Facebook finally agrees to remove posts that celebrate violence against women

As noted by Jill, thanks are owed to Women, Action, and the Media; the Everyday Sexism Project; and Soraya Chemaly, as Facebook has agreed to remove the kind of content that celebrates violence against women and has been heretofore brushed off as “crude humor.”

From Facebook’s statement:

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 In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria. We have been working over the past several months to improve our systems to respond to reports of violations, but the guidelines used by these systems have failed to capture all the content that violates our standards. We need to do better — and we will.

The full statement is much longer than this excerpt and should be read in full, if you have the time, for a clearer look at Facebook’s stated position on hateful content and content moderation. The steps they plan to take, effective immediately, include reviewing and updating their operations team’s guidelines for hate speech, educating their teams to review and evaluate hateful content, increase accountability of creators of “cruel or insensitive” content (that does not qualify as hate speech), and establish lines of communication with and between women’s groups and national and international working groups to better understand and address the impact of online hate speech.

As an interesting resource, last February Gawker posted guidelines provided by Facebook to its content moderation teams for identifying objectionable content. Leaked by a disgruntled employee, the “Abuse Standards Violations” include the prohibitions of “naked ‘private parts’ including female nipple bulges” that have gotten breastfeeding pictures removed and posting privileges revoked.

The “Hate Content” standards specifically prohibit racial slurs, “photos comparing two people side by side,” and photos of unconscious people with things drawn on their faces, and their “Graphic Content” standards specifically prohibit photos of mutilated people or animals, photos of ear wax (I’m quite serious), and “crushed heads” if the innards show; but while said standards also ban “content showing Poster’s delight in … violence against humans or animals for sadistic purposes” and “violent speech,” apparently photos depicting abused women and speech extolling what has been and should be done to them still make the cut. (Forbidden, however: “Blatant (obvious) depiction of camel toes and moose knuckles.”)

Contractors all over the world (the leaker worked in Morocco for a California-based company) work for $1 an hour plus commissions to review reported content.

Obviously, that documentation gets far more specific than the standard Facebook Community Standards, and updates to that documentation have been marked “Proprietary and Confidential”. If will be interesting to see how much transparency is involved in Facebook’s review and implementation of policy.

Congratulations again to WAM! and partners.

[h/t ThinkProgress.]

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52 Responses

  1. Wordwizard
    Wordwizard May 30, 2013 at 12:18 am |

    Breastfeeding pictures? Crushed heads ONLY if you can see the insides? Sounds as if there are still a few problems here….

  2. Gerry Dorrian
    Gerry Dorrian May 30, 2013 at 12:45 am |

    Brilliant news – well done! One note of caution – if the job of removing this content once identified is farmed out to people earning buttons in cultures that themselves are lax in affirming human rights, it might not translate into such a big victory.

    1. rain
      rain May 30, 2013 at 7:42 am |

      cultures that themselves are lax in affirming human rights,

      Which cultures would/wouldn’t* make the cut?

      *pick whichever option makes a shorter list. If they’re both long, maybe a few examples of what kinds of people we can just write off as incapable of enforcing these new guidelines would suffice.

      1. Li
        Li May 30, 2013 at 7:58 am |

        I am pretty sure we are having this discussion because of white USian’s laxity at dealing with gender-based hate speech. So let’s start by ruling them out.

    2. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune May 30, 2013 at 10:00 am |

      is farmed out to people earning buttons in cultures that themselves are lax in affirming human rights

      Yes. Those people. How uncivilised and eager to hate they are. Not at all like that bastion of peace, equality, freedom and civilisation, the US, where this offensive content is coming from in the first place.

    3. Alara Rogers
      Alara Rogers May 30, 2013 at 10:34 am |

      I actually suspect that people whose primary language isn’t the language of the posts in question would be much better at identifying and removing the posts in question, regardless of their nation’s stand on women’s rights.

      If you aren’t a native speaker, you identify content algorithmically, by following the rules. Following the rules gets you paid. You don’t have motivation to say “Oh, hey, funny joke! Come on, that’s obviously a joke and not hate speech, let’s give the guy a break,” because you’ve identified it as potential hate speech before you’ve translated the joke.

