking a victory for women's rights activists. "We need to do better – and we will," it said in a statement.

The climbdown followed a week-long campaign by Women, Action and the Media, the Everyday Sexism Project and the activist Soraya Chemaly to remove supposedly humorous content endorsing rape and domestic violence.

Examples included a photograph of the singer Rihanna's bloodied and beaten face, captioned with "Chris Brown's Greatest Hits", a reference to the assault by her ex-boyfriend.

A photograph of a woman in a pool of blood had the caption "I like her for her brains".

Another photograph, of a man holding a rag over a woman's mouth, was captioned "Does this smell like chloroform to you?".

More than 100 advocacy groups joined the protest and demanded Facebook recognise such content as hate speech and train moderators to remove it.

Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, California, initially rebuffed the complaints, citing freedom of speech. A spokesman told Huffington Post UK: "As you may expect in any diverse community of more than a billion people, we occasionally see people post distasteful or disturbing content, or make crude attempts at humour. While it may be vulgar and offensive, distasteful content on its own does not violate our policies."

The campaign gathered momentum, however, when tens of thousands of tweets and emails using the hashtag #Fbrape were sent to the social network's advertisers.

At least 15 pulled their ads, Women, Action and the Media said, including Nissan UK, Nationwide UK, J Street and WestHost.

Facebook bowed to the pressure in a lengthy statement which stressed its effort to balance free speech with a policy of banning hate speech.

"We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial. We define harmful content as anything organising real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual (eg bullying)."

It said it had miscalculated the balance. "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. In some cases, content is not being removed as quickly as we want. 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."

Facebook promised to review and update guidelines, improve moderators' training, establish more formal lines of communication with advocacy groups and increase accountability of the creators of content which is cruel or insensitive but does not qualify as hate speech. One recent innovation that obliges such creators to supply their authentic identity has already created a "better environment" and will continue to be developed, it said.

Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action and the Media, praised Facebook's response and called the company admirable. "We hope that this effort stands as a testament to the power of collaborative action."


Facebook tackles violence-against-women images as companies pull ads

Facebook plans to bolster efforts to keep hate speech off its pages amid complaints the site allowed content that encouraged violence against women, prompting companies to suspend advertisements.

Toronto Star
May 29, 2013

Facebook has promised to be more vigilant after Nissan Motor Co.’s U.K. unit and lender Nationwide Building Society halted some ads that could have appeared next to offensive content. The group Women, Action, & the Media criticized the social network’s response to complaints.
Published on Wed May 29 2013

Facebook Inc. plans to bolster efforts to keep hate speech off its pages amid complaints the site allowed content that encouraged violence against women, prompting companies to suspend advertisements.

Nissan Motor Co.’s U.K. unit and lender Nationwide Building Society halted some Facebook ads that could have appeared next to offensive content after the group Women, Action, & the Media criticized the social network’s response to complaints. Menlo Park, California-based Facebook said it will review guidelines for evaluating content that may violate its standards, and will update training for teams that review reports on hate speech.

Social-media services have surged in popularity by giving users leeway in posting comments, photos and videos. That freedom can backfire if members’ content pushes the boundaries of good taste, potentially turning off advertisers. The Simon Wiesenthal Center faulted Twitter Inc. in a report this month, saying that the microblogging service has helped spur growth in online forums for hate and terror.

“This should be a big concern for Facebook,” said Shailendra Pandey, an advertising analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media in London. The companies pulling advertising “are big brands and they bring in a lot of revenue each quarter.”

Facebook had $1.25 billion in advertising revenue in the first quarter of 2013, about 85 per cent of its total sales.

“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,” Facebook said in a blog post yesterday. “We need to do better — and we will.”

Women, Action, & the Media, a group that looks at gender bias, said in a letter last week that Facebook had “groups, pages and images that explicitly condone or encourage rape or domestic violence or suggest that they are something to laugh or boast about.”

As part of its effort to get the content removed, the group started an online campaign to pressure companies whose ads ran next to the images, some of which were of women who were indicated to have been beaten or raped. The effort included messages on Twitter and e-mails.

In tweets posted on the group’s website, companies including Zipcar Inc., Zappos.com Inc. and Unilever Plc’s Dove brand responded by saying they were working with Facebook to resolve the issue. They didn’t pull their advertising, according to the group. The site reported that Nationwide, Nissan U.K. and a number of smaller advertisers did suspend ads.

Advertisers that suspend campaigns with Facebook will return when the matter is resolved because it’s an important medium for the industry, said Pandey of Informa Telecoms.

WPP Plc Chief Executive Officer Martin Sorrell has said his company, the world’s largest advertiser, spends about $270 million a year on Facebook.

Facebook plans to set up more formal communications with representatives of women’s groups and other organizations to speed up its response to questions about possibly offensive content. The company also said it will increase accountability for creators of content that is “cruel or insensitive,” even if the content doesn’t qualify as hate speech.

Nissan U.K. temporarily halted Facebook advertisements with demographic targeting that potentially could have shown its promotions next to the controversial content, according to Travis Parman, a spokesman for Nissan, which is based in Yokohama, Japan. Nissan wanted to have “dialogue with Facebook” to determine how its ads may have been displayed next to the content, he said. The automaker’s U.S. unit isn’t currently using the type of ad targeting in question on Facebook, he said.

Advertisements for Unilever’s Dove brand, Amazon U.K., American Express and British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc’s pay-TV brand Sky also showed up next to offensive images, according to pictures on the Women, Action, & the Media website.

“I don’t think this will hurt Facebook because in the end I think advertisers are kind of understanding that things might appear in an online environment that are unsavory, said Chris Hirst, CEO at advertising agency Grey London, whose clients include HSBC Holdings Plc, Vodafone Group Plc, and Puma SE, according to its website.

“I think Facebook has been quite conscious of the environment, irrespective of advertisers, but we do add an extra layer of pressure,” he said.

Nationwide said it suspended all Facebook advertising and that company ads that appeared next to images depicting violence against women were linked to a user’s Facebook profile and not the pages with violent images.

“Through the use of verification software, we do actively seek to ensure this type of page, or sites with suspect content, do not appear alongside our advertising,” the company said in a statement.