After a weeklong protest that called for Facebook to update its policies to ban gender-based hate speech from the social network, Facebook’s security team admitted Tuesday evening that its current system has failed. The statement included several steps that Facebook is taking to improve the process for identifying and removing hate speech, especially gender-based hate speech, including requiring creators of offensive content to use their authentic identities.

“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,” the security team wrote in a Facebook post. “We need to do better – and we will.”

In addition to working with legal experts and women’s coalitions to update policies and training, Facebook wrote that it will increase the accountability of content creators by requiring them to use their authentic identity in order for offensive content to remain online. The idea is to strike a balance between fostering free speech while not promoting hate speech.

“If an individual decides to publicly share cruel and insensitive content, users can hold the author accountable and directly object to the content,” Facebook wrote. The social network also pledged to establish more communication with advocacy groups to identify and appropriately deal with hate speech, as well as encourage research on the effect of online hate speech.

The post has sparked controversy online. Some have celebrated the victory as a step in the right direction, albeit a small one. 

"Facebook shouldn't be congratulated at this point," Joanna Chiu, a columnist for Herizons, told IBT in a Facebook message. Chiu thought that Facebook's initial response was tepid and left many questions unanswered. 

"Why were photos of women breastfeeding deleted but pages that promoted rape, violence against women and racism allowed to stay online for years? They still need to be held accountable to their users and advertisers for the hate speech they allowed to proliferate on their platform while going around deleting photos of errant nipples."

Not everyone is happy about Facebook's post. Many feel that moderating Facebook is akin to censorship, and that stricter guidelines will limit free speech. Several voiced their disapproval of Facebook's actions. 


The campaign began as an open letter to Facebook from Women, Action and The Media, asking that Facebook improve how it handles content that “trivializes or glorified violence against girls and women.” WAM was joined by The Everyday Sexism Project, activist Soraya Chemaly and more than 100 other advocacy groups.

WAM posted several examples of gender-based hate speech on Facebook. These posts were all all reported for violating Facebook’s standards, but Facebook approved them anyway. Several of the images are graphic, disturbing and Not Safe For Work (NSFW).

One example includes an image of a woman bleeding from the head, with a caption reading, “I like her for her brains.” Others include Facebook groups promoting such as “Rapist Community” and “Slapping hookers in the face with a shoe.” Facebook removed several of the posts after it received media attention, but others are still live on Facebook.

“They may come down now when we shame Facebook with them, but that doesn’t solve the problem,” WAM wrote in a blog post. “Only new Facebook policies and procedures designed to ban gender-based hate speech will solve this problem

The advocacy group also hit Facebook where it hurts: reaching out to advertisers. The campaign encouraged Facebook users to contact advertisers when their content appears next to offensive content. According to WAM, 15 brands have pulled ads from Facebook in response.

What do you think about Facebook’s announcement to update hate speech guidelines? Will it help make Facebook safer for women, or is threatening free speech? Let us know in the comments section. 

Follow Ryan W. Neal on Twitter