      Also, many nations that actually have much worse records than the US when it comes to women’s rights have much stricter taboos about displaying women in a violent or sexual context, so regardless of how likely it is that they would shrug if the guy down the street was beating his own wife, they are more likely to recognize that a picture of a beaten woman is taboo. In the US, there is almost a culture of “if you don’t have the nerve to do it at least you have the nerve to say it” about promoting shocking speech and imagery.

      And, as other posters have pointed out… nations like the US that are ostensibly in favor of women’s rights are where the content is *coming* from. So actually people from almost any other culture, with the exception of England/Australia/Canada (fellow English speakers with similar enough dialect that the jokes translate easily), would be better, because they will not identify with the posters… they’ll identify with the expressed desires of their bosses. That isn’t *their* pals posting violent pictures on Facebook, that’s those depraved people over in America. The exact same ethnocentrism that led you to make this comment in the first place will be why this will work better; everyone wants to think those other guys are bad, and everyone will find the mote in the other guy’s eye faster than the plank in their own.

      Now, there are misogynistic “jokes” that I doubt a non-native speaker would necessarily catch on to, particularly if they’re centered around internet culture; the cartoon where a man posts an object and a woman posts a picture of herself mostly blocking the view of the object she’s ostensibly posting a picture of comes to mind. But Facebook isn’t likely to consider that hate speech anyway.

  3. foxy
    foxy May 30, 2013 at 6:08 am |

    Facebook conveniently outsources moderating to developing countries.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune May 30, 2013 at 10:50 am |

      Developing countries feel relieved that at last there’s one outflow of American shit they get to stuff back into the assholes of the country.

      1. Milquetoast
        Milquetoast May 30, 2013 at 12:24 pm |

        Macavitykitsune: I live in South America, so I’ll start wagging my finger at us all down here to start the shame party. Truly, we’ve skated on this issue for too long.

      2. Tim
        Tim May 31, 2013 at 11:21 am |

        SNARFLOLSOB! mac ftw would you like your Internetz gift wrapped? Express or regular shipping?

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 31, 2013 at 7:10 pm |

          Wrapped in a naan and filled with panneer tikka, please <3

  4. BabyRaptor
    BabyRaptor May 30, 2013 at 8:04 am |

    I wonder if bigotry aimed at non-heterosexuals will be removed under the same rules?

    I also wonder how long it’ll be before one of these posts gets removed and the OP starts whining that Facebook is “violating their freedom of religion” and then it gets put back.

    1. Lolagirl
      Lolagirl May 30, 2013 at 12:56 pm |

      Judging by the way they have handled the controversy over deleting photos of breastfeeding babies? I doubt they will bother with apologizing, backtracking or rescinding such a deletion.

      Although who knows, the way that this country bows down to religious pressure is likely the reason the folks at Facebook get the vapors whenever someone posts something so horrible as a photo of them breastfeeding their kid. Because it is preposterous that they get so ridiculous about breastfeeding and yet had to be publicly shamed at length regarding the violence against women issues. I mean, talk about screwed up priorities, breastfeeding, let’s all freak the fuck out! Meh, people posting rape apologia and graphic depictions of violence, what’s the big deal?!

  5. thinksnake
    thinksnake May 30, 2013 at 8:16 am |

    While it’s nice to see them saying this, I’ll believe it when things actually start to change. Given how poorly facebook enforces its guidelines on matters already explicitly covered (eg racial vilification) I’m not going to hold my breath.

  6. pheenobarbidoll
    pheenobarbidoll May 30, 2013 at 1:48 pm |

    Have any of you read the rant that was circulating for a while by a Facebook mod who basically blamed everyone who reported offensive pictures or hate speech for allowing child molesters to get away with molesting children because he had to take care out our “petty” fee fee’s instead of getting reports when little girls post about their abuse on Facebook?

    http://theinternetoffendsme.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/the-real-story-behind-facebook-moderation-and-your-petty-reports/

    1. yes
      yes May 30, 2013 at 11:15 pm |

      1) The writer is female. I know, it takes away some rhetorical shorthand, but that’s life.

      2) The actual list of examples of “bullshit” she is irritated by is the following:

      “I don’t believe in this coin. It goes against what I believe in.”
      “This fish doesn’t look like a fish, it looks like a man’s private parts, and I have small children around me during the day.”
      “I saw this on my feed and I do not approve please take it off.”
      “This page shared my picture without credit or permission.”
      “Can you remove this picture I don’t like it.”
      This is not true, my God would never let this happen.

