- Lifestyle & Sports
- 23 Mar 21
Just three weeks ago, it was reported by Sky Sports that Instagram (owned by Facebook) would not take action against the user who sent Ireland international Shane Duffy abusive, sectarian messages which mocked his father's death.
US social media giant Facebook has routinely been called out for its murky lack of transparency surrounding its safety guidelines, moderation of abuse and the spread of disinformation. Moderator guidelines leaked to the Guardian today now allege that public figures are considered to be permissible targets for otherwise-banned abuse. The disturbing leak also underscores Facebook's strategy to operate in repressive regimes.
In the internal guidelines, Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy explicitly allows for “public figures” to be targeted in ways otherwise banned on the site, including “calls for their death”.
Facebook's definition of public figures ranges between those with a large social media following or infrequent local news coverage. An exception to that rule is that children under the age of 13 do not count. Facebook commented to its moderators that these figures are considered to be permissible targets for certain formats of abuse “because we want to allow discussion, which often includes critical commentary of people who are featured in the news”.
“For public figures, we remove attacks that are severe as well as certain attacks where the public figure is directly tagged in the post or comment. For private individuals, our protection goes further: we remove content that’s meant to degrade or shame, including, for example, claims about someone’s sexual activity,” it says.
Private individuals cannot be targeted with “calls for death” on Facebook but public figures cannot be “purposefully exposed” to such calls: it is legitimate, under Facebook’s harassment policies, to call for the death of a minor local celebrity as long as the user does not tag them in to the post. Similarly, public figures cannot be “exposed” to content “that praises, celebrates or mocks their death or serious physical injury”.
Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy protects public figures from direct threats of severe physical harm, derogatory sexualised terms or threats to release personal information. However, the company believes in offering people the freedom to criticise public figures, with insiders highlighting “figurative speech” such as “Boris Johnson should just drop dead or resign already” or “just die already, Jair Bolsonaro".
Instagram is run by Facebook, alongside WhatsApp, and has also been criticised for its often confusing harassment and abuse guidelines as well as racial profiling and image-based sexual abuse content. In February, Instagram committed to shutting the accounts of users who sent abusive direct messages to footballers. A “lower tolerance” for abuse was introduced after prominent black footballers such as Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe and Lauren James spoke out about online racial harassment last year.
In October 2020, Twitter said that tweets wishing for Donald Trump’s death in the wake of the former US President’s diagnosis with Covid-19 violate its policies and could result in suspension. It appears that the platform has slightly differing policy than its main competitor, Facebook. The social media platform confirmed in a tweet that wishing harm on a figure violates Twitter’s “Abusive Behaviour policy”, which prohibits tweets “wishing or hoping serious harm on a person or group of people”.
“Tweets that wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against anyone are not allowed and will need to be removed,” the company said in a tweet.
tweets that wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against *anyone* are not allowed and will need to be removed. this does not automatically mean suspension. https://t.co/lQ8wWGL2y0 https://t.co/P2vGfUeUQf
— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) October 2, 2020
However, many Twitter users from marginalised community say that they frequently receive abuse and death threats, with no response from the platform. This is especially prominent among transgender, queer, disabled users and/or those from the Black community, Traveller Community and other minority ethnic groups.
A 2019 discussion on cyber abuse purveyed that Europe-wide legislation is urgently needed to tackle the rise in online threats of physical and sexual violence public figures are suffering, female politicians especially. Victims of online harassment are left without justice, while perpetrators go unpunished due to the absence of effective laws, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties previously warned.
The non-profit press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) has also chosen to sue Facebook in France for allegedly violating the country's consumer code with "deceptive" promises to fight hate speech and disinformation. The social network claims to offer a "safe" and "error-free" space, RSF argued, but in practice allows hate and misinformation to rapidly spread.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 21 Apr 21