Facebook kicks out rape jokes and gender hate speech

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured

facebook logoUp until Tuesday, it was, apparently, OK to host a Facebook page titled "Fly Kicking Sl*ts in the Uterus" or " Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs", but it was definitely not OK to post breastfeeding or post-mastectomy content.

I say "apparently" because those particular pages, pointed out by a women's coalition as examples of Facebook-condoned content regarding violence or hate speech against women, can no longer be found on the site.

Thanks to an open letter to Facebook from that coalition - which includes Women, Action & the Media, The Everyday Sexism Project and others - Facebook has confessed that it's been kind of asleep at the wheel when it comes to gender-based hate.

It also, apparently, has taken down the particularly offensive pages to which the coalition referred.

An excerpt from a statement posted Tuesday on the Facebook Safety page:

Statement from Facebook

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 In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria.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. We need to do better - and we will.

Facebook posted a bullet list of what it plans to do better, starting immediately.

Here's the nub of those action items:

  • Complete a review and update guidelines that its user operations team uses to evaluate reports of hate speech.
  • Update training for the teams that review and evaluate reports of hateful speech or harmful content on Facebook.
  • Increase accountability of the creators of content that might 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, Facebook 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, with the goal of enabling users to hold the author accountable and directly object to the content.
  • Work more directly with groups in this area, including women's groups, to assure expedited treatment of content that such groups believe violate Facebook standards. Facebook says it's invited representatives of Everyday Sexism, for example, to join the less formal communication channels Facebook has set up with other groups.
  • Encourage anti-hate-speech groups Facebook already works with, such as the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Cyberhate working group, to include representatives of the women’s coalition, with the goal of identifying "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."

Like button. Image courtesy of ShutterstockThe women's coalition that sparked the change says that those who participated in its campaign against gender-based hate speech on Facebook sent over 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails.

Since the campaign launched, the coalition has grown to include over 100 women’s movement and social justice organizations.

In its open letter, the coalition called on Facebook users to contact the advertisers whose Facebook ads appeared next to content targeting women for violence, to ask that they withdraw their advertising until Facebook cleaned up its act.

From the letter:

Specifically, we are referring to groups, pages and images that explicitly condone or encourage rape or domestic violence or suggest that they are something to laugh or boast about...

...Your common practice of allowing this content by appending a [humor] disclaimer to said content literally treats violence targeting women as a joke.

The coalition applauded the changes Facebook outlined on Tuesday, saying that its latest move is in line with the company's prior history in battling hate speech:

Facebook has already been a leader on the internet in addressing hate speech on its service. We believe that this is the foundation for an effective working collaboration designed to confront gender-based hate speech effectively. Our mutual intent is to create safe spaces, both on and off-line. We see this as a vital and essential component to the valuable work that Facebook is doing to address cyber-bulling, harassment and real harm.

This is a good move on Facebook's part.

I'm glad to hear that the company plans to get less muddled when it comes to differentiating between violent, hateful content and that which constitutes justifiable free expression.

I'm glad that this has resulted in some truly offensive content getting fly-kicked right to the curb.


Image of like button courtesy of Shutterstock.

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8 Responses to Facebook kicks out rape jokes and gender hate speech

  1. NoSpin1600 · 426 days ago

    Not sure why it took them this long to remove such content. I am all for freedom of speech but when you spew hate and glorify rape etc I think you loose that freedom.

    • Anonymouse · 426 days ago

      You cannot be for freedom of speech AND censorship. There is no gray area. You can be for people getting kicked off if the facebook gods deem it offensive. Just dont confuse the two.

      • spidersilk · 423 days ago

        A private company deciding not to be a free platform for hate speech is not "censorship". Facebook is a private company, not a public service or governmental body. They don't make laws, jail people, or in any other way have the power to completely stop people from saying specific things - but they do have the right, as any company does, to decide what services they will and will not offer and what the terms of use for those services will be.

        A social media company deciding that they do not want users to use their service to promote hate is not fundamentally different from a software company stating they don't want users to make copies of their software for all their friends (though both may be difficult to effectively enforce). Yet somehow, you rarely hear people screaming "censorship" over the latter...

        • Anonymouse · 422 days ago

          You obviously missed the point of what i was saying. Yes, Facebook, and for that matter, and privately owned public forum has the right to censor anyone for any reason they like. But you cannot in the same breath say that you are for Freedom Of Speech and then talk about censorship. Thats all i was saying

  2. Well done to Facebook I have to say they really are the leading internet company when it comes to combating hate speech...

    Now if only they could get rid of the likes of Dead Baby Jokes

  3. CD1 · 425 days ago

    It's a fantastic step. Good for everyone involved. Women should not be subjected to such crap, and chipping away at every bit of ignorance makes it that much easier for understanding to spread. Violence to women is not funny, and has been too much of the culture for too long to be unnecessarily tolerated. You have to get rid of the mass of twisted, matted weeds before good crops can grow.

    However, is anyone else disgusted it took open action and a threat to Facebook's collective wallet before they took action?

    I'm wondering when they'll start taking down pages made to attack people and phony accounts purporting to be those people. I have two pages specifically in mind, which have been reported to FB multiple times (particularly the second). The first is still up, the second was taken down, then another put up by the exact same accounts with the exact same material. (But it has the word 'truth' in the name now! That makes it all better.)

  4. politicarl · 425 days ago

    There is no reason any hate speech of any type should be tolerated anywhere, let alone enabled and facilitated. It's sad and disgusting that it has taken FB so long to realize, even after being told so often by so many, that what they have been allowing has been inappropriate, offensive and endangering to others - females in particular in this instance, including children.

    They seem to be making progress, but they still have a long ways to go. ALL humans are worthy of kind and caring consideration and treatment. The same goes for all animals. And, while I'm at it, the same goes for all living beings, including Mother Earth.

  5. herzco · 423 days ago

    "Update training for the teams that review and evaluate reports of hateful speech or harmful content on Facebook"

    Kind of amazing that they need to be TRAINED to recognize what is hateful or harmful speech....

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.