      Now granted, “I do not approve of this” and “I don’t like it” might describe hate speech. But milking that out of what is actually written lies somewhere between projecting and creative writing.

      1. pheenobarbidoll
        pheenobarbidoll May 31, 2013 at 12:45 pm |

        The first 2 are obvious crap (as is the my god would never let this happen which is just…bizarre) but just what do you people think Facebook mods hold as petty about “I saw this on my feed and I do not approve please take it off.”, “This page shared my picture without credit or permission”(rampant among people who take images of women without permission) and “Can you remove this picture I don’t like it.” mean given the fact we’re discussing Facebooks resistance to removing images/posts that celebrate violence against women, sexism, racism etc? It’s pretty clear that up until now, they did NOT view these things as offenses worthy of action. But somehow, this particular mod is unique? Sure. If you say so.

        At any rate, it’s still not the weird coin haters fault a sexual assault wasn’t prevented. And had the weird coin hater reported a legitimate problem, that legit problem would still have buried the child’s report in the same manner.

        How else am I supposed to read ” I can’t deal with important issues because all of your silly issues” when until very recently, sexism and racism were considered silly issues according to Facebook?

        1. amblingalong@gmail
          amblingalong@gmail May 31, 2013 at 4:31 pm |

          Might want to call your local football team- I hear they’re looking for an expert at shifting goalposts.

        2. pheenobarbidoll
          pheenobarbidoll May 31, 2013 at 6:38 pm |

          I’m sorry ambling, my basic point is this (since you’re so concerned…..maybe you have an emotional vendetta? hmm?) The writer blames people who report shit they don’t like on Facebook for her inability to report important things like child molestation. Given this is FACEBOOK, notorious for not giving a fuck about sexism/racism, I’ve no damn reason to believe legitimate complaints about sexism/racism are not included under her label of ” petty silly shit”. You are free to give her the benefit of the doubt, and I am free to withhold it.

        3. yes
          yes June 1, 2013 at 3:31 am |

          YOU were discussing Facebook’s resistance to removing those things. She was not. You projected that onto her rant, deciding that she must have been talking about racism, sexism, and abusive posts when she complained about petty complaints. That’s on you.

        4. Leah
          Leah June 2, 2013 at 6:31 pm |

          I had the same reaction at first, but scrolling through some of these facebook posts has given me hope that this person – whoever she may be – is actually on the right track Re: the disgusting things that get to stay up while harmless things like breastfeeding photos are removed. The complaints she ridicules are indeed the silly ones, and the complaints she seems concerned about are indeed the violent, sexist ones.

          TRIGGER WARNING for rape apologia:

          A user posted a screen cap of a disgusting picture that she reported, showing that a Facebook mod ruled “The picture doesn’t violate Facebook’s Community Standard on hate speech” and declined to remove the photo. The photo was a picture of a woman with tape over her mouth, and it said: “Don’t wrap it and tap it, tape her and rape her.”

          The user asked: “I get banned for posting a professional image of a model wearing nipple pasties, this is allowed to stay. Really?!”

          The admin of “The Internet Offends Me” responded in kind:
          “It still up? Anyone got a current link? I’ll be glad to take this down. They remove photos of children for far lesser reasons than this. Unfortunately, this would be low on the level of horrors I see relating to children in private groups that just go on and on unless some drama ensues inside one and inspires someone to report. To be honest I *hate* pages that get their likes from shock humor. It’s their right and I don’t infringe upon them or use personal bias when determining reports or bans. But whenever I happen to find one of these types who have weaseled into my group under the guise or poor innocent me when they are doing shit like this for likes, they get a forceful ejection. I won’t waste my time on helping idiots get likes based on pushing freedom of speech to it’s limits. Someone else might, but I never will.”

          The photo has been removed now. You can see the exchange under the “Recent posts by others” section at https://www.facebook.com/TheInternetOffendsMe

          (I’m not sure how to link directly to it, but you can scroll until you see the user name “Bekah TwistedPix Baker”)

      2. pheenobarbidoll
        pheenobarbidoll May 31, 2013 at 6:42 pm |

        1) The writer is female. I know, it takes away some rhetorical shorthand, but that’s life.

