Facebook moves to update guidelines in face of advertiser backlash

Facebook: reviews its measures to identify and remove hate speech
Facebook: reviews its measures to identify and remove hate speech

Facebook has admitted its systems to identify and remove hate speech have "failed to work as effectively as we would like" and has moved to review guidelines and update training in the face of a social media backlash.

The social networking giant is implementing a range of changes in response to a hard-hitting campaign against gender-based hate speech, which has led to brands including Nationwide and Nissan pulling their advertising from the social network.

These moves include increasing the accountability of creators of content on Facebook. The social network has revealed that a few months ago, it began testing a new requirement that the creator of any content containing cruel or insensitive humour to include his or her authentic identity. In short, users will no longer be able to hide behind the cloak of anonymity in order to post cruel, insensitive or simply disturbing content.

In addition, Facebook is reviewing and updating its guidelines, and reviewing and updating the training for teams that evaluate reports of hate speech and harmful content. It will be working closely with campaigning groups including The Everyday Sexism Project and Women Action and the Media.

Campaigner Soraya Chemaly said "We felt it was necessary to take these actions and press for that commitment to fully recognise how the real world safety gap experienced by women globally is dynamically related to our online lives'.

The social network has faced a torrent of pressure from campaigning groups, advertisers, consumers and industry bodies, following the publication of an open letter calling on them to step up their moderation of gender-based hate speech. More than 57,000 tweets have been sent under the hashtag #fbrape. An online petition supporting the campaign has gathered more than 200,000 signatures.

Facebook's move marks a shift in strategy at the social network, which had focused its response to the campaign on the notion that Facebook ads target users not content, and that freedom of speech is paramount.

However, In a statement, the social network said: "We realise that our defense of freedom of expression should never be interpreted as license to bully harass abuse or threaten violence. We are committed to working to ensure that this does not happen within the Facebook community."

Dove last week found itself at the epicentre of the consumer backlash, after declaring that Facebook advertising targets people not pages, a distinction that many brands have rolled out as an excuse for their advertising appearing next to explicit content.

It has since revised this approach and declared it is now "working aggressively with Facebook to resolve the issue".

The argument that Facebook targets people not pages has been used by a number of brands in an attempt to remove any culpability for the placement of their ads.

Procter & Gamble repeated this sentiment, while shoe retailer Zappos.com told a consumer complaining about offensive content that, "The ads on the right-hand side are completely separate from the content your friend sees in the newsfeed. We don’t condone any form of abuse and we would recommend passing this link on how to report it to your friend.’

However, campaigners argued that this approach was simply not good enough, that consumers didn't make these distinctions, and that brands were attempting to duck the issue.

This is not the first time that Facebook has been under fire for explicit, disturbing and violent content objectifying or threatening women. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s very first itineration of Facebook, a site entitled Facemash, was viewed by contemporaries as fundamentally sexist. The site, which let students select the best-looking person from a choice of photos, was heavily criticised by contemporaries as inappropriate.

The debacle will do little to quell marketing directors’ fears that there remains something of the Wild West in social media advertising.

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