Facebook to update guidelines following gender hate criticism

Facebook has agreed to review and update its guidelines for evaluating reports of hate speech on the site following strong criticism from women's groups.

The social network group was rapped by Women, Action and the Media (WAM!), The Everyday Sexism Project, and author-activist Soraya Chemaly for not doing enough to remove groups, pages and images that "explicitly condone or encourage rape or domestic violence or suggest that they are something to laugh or boast about".

They expressed disgust over pages that appeared on the site called "Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus" and "Kicking your Girlfriend in the F**** because she won't make you a Sandwich", as well as photographs of women beaten and bruised with captions suggesting they had deserved it.

In an open letter to the site, WAM! said: "These pages and images are approved by your moderators, while you regularly remove content such as pictures of women breastfeeding, women post-mastectomy and artistic representations of women's bodies.

"In addition, women's political speech, involving the use of their bodies in non-sexualized ways for protest, is regularly banned as pornographic, while pornographic content – prohibited by your own guidelines – remains.

"It appears that Facebook considers violence against women to be less offensive than non-violent images of women's bodies, and that the only acceptable representation of women's nudity are those in which women appear as sex objects or the victims of abuse.

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

In response, Facebook said its 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 In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria," said Marne Levine, Vice President of Global Public Policy.

"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."

In addition to reviewing the way it evaluates reports of violations around hate speech, Facebook has promised to work with women's groups and increase user accountability.

WAM welcomed the response and said it would work closely with Facebook to ensure best practice.

Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women Action and the Media (WAM!), said: "We are reaching an international tipping point in attitudes towards rape and violence against women. We hope that this effort stands as a testament to the power of collaborative action."

The response from Facebook has also been welcomed by Facebook users. Petra von Schalien wrote: " About time, well done." Julie Tomlinson said: "This is a great starting point. Please give us on-going accounts of your progress."

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