        Don’t care. Sorry if that messes up your implication that I’m a man hater, but even women are guilty of sexism. So, the sex of the author really doesn’t factor into any of the issues I have with the rant. I know, it takes away some rhetorical shorthand, but that’s life

        1. yes
          yes June 1, 2013 at 3:26 am |

          I’m aware women are guilty of sexism, thank you for that profound insight. The thing is, you misgendered someone by just assuming that a person in an internet-related field would be male, rather than actually checking. That’s the sort of sexist assumption that gets called out in feminist spaces. Tough.

          Maybe you only did this because of your own unconscious prejudice against women, or maybe you were just evoking the “dudebro(tm) says ladies are too sensitive” shorthand. I gave you the benefit of the doubt and assumed the latter.

      3. amblingalong
        amblingalong May 31, 2013 at 10:32 pm |

        You are free to give her the benefit of the doubt, and I am free to withhold it.

        So in summary, no, you do not understand how radically different

        a Facebook mod basically blamed everyone who reported offensive pictures or hate speech

        and

        I have zero faith we’re also not included in the “petty people reporting stuff” category.

        I’m not sure this conversation is worth continuing; if that truly eludes your grasp, this probably won’t be productive.

        1. amblingalong
          amblingalong May 31, 2013 at 10:34 pm |

          Is the difference between “John robbed a bank last Sunday” and “John said he did something fun last Sunday, and I have no reason to believe it wasn’t robbing a bank” similarly incomprehensible?

    2. rain
      rain May 31, 2013 at 1:15 pm |

      What gets me about that rant is that, faced with work overload, she went straight to “because people complain too much about trivial things”, rather than “company with net income of $64 million in the last quarter of 2012 can well afford to hire enough people to handle the workload.” This is a problem for Facebook management to fix, not all of us petty complainers: either find a better way to filter out what you consider petty complaints, or hire enough people to do the job.

      1. pheenobarbidoll
        pheenobarbidoll May 31, 2013 at 6:39 pm |

        Yup

      2. Mike
        Mike May 31, 2013 at 6:50 pm |

        I’ve often wondered if Facebook actually has a shortage of moderators/administrators or just a very badly designed moderation policy. I know a few legitimate users who get warnings and blocks for spam while actual spammers, filchers, keylog hackers, and cyberbullies go un-adressed.

  7. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve May 30, 2013 at 4:42 pm |

    This is a tough one- a large part of me thinks that these posters should be named and shamed rather than deleted.

    1. rain
      rain May 30, 2013 at 6:57 pm |

      Been done:

      They decided to make these men accountable for their words and to shame them the way they’d shamed the women in the photos. They took the more vocal male members’ Facebook profile photos and captioned them with their vulgar comments. . .

      Facebook’s reaction?

      On May 3, Feminist at Sea reported on her Twitter that she’d been locked out of Facebook for 24 hours for “posting pornography.” . . . Someone had complained and Facebook took swift action. In a hypocritical twist, the men claimed their photos are being critiqued against their will. They reported the action to Facebook, which banned the admins from posting them . . . The feminists were floored. Their initial complaints about the sexist Bra Busters page had gone unanswered, so why were they being banned for retaliating?

      “We have been reporting pornographic pages and pages that advocate violence against women, but they hardly ever get taken down,” they wrote.

    2. Tim
      Tim May 31, 2013 at 11:27 am |

      Also, unfortunately, a lot of these assholes are actually proud of their vileness. The “only real names” policy of Facebook supposedly makes people think before they just whip off something nasty, but it also means that most of the people who do make hateful posts won’t care that much about negative feedback and attention. And some will get positive support from other assholes. I don’t know, but it seems like this is an increasing trend.

  8. Ledasmom
    Ledasmom May 31, 2013 at 11:58 am |

    Being me, I am fighting a terrible temptation to post pictures of camel and moose feet. Blatantly.

    1. Past my expiration date
      Past my expiration date May 31, 2013 at 12:41 pm |

      Pictures of the feet of camels and the feet of mooses?

      1. Ledasmom
        Ledasmom June 1, 2013 at 9:30 am |

        Yes, I believe that Facebook’s standards deserve to be taken literally.
        Besides, moose and camels have awfully cool feet.

