Facebook explains policy on hate speech and other harmful content

Facebook has shared an explanation of how it defines hate speech and harmful content, as well as its plans to address the issues of cruel and insensitive content on the site, following challenges from Women, Action and The Media, the Everyday Sexism Project and a number of activists and organizations calling on the social network to take action against groups, pages and images that condone or encourage rape or domestic violence.

In a note on the Facebook Safety page, Facebook explained that it prohibits content that is “directly harmful,” but it allows content that may be “offensive or controversial.” The company defines harmful content as “anything organizing real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual (e.g. bullying).” Facebook also prohibits “hate speech,” which it defines as “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.”

Facebook says it tries to remove this type of content as soon as possible, but other offensive and distasteful content might not qualify for removal. Still, the company acknowledged:

“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. 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  In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria.”

An open letter to Facebook pointed to pages such as Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus, Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich, Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs, Raping your Girlfriend and others as examples of the type of anti-women pages that exist on the site, while pictures of women breastfeeding, women post-mastectomy and artistic representations of women’s bodies are often flagged and removed. The letter asked Facebook to recognize speech that trivializes or glorifies violence against women as hate speech and to train moderators to remove it. The organizations even called for advertisers to boycott Facebook if their ads appear next to these pages.

In response, Facebook says it will review and update the guidelines that its user operations team uses to evaluate reports of hate speech. It will work with legal experts and the women’s coalition to review and update its training for the team. The social network says it is looking at ways to increase the accountability of users who share controversial content that might not qualify for removal but may be offensive to others. The company also pledged to establish better lines of communication with women’s groups and encourage the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Cyberhate to include representatives from the women’s coalition.