Sexism campaign: Facebook learns a lesson

Woman looks at social media on smartphone

Facebook, like other web superpowers, has always wanted to be seen as a technology business, not a media player. That's because media companies, which control their own content, are under the spotlight from regulators, politicians and advertisers.

But overnight the company has had to respond to a campaign by women's rights groups, angry about its apparent tolerance of misogynistic hate speech on the site. Facebook has been forced to face facts - offensive content posted on its platform will be seen by many as its responsibility and could harm its business.

Facebook's first response to campaigns by people disturbed by hateful material of any kinds on its pages has usually been to point out that it is a self-policing community, with controls that enable users to report offenders against its code.

But now the social network admits that isn't working.

"In recent days, it has become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate."

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Sky, American Express and Dove beauty products are among the brands affected”

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Facebook then outlines a series of moves to shore up those systems. The most significant appears to be an insistence that anyone posting cruel or insensitive humour - not hate speech - has to stand behind that with their own authentic identity so that they can be called out by other users.

Women, Action and the Media, one of the groups which had been calling for action against anti-women hate speech, welcomed Facebook's move, hoping it would mark "an historic transition in relation to media and women's rights".

Last month, the social network removed decapitation videos from the site, after first maintaining that it could not censor material posted by users which gave a view of the "world in which we live".

So, is Facebook growing up, aware at last that it is a media company and has to take responsibility for the content created by its billion or so users?

Maybe, but it is also a business which desperately needs to keep growing its revenue from advertisers. It has been reported that a number of major companies have suspended their advertising after their messages were seen alongside offensive material on Facebook.

The Nationwide Building Society used its Twitter account - @asknationwide - to apologise to those who complained and announce it was suspending advertising. "Our ads target a user's profile based on location, not pages. We'll suspend our ads. Sorry for any upset this has caused," read a series of tweets.

Lessons then, for the social media firm and for those campaigning to force it to change. Facebook has learned that the spotlight on its content will shine ever brighter - and the campaigners have worked out that if you want a speedy response, target the advertisers.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    "Facebook...has always wanted to be seen as a technology business, not a media player."


    What? Not like your page then, Rory, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    PS - Deeply, those figures aren't good, they are appalling.

    And I would encourage anyone to visit the site you linked to, to see what a warped interpretation you have put on something trying to help and educate people in bad situations.

    Derpsworth - your facts are wrong again. Male figures are known and are included in the sites I posted. So I have seen them.

    Goodnight Guys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    You did look it up? then please tell me the stats of violent crime - who seems to be the biggest victim of violent crime? Oh, you could specify the subset of dv where it appears women are the victims (actual male victim numbers are unknown), but then surely if i only counted race-related crime, ethnic minorities would seem the biggest victims

    A: over 75% victims are male

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    @333, anyone can post links to shock sites, but it isn't helpful to this debate. Try the actual facts from government and recognised agencies and evidenced research from academics that I have linked to. This is actual facts on the level of gender violence in the world and in the UK and on how cultural acceptance, like facebook pages allows it to continue.
    At that, I now leave the debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    @335. Examples taken from as examples of DV:

    sexually transmitting diseases
    refusing to give money
    asking for an explanation of how every penny is spent
    making a partner feel unattractive

    Yup, gambling is a form of DV, not irresponsible gambling, just gambling.

    No wonder your stats are so good

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    @329. Actually, I was talking about assault within the home, and my stats did not include that definition.

    I do look things up. Please see govt. figures

    UN stats.

    and the NSPCC

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    i argue with my brother, we raise voices, swear, call names - it's an argument. Do that with the girlfriend and if she wants, it can be called abuse.
    i've thought a car was going to hit me before, it didn't, therefore doesnt count toward rta statistics and i can't have the driver arrested. meanwhile...

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    A 30 second search on Google found this man-hating Tumblr account:

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    What do we think is more likely to happen?

    a) The feminists demand that Tumblr amends its policy so that such overt sexism and hatred are banned even though it is men that are the victims.

    b) This post gets removed?

  • Comment number 332.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    324.Sam and if you overheard someone joking to his/he r friend or overheard a rant, you'd step in also? because obviously you work in future crimes division and you're preventing a crime that hasn't happened.
    or is it that you see the bnp knowing what they're about, you join up, listen to a few speeches, then you get offended by what they're about?

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    "the images on facebook that are being discussed include images of actual abuse"

    They may *include* criminal abuse and also *include* non-criminal political opinions - This would amount to politicaly motivated censorship.

    For instance, the article mentions 'misogynistic hate speech' - which is just speech

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    @326 meanwhile the overwhelming majority of victims of violent crime are male - look it up. Don't act so hard done by as if you narrowly escape assault every time you leave your home because of something on fb.
    and I'm going to get downvoted for this but your "1 in 3" stats include "feeling scared" this is no indication of anything other than a feeling - again sweet fa to do with fb

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    @298 Paul - the images on facebook that are being discussed include images of actual abuse. Pictures of beaten raped and murdered women have posted with joke tag lines and suggestions of how to do the same or why they might have "deserved it" Sadly, it is not a logic fail at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Many people commenting here seem to be doing so largely in ignorance. Take an hour out to research the issue, start on Twitter with the #FBrape hashtag. Your views may change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    @322 This is not to do with anyone's sensibilities. Please see for evidence based research on how "bystanders" trivialising or ignoring a culture of gender violence is a major factor in it continuing.

    Continuing means 2 women a week being murdered by a former or current partner and 1 in 3 women experiencing abuse by a partner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    Whilst I do not condone some FB pages I have to say that if corporates want to be seen on the planet's largest website - they have to take the rough with the smooth. It is the diversity that keeps people there. As soon as is over sanitised, we will all go somewhere else... and I for one can't wait. FB and Google have TOO much control over our daily online lives...

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    I don't buy the "You don't have to look at it so it doesn't matter" argument. If you accidentally came across evidence that a neighbour (male of female, young or old) was being abused, would you avoid walking past their house, or take action? I know what I'd do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    There are far more worse sites out there on the internet that do promote hate speech, violence and sickening images or film than Facebook. Facebook is at least moderated and does respond to public pressure, ultimately it needs to please its customers in order to continue to make money to survive so it will always bow down to pressure. Sites like [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] however are far more harmful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    "sends the general message that this kind of behaviour is acceptable" and this is where you're riling yourself up - as if the inaction is the same as committing the act. there is no green light to do or say illegal things, a welcoming mat for all the disgusting stuff you abhor... there are however block/unfriend/unlike options.
    censorship because your frail sensibilities were hurt? do get lost

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    anotherfakename: nice diversion, but I am speaking specifically about the moderation of content on FB. Facebook regularly remove content which advocates racial or religious violence, and in the past has regularly left content which advocates gendered violence. That is the problem and the protest.


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