Hate speech is a hateful thing, there is no doubt about it. On the web it’s all too easy for people to do it anonymously, posing headaches for any site with user-generated content. For Facebook with thousands of employees but half a billion members worldwide, it’s a particularly big challenge.
There have been problems before and the site came under fire in Australia earlier this year after hateful comments were posted on tribute pages for dead children. Facebook found itself at the center of intense criticism from Australian politicians and media for a perceived failure to act and comment publicly.
But Facebook at least has a fan in the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), which seems to be happy with the way the social networking is working to try to stem the tide of homophobic hate speech.
In the US, the recent tragic spate of suicides by gay teens prompted sympathetic people to set up a tribute page to honor those that took their lives. The page, R.I.P. ;; In memory of the recent suicides due to gay abuse, wear purple, calls on people to wear purple on October 20. Sadly and predictably, the page was attacked with homophobic comments and violent images. Examples of the hate speech includes “god hates f*gs theyre b*tches i hope they all die” and “f*ggots deserve a good old lynching.” Over 1,800 emails were sent to GLAAD calling for Facebook to monitor the content or remove the page altogether.
GLAAD reached out to Facebook on October 6 and the site responded that they would begin to monitor the page closely for violations of their terms of service. A GLAAD blog post informs supporters how they can help, by RSVPing for the event and by reporting any hate speech.
GLAAD has put out a press release lauding Facebook for unspecified “new measures” put in place to respond more quickly to hateful comments on the page.
The GLAAD release quotes Facebook spokesperson Andrew Noyes saying: “Educating people about the lasting and damaging impacts of ignorant and hateful comments is a responsibility shared by parents, educators, organizations like GLAAD, and services like Facebook. We take our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities very seriously and react quickly to reports of inappropriate content and behavior. The goal of these policies is to strike a very delicate balance between giving people the freedom to express their opinions and viewpoints – even those that may be controversial to some – and maintaining a safe and trusted environment. We have policies that prohibit hateful content and we have built a robust reporting infrastructure and an expansive team to review reports and remove content quickly. In addition to responding to reports, we have automated systems that use a number of factors to flag content that might violate our policies, so we can review and take it down as quickly as possible and before it’s reported.”
It’s not clear what the new measures actually are, as the policies and procedures described by Noyes have been in place for some time, and mirror what was described to me by global communications and policy director Debbie Frost in March when the Australian problems were at their peak. But regardless of whether the measures are actually new or just being implemented more quickly and rigorously, it’s good to see that Facebook is taking this seriously.
I’ll be wearing purple next Wednesday.