After allowing troublesome Facebook fan pages like "Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs" and "Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich" linger on their social network for way too long, Facebook finally admitted yesterday that their systems for identifying and removing hate speech failed to effectively spot the controversial language.
In a blog post, Marne Levine, VP of Global Public Policy for the social networking giant wrote:
We’ve built industry leading technical and human systems to encourage people using Facebook to report violations of our terms and developed sophisticated tools to help our teams evaluate the reports we receive and make or escalate the difficult decisions about whether reported content is controversial, harmful or constitutes hate speech. [...]
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.
The offending pages, along with many others, were called into question by a coalition of activists from Women, Action and The Media and The Everyday Sexism Project in an open letter asking the site to ban gender-based hate on the site. Although the pages lingered, the activist groups eventually hit Facebook right where it hurts: in the advertising dollars. Through over 5,000 emails and 60,000 tweets, WAM! and the Everyday Sexism Project was able to convince advertisers like Nissan and a dozen others to pull their ads until Facebook could ensure that their ads wouldn't be implicitly endorsing hate speech.
Other national advertisers like Zappos, American Express and Dove — whose "real beauty" campaign has come under fire for different reasons — didn't go as far as to pull their ads completely, but phoned in their responses by issuing Facebook updates saying they did not condone violence against women.
Moving forward, Facebook says they've taken a few steps to better identify and remove gender-based hate speech by reviewing their guidelines, providing more training for the humans who evaluate harmful content, increase accountability for the content creators and facilitate communication with groups working in this area.