In what amounts to a big win for advocates working against online domestic abuse jokes and references, Facebook has said it will try to crack down on pages that include hate speech, particularly "gender-based hate."
The social media giant released a statement to that effect Tuesday afternoon, following a wave of online advocacy spearheaded by the groups Women, Action and the Media (WAM!) and the Everyday Sexism project.
While there have been protests against similar Facebook groups in the past, the latest campaign against so-called "rape joke" pages began on May 21, 2013, when WAM! wrote an open letter to Facebook, demanding the company address rape and domestic violence references on its site.
"Specifically, we are referring to groups, pages and images that explicitly condone or encourage rape or domestic violence or suggest that they are something to laugh or boast about," the letter read. "Pages currently appearing on Facebook include Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus, Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich, Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs, Raping your Girlfriend and many, many more."
Following the online publication of the letter, 15 companies agreed to pull their ads from the site. A separate Change.org petition calling on Facebook to remove groups that promote sexual violence was signed by more than 224,000 people.
Originally, Facebook claimed that much of the content referenced by WAM! did not technically violate its current policies, according to ThinkProgress, which noted the site has proven much more aggressive when it comes to screening anti-Semitic, Islamophobic or homophobic references. (In addition, Facebook has often been criticized by breastfeeding proponents who claim the site incorrectly blocks nursing photos.)
However, the site appears to have rethought that original position, according to a statement posted Tuesday. The statement reads, in part:
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 In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria.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 statement also details a series of steps the company plans to take in order to accomplish these goals. The steps include updating the guidelines used to evaluate reported hate speech, updating training procedures for staff, increasing the accountability of those who post offensive speech -- even if it does not violate Facebook standards -- and working closely with groups like WAM! to "assure expedited treatment of content they believe violate our standards."
WAM! later praised Facebook's statement on its own website, calling the site an Internet leader for addressing hate speech.
“We are reaching an international tipping point in attitudes towards rape and violence against women," WAM! executive director Jaclyn Friedman wrote. "We hope that this effort stands as a testament to the power of collaborative action.”
Soraya Chemaly, a feminist writer, advocate and co-author of the "Open Letter to Facebook" last week, took to Twitter to express her approval as well.