Facebook to work with women’s rights activists on content

By Anne Collier

Last week activists Soraya Chemaly, Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project, and Jaclyn Friedman of Women, Action & the Media (WAM!) published in the Huffington Post “An Open Letter to Facebook” about depictions of violence against girls and women posted on the site. This week Facebook responded with some substantive promises, some based on an ongoing review of hate speech policy and some specifically responding to the open letter.

The open letter, which was signed by dozens of fellow activists and organizations and represents a growing coalition of social justice organizations, called on Facebook to recognize any content that “trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech,” to make a commitment not [to] tolerate this content,” to train staff “to recognize and remove gender-based hate speech [and] … understand how online harassment differently affects women and men.”

Two new promises from Facebook that appear to be a direct result of that effort are a promise to “establish more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working in this area” (joining other activist groups in dialogue with Facebook) and to “encourage the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Cyberhate Working Group … to include representatives of the women’s coalition to identify 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.” This is digital-age safety and social engagement in action, a great topic for classroom and dinner-table discussions aimed at media literacy and digital citizenship. [Stay tuned for more on the Anti-Cyberhate Working Group.]

For disclosure, as co-director of ConnectSafely.org, I’m a member of Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board.

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  • WAM!’s statement about the development included: “We are pleased to announce that Facebook has responded with a important commitment to refine its approach to hate speech…. 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.”
  • About pro- and anti-social media companies in bottom-up, user-driven, networked age (see also this)

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