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Facebook to crack down on anti-women hate speech after boycott

Facebook to crack down on anti-women hate speech after boycott
(Karen Bleier / AFP / Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Facebook Inc. said it would make a greater effort to identify and remove hate speech after a group of protesters convinced more than a dozen advertisers to boycott the giant social network unless it cracked down on content that encourages violence against women.

Facebook said it would review how it evaluates reports of hate speech and improve training for online moderators. The Menlo Park, Calif., company said it would also pay closer attention to “cruel or insensitive” content even if it does not technically qualify as hate speech.

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Facebook is overwhelmingly popular with women. More than half of Facebook users are women.

Women, Action, and the Media, a group that focuses on gender bias, and other activists wrote an open letter to Facebook last week complaining about disturbing content on the service. They pointed to pages with titles such as “Kicking your girlfriend in the fanny because she won’t make you a sandwich” and “Violently raping your friend just for laughs” and photographs of women bruised, tied up and bleeding with captions such as “Next time don’t get pregnant.”

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Women, Action, and the Media called on Facebook in the open letter to take action against “groups, pages and images that explicitly condone or encourage rape or domestic violence or suggest that they are something to laugh or boast about.”

Following the open letter, people sent more than 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails and the coalition grew to more than 100 women and social justice organizations, Women, Action, and the Media said. In addition, 15 companies including Nissan UK pulled their advertising, it said.

Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action, and the Media, said in a statement: “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.”

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The uproar over hate speech underscores the challenges faced by Internet companies that espouse freedom of expression and rely on huge volumes of user-generated content. Facebook has guidelines that ban harmful content and hate speech but largely relies on user complaints to monitor activity on the site.

Facebook said it plans to take the problem of “gender-based hate” seriously.

“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,” the company said. “We need to do better –- and we will.”

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