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Facebook bows to pressure, vows to rid itself of sexist hate speech

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A coalition of women's groups has succeeded in persuading Facebook to review how it moderates its users so that hate speech and posts promoting violence against women can be kept off the site.

The #FBrape campaign - which took off across Facebook, Twitter and other social networks since its introduction last week - urged companies to pull their adverts from the Mark Zuckerberg-run website until it could promise that the ads wouldn't appear next to any offensive content. Facebook employs an army of workers who either approve or remove flagged-up posts and photos on the website.

"We are calling on Facebook users to contact advertisers whose ads on Facebook appear next to content that targets women for violence, to ask these companies to withdraw from advertising on Facebook until you take the above actions to ban gender-based hate speech on your site," groups such as the Everday Sexism Project and Women, Action & the Media (WAM!) said in an open letter to the network last week.

"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."

More than 40 groups signed the letter, which also accused Facebook of removing photographs of mothers breastfeeding or artistic representations of women, while leaving up images of beaten or bruised women.

"Your common practice of allowing this content by appending a [humor] disclaimer to said content literally treats violence targeting women as a joke," they said.

"Facebook’s response to the many thousands of complaints and calls to address these issues has been inadequate. You have failed to make a public statement addressing the issue, respond to concerned users, or implement policies that would improve the situation.

"You have also acted inconsistently with regards to your policy on banning images, in many cases refusing to remove offensive rape and domestic violence pictures when reported by members of the public, but deleting them as soon as journalists mention them in articles, which sends the strong message that you are more concerned with acting on a case-by-case basis to protect your reputation than effecting systemic change."

The campaign sparked a huge reaction from the public, with thousands tweeting and posting on companies' Facebook pages, while a Change.org petition gained more than 225,000 signatures.

Following the removal of ads by numerous small businesses as well as some larger firms - including building society Nationwide and car firm Nissan - Facebook released an unprecedented statement on its blog yesterday admitting that it needed to do more.

"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," global public policy veep Marne Levine said in the blog post.

"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."

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project said that the campaigners were overwhelmed by the response.

"We have been inspired and moved beyond expression by the outpouring of energy, creativity and support for this campaign from communities, companies and individuals around the world. It is a testament to the strength of public feeling behind these issues,” she said.

Facebook has promised to review and update its guidelines and work with women's groups to ensure that its rules and training are "robust". ®

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