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Facebook backs down on anti-women 'hate speech' posts

Facebook said its systems to remove hate speech had failed and it is changing its policy on posts and images that glorify rape, after pressure from advertisers and campaigners.


Facebook groups with names such as "violently raping your friend just for laughs" and "kicking your girlfriend in the fanny because she won't make you a sandwich," are just some of those highlighted by the campaign urging action from Facebook.

The company held firm for one week, but has now said that it will train its team of reviewers and refer them to guidance from women's groups when monitoring contentious hate-speech.

Our defense of freedom of expression should never be interpreted as license to bully, harass, abuse or threaten violence - Facebook

The decision follows a huge online campaign led by women's rights activists that racked up over 5,000 emails to Facebook's advertisers and 60,000 posts on Twitter - and led to 15 companies including Nissan and Nationwide, withdrawing their advertising.

A petition on also garnered more than 224,000 signatures and the protest hashtag #FBrape was mentioned in tens of thousands of tweets to Facebook advertisers.

After mounting criticism, Facebook put out a statement on Tuesday night signalling a change in its approach.

The company said its "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 a blog post, Facebook said it would make users more accountable for creating "cruel or insensitive" content, set up direct lines of communication with women's rights groups and evaluate guidelines for content moderators.

VIDEO: Is Facebook a news provider, or social network?

Targeted adverts

Facebook has been criticised for controversial content in the past, but this time campaigners targeted advertisers by posting screengrabs of offensive content next to companies' adverts, including for Nissan, Nationwide and Uniler's Dove products.

In total 15 companies withdrew advertising within days of the campaign beginning.

Facebook's moderation terms recently came under scrutiny after Channel 4 News reported the company's refusal to take down a four minute video showing a violent attack on a distressed infant. Facebook said the video did not breach its own rules, and compared itself to news providers which at times, show graphic images.

In its statement on removing content that makes light of violence against women, Facebook said: "We've also found that posting insensitive or cruel content often results in many more people denouncing it than supporting it on Facebook.

"That being said, we realise that our defense of freedom of expression should never be interpreted as license to bully, harass, abuse or threaten violence."

'Tipping point'

The campaign against misogynistic content was led by Women, Action and the Media (WAM), the Everyday Sexism Project and women's activist Soraya Chemaly, who published an open letter asking Facebook executives to "ban gender-based hate speech on your site."

In a statement, WAM welcomed Facebook's decision, saying it "has admirably done more than most other companies to address this topic in regards to content policy". The group has been asked to advise on Facebook's future decisions on sexist content.

"We are reaching an international tipping point in attitudes towards rape and violence against women," said Jaclyn Friedman, WAM executive director. "We hope that this effort stands as a testament to the power of collaborative action."

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project added: "We have been inspired and moved beyond expression by the outpouring of energy, creativity and support for this campaign from communities, companies and individuals around the world. It is a testament to the strength of public feeling behind these issues."

A testament too, given the success of this one-week campaign, to the power of users of social media sites to influence how those sites behave by lobbying their advertisers.