Facebook Says It Failed to Bar Posts With Hate Speech
By TANZINA VEGA
Published: May 28, 2013
“Facebook on Tuesday acknowledged that its systems to identify and remove hate speech had not worked effectively, as it faced pressure from feminist groups that want the site to ban pages that glorify violence against women.
The activists, who sent more than 5,000 e-mails to Facebook’s advertisers and elicited more than 60,000 posts on Twitter, also prompted Nissan and more than a dozen smaller companies to say that they would withdraw advertising from the site.
In a blog post, Facebook said its “systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate.” The company said it would review how it dealt with such content, update training for its employees, increase accountability — including requiring that users use their real identities when creating content — and establish more direct lines of communication with women’s groups and other entities.
Women’s groups have complained to Facebook about misogynous content in the past, but pressure on the company escalated last week when a collective led by Women, Action and the Media; Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project; and Soraya Chemaly, a writer and activist, published an open letter asking Facebook executives to “ban gender-based hate speech on your site.”
The letter highlighted Facebook pages with names like “Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs” and “Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich,” and other pages that included graphic images of women being abused.
The groups asked Facebook to improve how it trains moderators to recognize and remove such content. They also asked Facebook users to use the Twitter hashtag #FBrape to call on companies to stop advertising on Facebook if their ads have been placed alongside such content. A petition on the site change.org had almost 224,000 supporters by Tuesday evening.
“We thought that advertisers would be the most effective way of getting Facebook’s attention,” said Jaclyn Friedman, the executive director of Women, Action and the Media. “We had no idea that it would blow up this big. I think people have been frustrated with this issue for so long and feeling like that had no way for Facebook to pay attention to them. As consumers we do have a lot of power.”
David Reuter, a spokesman for Nissan, said in an interview on Tuesday that the automaker has stopped all advertising on Facebook until it could assure Nissan that its ads would not appear on pages with offensive content.
Nissan typically buys Facebook advertisements that target particular demographic groups, like men age 30 to 35, Mr. Reuter said. In Facebook’s system, those ads follow the users onto whatever pages they visit, potentially including those with offensive content.
“We are working with Facebook to understand this situation better and opt out of advertising on any pages that are offensive,” he said.
While more than a dozen smaller advertisers like Down Easy Brewing and eReader Utopia had agreed by Tuesday to remove their ads from Facebook, other major advertisers, including Zappos, Dove and American Express, stopped short of withdrawing their ads. Those companies did, however, issue responses through Facebook, e-mail or Twitter that they did not condone violence against women.
Dove, a beauty brand that has a campaign that focuses on “real beauty,” has come under intense pressure because of its marketing focus on women, Ms. Friedman said. One commenter on the Dove Facebook page wrote: “So, Dove, you’re willing to make money off of us, but not willing to lift a finger to let Facebook know violence against women isn’t acceptable?”
Representatives for Dove did not respond to requests for an interview, nor did representatives for Zappos or American Express.
Stacy Janicki, a senior partner and director of accounts at the advertising agency Carmichael Lynch, called Facebook’s response on Tuesday “a bit of a cop-out.”
“I think advertisers have a responsibility to consumers and media companies have a responsibility to advertisers to make sure they control the content on those sites,” Ms. Janicki, adding that as Facebook and other social media companies seek to secure more advertising dollars, advertisers will have the power to walk away from content that does not represent them well.
“That’s the power and the curse of social media,” she said. “You can put anything on there, but the benefit is that you can elevate it and scale it to where advertisers will listen and ultimately Facebook will listen.”
Vindu Goel contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 28, 2013
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the person who commented on the power of advertisers in social media. It was Stacy Janicki, of the advertising agency Carmichael Lynch, who said, “I think advertisers have a responsibility to consumers, and media companies have a responsibility to advertisers to make sure they control the content on those sites.” It was not “Ms. Lynch.” (No “Ms. Lynch” was quoted in the article.)