‘Attacks’: Facebook bans mass trolling of dissidents, journalists and activists

Menlo Park: Facebook will expand its policies on harassment to remove more harmful content, the company said on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT) in its latest change following congressional testimony from a whistleblower who faulted the social media giant for not doing enough to stop harmful content.

Under the new, more detailed harassment policy, Facebook will bar content that degrades or sexualises public figures, including celebrities, elected officials and others in the public eye.

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, who won the Noble Prize this year, has been subject to numerous online threats.Credit:AP

Existing policies already prohibit similar content about private individuals.

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

Lastly, the company based in Menlo Park, California, announced it will ban all coordinated harassment, in which a group of individuals work together to bully another user. That change will apply to all users.

“We do not allow bullying and harassment on our platform, but when it does happen, we act,” Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of global safety, wrote in a blog post.

“Public figures shouldn’t be subjected to degrading or sexualised attacks,” she wrote. In future, the company will also block derogatory, sexualised photoshopped images and drawings; attacks through negative physical descriptions that are tagged to the account, and “degrading content depicting individuals in the process of bodily functions”.

The platform also pledged to block objectionable content “that is considered mass harassment towards any individual” through any path “such as direct messages in inbox or comments on personal profiles or posts”.

State-linked and adversarial networks of accounts, “pages” and “groups” working together to harass or silence people will also be subject to blocking, the company said.

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

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen speaks during a US Senate committee hearing.Credit:AP

Last week, former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen told Congress that the company has done too little to address its responsibility for spreading harmful content, and too often chooses profit over its users’ best interests.

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

Celebrities, even those who profit handsomely off Facebook and Instagram, haven’t been shy about criticising the company.

In an interview earlier this year with The Associated Press, singer and actress Selena Gomez said she began pressing 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.”

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

Reuters with reporters

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