        1. Past my expiration date
          Past my expiration date June 1, 2013 at 4:10 pm |

          I agree! And I love the idea. But I am too scared to Google images. :-(

        2. Ledasmom
          Ledasmom June 3, 2013 at 10:42 am |

          Have just googled images. You are right to be scared.
          “Camelid feet” appears fairly safe. “Moose feet” also good. However, each search brought up at least one image of such feet unconnected to the animal; be warned.

  9. Athenia
    Athenia May 31, 2013 at 12:32 pm |

    “Contractors all over the world (the leaker worked in Morocco for a California-based company) work for $1 an hour plus commissions to review reported content.”

    Suddenly, things are starting to make more sense.

  10. Kerplunk
    Kerplunk May 31, 2013 at 12:46 pm |

    I think part of the problem is that there is increasing reliance by internet users on public forums provided by corporations (not just Facebook, but Tumblr, Reddit, and many others). People interact on Facebook and somehow expect it to behave as if it were a public place, when it is a private company with no accountability to the public. They will behave responsibly only if they choose to, and they will choose to only if and when it might affect their bottom line.

    I think it’s up to the public to make these corporations irrelevant by abandoning them in droves, and relying instead on forums created and supported by independent communities (like Feministe).

    There are other places on the internet that host objectionable and hateful content, and that’s terrible too, of course, but they don’t rate as high in our concerns because fewer people pay any attention to them. If Facebook were not treated by us (the public) as such a centerpiece of our internet experience, then what they do would have much less impact on the broader culture. And they would be more likely to scramble to try to address concerns that they can now largely disregard because they are in such a position of strength.

    Many people understand why it’s problematic to support Walmart, but the same people of conscience often have no trouble supporting Facebook and other internet-based corporations.

    1. PrettyAmiable
      PrettyAmiable May 31, 2013 at 1:05 pm |

      Facebook has sweatshops?

      1. Kerplunk
        Kerplunk May 31, 2013 at 4:59 pm |

        Seriously? You think that sweatshops are the only problem with Walmart? Corporations have their fingers in every corner of society, from shaping the political process to determining what news the public gets to hear to exploiting resources and human beings in every part of the globe. Sweatshops are terrible, but they are a small piece of the damage that corporations inflict on society.

        1. PrettyAmiable
          PrettyAmiable May 31, 2013 at 6:06 pm |

          They’re pretty much the only problem I have with Wal-Mart. And given that it’s a massive human rights violation, and that Facebook is NOT committing a massive human rights violation, I think your analogy is incredibly tortured.

          Torture! Something Wal-Mart does, but Facebook (AFAIK) does not.

      2. Kerplunk
        Kerplunk May 31, 2013 at 7:29 pm |

        I’m sorry, I assumed that readers of this site were not completely unaware of the broader issues that create the terrible conditions of our massively unjust world. But if, as you say, you only care about sweatshops, then your concerns for the world’s well-being are extremely narrow.

        In any case, this very post says that Facebook pays $1 an hour to people who check on complaints. So — surprise! — it actually does have sweatshops.

        (Also, it hasn’t been called Wal-Mart for quite a few years. The name of the company is now Walmart.)

        1. PrettyAmiable
          PrettyAmiable June 1, 2013 at 12:28 am |

          I would think people who read this site would understand that low wages =/= sweat shop, but it looks like I’ve been similarly disappointed.

          (And good news! Their latest press release filed with the SEC refers to them as both “Wal-Mart Stores Inc,” and “Walmart,” so maybe you should try your condescending bullshit with someone who’s illiterate.)

  11. Mike
    Mike May 31, 2013 at 4:41 pm |

    I think part of the answer is to repeal/modify the stupid obscenity laws that make Facebook afraid of getting sued for having a breastfeeding picture.

    1. Mike
      Mike May 31, 2013 at 4:46 pm |

      I agree with the idea of removing clear hate speech, but the way Facebook goes about moderating, from personal experience, makes very little sense, and I think this policy will not be enforced correctly or fairly…Facebook does not need more moderation by automated systems or people in other countries who may not get American cultural humor.

      1. Rhoanna
        Rhoanna June 1, 2013 at 9:17 am |

        Facebook does not need more moderation by automated systems or people in other countries who may not get American cultural humor.

        Facebook, while an American company, doesn’t not have only American users, and hasn’t since 2005. With Facebook having 1.1 billion active users, Americans are in fact a minority there.

        Facebook might need culturally-aware moderates, but it’s not just American culture that they’d need to be aware of.

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