Facebook defends blocking women who call men ‘scum’

  • TECH
  • Thursday, 07 Dec 2017

People write messages next to a slogan at Facebook's headquarters in London, Britain, December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Facebook confirms it's suspending the accounts of women who call men "scum" in the wake of the sexual harassment scandals that have sparked the #MeToo conversation on social media and beyond. 

"We understand how important it is for victims of harassment to be able to share their stories and for people to express anger and opinions about harassment," a spokeswoman for the social networking giant told SiliconBeat recently. 

In fact, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg addressed sexual harassment over the weekend, warning of a backlash against women and urging companies to do better when they're told about such instances. 

But the spokeswoman said Facebook draws "the line when people attack others simply on the basis of their gender." 

So if men call women scum, they're also supposed to face consequences, per the social networking giant's community standards. 

Similarly, race is a protected class, so racial slurs are theoretically not allowed on Facebook and should also result in a ban. 

But according to a website where people are sharing their stories about being suspended by Facebook, the company's enforcement of its community standards are uneven. 

The stories on Facebook Jailed include that of writer and comedian Rae Sanni, who includes a screenshot of someone telling her: "kill yourself, [n-word]." 

Sanni wrote on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that she has "reported the dozens of racist and sexist slurs I was called on public posts and messaged privately, and weirdly, none of them went against FB's terms of service." However, she said her post in which she called men "scum" in solidarity with a friend – her co-host on the podcast "Misandry with Marcia and Rae," who was banned by Facebook – was removed by the company. 

When Facebook users find objectionable content on the site, they can report it to the company. Those complaints are sent to content reviewers, who number in the thousands and work around the clock all over the world. 

(In May, as Facebook was dealing with a rash of violent video content, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company would add 3,000 content reviewers. The company's team of reviewers will number 7,500 by the end of the year, it says.) 

In their podcast, Sanni and Marcia Belsky talked about being banned by Facebook. 

Sanni said she has been targeted by right-wing trolls on social media. On Facebook, where she had been temporarily banned after a discussion with someone over NFL players' protests over racism and police brutality, she felt powerless to respond to people being racist and sexist toward her. 

"They're silencing the people being harassed," Belsky said. She also said she has reported a post that said "women are scum" and it was not removed. 

The two also speculated that bans get lifted when the media brings attention to them. 

This isn't the first time Facebook has faced questions about how it determines who gets banned from its service, especially its suspension of black users. It was one of the concerns voiced by the Congressional Black Caucus when its members met with Sandberg in October. 

In a letter to the CBC dated Nov, 29, Sandberg wrote: "We continue to explore how we can adopt a more granular approach to hate speech, both in the way we draft our policies and the way we enforce on them." 

Facebook has apologised for removing posts by black activists, including a woman who over the summer posted screenshots of hateful comments she was getting after joking about whether she would survive a trip to Cracker Barrel, a restaurant notorious for having to settle lawsuits accusing it of discriminating against black people. — San Jose Mercury News/Tribune News Service

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