Facebook says it will do more to prevent online hate and harassment


Facebook will expand its harassment policies to remove the most harmful content, the company said in its latest change on Wednesday following testimony in Congress from a whistleblower who criticized the social media giant for not doing enough.

As part of the more detailed new harassment policy, Facebook says it will ban content that degrades or sexualizes public figures, including celebrities, elected officials and others in the public eye. Existing policies already prohibit similar content relating to individuals.

Another change will add more protections against harassment for government dissidents, journalists and human rights activists around the world. In many countries, social media harassment has been used to silence journalists and activists.

Finally, the Menlo Park, Calif., Based company announced that it will ban all coordinated harassment, in which a group of individuals work together to intimidate another user. This change will apply to all users.

Growing reviews

“We don’t allow bullying and harassment on our platform, but when it does, we take action,” Antigone Davis, Facebook’s chief security officer, wrote in a blog post.

The changes come amid growing criticism of the company’s handling of hate speech, disinformation and negative content. Concerns about harassment range from bullying teenagers on Instagram to the coordinated abuse of journalists and dissidents by groups linked to authoritarian governments.

Former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen told Congress last week that the company had done too little to take responsibility for disseminating harmful content and that it too often preferred profit over the best interests of its users.

Former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen has spoken publicly about Facebook’s failure to prevent what it knows to be harmful content from appearing on the site. (Alex Brandon / The Associated Press)

Days later, the company announced that it would introduce new features designed to protect children, including one encouraging them to take a break from the platform.

Celebrities, even those who profit generously from Facebook and Instagram, have not shied away from criticizing the company.

In an interview earlier this year with The Associated Press, singer and actress Selena Gomez said she started pressuring tech companies like Facebook to clean up their sites in 2017 after a 12-year-old commented on one of Gomez’s Instagram posts: “Go kill yourself.”

“It was my tipping point,” she said. “I couldn’t handle what I was seeing.”

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