For three women: Laura Bates – the British 26-year-old founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, US writer Soraya Chemaly and Jaclyn Friedman – the American creator of Women, Action & the Media, to make Facebook to change its mind about anything, never mind something as large as its moderation technique and what it considers hate speech, in only one week, have achieved something quite remarkable indeed.
It would be all too easy to dismiss their protestations as three women “who just don’t have a sense of humour” about a few bits of “laddish banter” shared in the digital microcosm that is Facebook.
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I heard Sandberg talk while on her London leg about the power of Facebook. “We hope that this effort stands as a testament to the power of collaborative action.” For a long time, there has been the hope that more people will start behaving in the largely civilised way they do offline, online.
Unsurprisingly, these unbelievably violent images and posts filled with female hate did not feature in her presentation. “It doesn’t quite stack up having Sandberg promote such a positive message about women to the world and this stuff being on the site.” But wiping this stuff off Facebook sadly won’t eradicate this type of awful content from the internet or society as a whole. And while Facebook is not the real world, nor the whole internet, it does have the power to shape cultural norms.
With more than a billion members and most young people sharing their every breathing moment on the site, it is a very real microcosm, albeit a young one – with many growing pains.
"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.
“What was happening was a normalisation of these types of images across Facebook.
And while Facebook executives kept telling us that the site had to allow people freedom of speech – what they didn’t account for was how these images were stifling other women’s freedom of expression – as they left the site distressed and speechless.” And what made no sense at all was why Facebook was treating this form of hate speech differently to other forms of hate speech it proactively bans – especially once alerted to it.
"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In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria." Wow indeed.