Facebook is changing its rules to increase protections against harassment and bullying for journalists and activists, groups the company considers to be “involuntary” public figures, its global safety chief said Wednesday in an interview with Reuters.
The social media platform’s rules differentiate between how users can criticize public figures and private individuals, generally offering more protections for private individuals. For example, users may exaggerate and call for the death of a celebrity in posts on Facebook’s website, as long as they do not tag or directly mention that celebrity. But users are not allowed to call for the death of a private individual. Now, those same protections are being extended to journalists and “human rights defenders,” people who Facebook says are public figures because of their work, not their public personas.
Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis also told Reuters the company is expanding the types of attacks that it would not allow against public figures on its websites as part of an effort to reduce harassment of women, minorities, and LGBTQ individuals.
“Facebook will no longer allow severe and unwanted sexualizing content, derogatory sexualized photoshopped images or drawings or direct negative attacks on a person’s appearance, for example, in comments on a public figure’s profile,” Reuters reports.
The changes come as Facebook faces intense scrutiny and criticism over the way it treats public figures. In September, the Wall Street Journal published a report on a secret Facebook program that treated celebrities and other “VIPs” differently from the rest of the social media platform’s 2.8 billion monthly users. That “cross check” program permitted high-profile users to freely violate Facebook’s rules without consequences, exempting them from enforcement actions taken against ordinary people on Facebook.
The Wall Street Journal’s reporting, combined with documents leaked to the Securities and Exchange Commission by Frances Haugen, a former product manager for Facebook, were the subject of a U.S. Senate hearing held last week during which lawmakers called for new regulations against Big Tech companies.
Earlier this month, Haugen accused Facebook of prioritizing profits over the public good, calling attention to how the company is aware young children are being exposed to harmful content and, in her view, is not doing enough to stop it. She also alleged that Facebook’s use by authoritarian leaders could pose national security concerns to the United States.
The Facebook Oversight Board, a group of 20 independent experts hired by the company to review its content decisions, on Monday invited Haugen to discuss her concerns with the board and she accepted.
The oversight board is also investigating Facebook’s cross-check system and said on Monday it is evaluating “whether Facebook has been fully forthcoming in its responses on its ‘cross-check’ system.” The board will release the results of its inquiry later this month.