Following fantastic campaigning by Everyday Sexism and Women, Action and the Media, Facebook has released a statement which – at first glance – seems to indicate that they’re going to address the issue of content that advocates or celebrates violence against women.
Let’s not be too quick to thank Facebook for their action.
Firstly, we’re not sure what the action is, or to what it will be applied. Facebook’s statement leaves “hate” fuzzily undefined unless actionable, leaving broad images or “jokes” aimed at encouraging violence against women in a broad sense still languishing in a grey area:
“We define harmful content as anything organizing real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual”
In other words, Facebook’s definition of “harmful” is “anything which may result in legal action being taken against Facebook.
“While there is no universally accepted definition of hate speech, as a platform we define the term to mean direct and serious attacks on any protected category of people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease. We work hard to remove hate speech quickly, however there are instances of offensive content, including distasteful humor, that are not hate speech according to our definition”
Quite how the poster advising one to rape a deaf girl, then break her fingers so she can’t tell anyone falls OUTSIDE this definition is beyond me, yet it has. I suspect that sort of content does render Facebook in breach of the laws of various countries, and that this is the issue they will address.
“In some cases, content is not being removed as quickly as we want.”
In many cases, content has been examined following complaints, and has been deemed appropriate and left up quite deliberately (see Facebook’s screen-cappped responses to complaints – and warning, there’s some horrific pictures on this page – on WomenActionMedia’s page).
At the forefront of Facebook’s promise to do better is the statement:
“we will solicit feedback from legal experts”
… and my guess is that this lies at the heart of the changes FB intends to make.
In short, what Facebook seems to be most worried about is either being held to account legally by the individuals or groups of people depicted in the hate content; OR (more worryingly for them) being held legally to account for any associated brand damage done to the businesses which advertise with Facebook, whose adverts appear on hate pages as well as any other page.
The way Facebook serves adverts, the ads which appear depend on the viewer, not necessarily on the page they are viewing, and this means your best beloved supermarket turns up next to pro rape content if you go looking for that stuff (and we do, and we should, because we want it ended).
I imagine there has been a ferocious legal scramble in the last few days at a number of companies in connection with this issue, and this is the outcome.
My theory is backed up by Facebook’s fourth action point:
“We will increase the accountability of the creators of content”
I bet you will.
Unless it already exists, I expect to see an update to Facebook’s T&C specifying that any financial damages FB finds itself liable for as a result of your content, will be considered YOUR legal liability, very shortly.
Massive thanks to both Everyday Sexism and Women, Action and the Media for their campaigning on this issue – that there is movement is the direct result of their, and all campaigners work on this. But let’s give credit where it’s due: Facebook does not deserve our thanks.