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After protesters convinced advertisers to boycott Facebook unless it banned images and content threatening "gender-based violence or hate," the social media giant last week announced it would increase efforts to remove such content. A company-issued blog post in response to the controversy noted that the Facebook hate speech policy and its systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as the company would like. In addition, Facebook announced that it would review how it evaluates reports of hate speech and will improve training for online moderators charged with removing such content.
Facebook to crack down on hate speech lat.ms/11AjAFT— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) May 30, 2013
Groups including Women, Action and the Media and The Everyday Sexism Project led protests that encouraged Facebook advertisers to withdraw their advertisements until what the groups deemed gender-based hate speech was banned from the site. Approximately a dozen companies, including major automotive company Nissan and global health and beauty producer Unilever, agreed to withdraw advertising until Facebook could ensure their ads would not run alongside the unsavory content.
The denizens of Twitter were quick to weigh in on the Facebook hate speech controversy. Many Twitter users praised the protesters and their supporters for the efforts to ban gender-based hate speech on social media.
Others, however, said that Facebook's efforts to crack down on hate speech are a step in the wrong direction and amount to social media censorship.
There is a difference between arguing in favor of hate speech, and not thinking Facebook should be acting as arbiter. Track records matter.— Noah Kantrowitz (@kantrn) May 30, 2013
Facebook and hate speech: The company should not be in the business of censorship. ow.ly/lxQ5W ^sd— Privacy Camp (@PrivacyCamp) May 30, 2013
Facebook acknowledged this difficult balancing act in a blog post, noting that the company often has to make difficult decisions regarding free expression and community respect. The company noted that it prohibits content deemed to be directly harmful, but because Facebook is designed to make the world more "open and connected," it allows content that is offensive or controversial.
Facebook pointed to its "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" that prohibits "hate speech." The company acknowledged that while there is no universally accepted definition of hate speech, Facebook defines 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. This led to more concerns about Facebook's new hate speech policy, with some wondering where (and how) the company would draw the line between freedom of expression and hate speech.
Do you want Facebook to decide what is "hate speech?" FB on the slippery slope of censorship. Big legal exposure. fb.me/2btfiC24r— Robert Tercek (@Superplex) May 31, 2013
Do we really want Facebook to decide what qualifies as hate speech ...: Facebook has admitted that it failed t... bit.ly/15fUOKf— Erik (@ekdeol) May 30, 2013
Facebook promised to continue communications with anti-discrimination groups regarding content that these groups believe violates the social network's hate speech standards. The company also encouraged the Facebook community to provide input as it continues to reevaluate its processes and policies surrounding hate speech.
What do you think? Is Facebook's approach to evaluating its hate speech policy a step in the right direction or a dangerous precedent for censorship of social media content? Voice your concerns in the comments. We'd love to hear from you.