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Facebook will now remove coordinated efforts to harass or silence public figures

Facebook expands its harassment policies to cover journalists and activists following damning revelations from a whistleblower.

Credit: Unsplash

Facebook will now remove ‘coordinated mass harassment’ and ‘severe sexualizing content’ targeting public figures from its platform, Antigone Davis, global head of safety at Facebook, said in a blog post on October 13.

Facebook has been criticised recently for having a different set of standards for high-profile users. While these new policies might offer much-needed protection from harm to public figures, they also further distinguish between high-profile users and ordinary users on Facebook.

What new protections has Facebook announced for public figures?

Here are the types of content Facebook will now remove from its platform:

Coordinated Mass Harassment: Facebook will now remove posts and accounts that contribute to co-ordinated mass harassment, even if they don’t violate the company’s content policies:

  • Coordinated efforts of mass harassment that target individuals at heightened risk of offline harm
  • State-linked and adversarial networks of accounts, Pages and Groups that work together to harass or silence people

Sexual content: To further protect public figures on the platform from sexual harassment, the company will remove ‘severe sexualizing content’ from the platform:

  • Profiles, Pages, Groups or Events dedicated to sexualising the public figure
  • Derogatory, sexualised photoshopped images and drawings
  • Attacks through negative physical descriptions that are mentioned, or posted on the public figure’s account
  • Degrading content depicting individuals in the process of bodily functions

What other policies does Facebook have to prevent harm to public figures?

Here is the additional content from which public figures are explicitly protected under Facebook’s community standards for bullying and harassment:

  • For adults:
    • Calls for death, or to contract or develop a medical condition.
    • Claims about sexually transmitted diseases
    • Female-gendered cursing terms when used in a derogatory way.
    • Content that praises, celebrates or mocks their death or medical condition.
  • For minors:
    • Comparisons to animals or insects that are culturally perceived as intellectually or physically inferior or to an inanimate object (“cow”, “monkey”, “potato”).
    • Content manipulated to highlight, circle or otherwise negatively draw attention to specific physical characteristics (nose, ear and so on).

Aside from these, many other protections in the policy are generally applicable to both private individuals and public figures.

How does Facebook treat high-profile users differently?

While the protections for public figures might be warranted, Facebook uses this distinction between ordinary users and public figures for other, less justifiable purposes.

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Facebook’s confidential 2019 internal review of the company’s whitelisting practices recounted multiple instances where public figures were treated differently when found in violation of the company’s guidelines, Wall Street Journal reported:

  • Sexual Harassment: In some instances, posts from whitelisted users that amounted to harassment were left unchecked. Facebook’s policy on non-consensual intimate imagery is straightforward: that it should be deleted, and users who post such imagery immediately banned. Exceptions to this policy were made for high-profile users, the Wall Street Journal said.
  • Incitement to Violence: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Donald Trump posted on Facebook in May 2020. An automated system designed to detect whether a post violated company policy had scored Trump’s post 90 out of 100, indicating a high likelihood of a violation. The post, however, was allowed to remain on the platform.

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Written By

Reporter at MediaNama. Email: nishant@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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