Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy explicitly allows “public figures” to be targeted in ways that would otherwise be prohibited on the site, including “calls to [their] death, ”according to a stretch of internal guidelines from the moderator that was leaked to The Guardian.
Public figures are defined by Facebook to include people whose claim to fame may simply be a large following on social media or infrequent coverage in local newspapers. They are considered permissible targets for certain types of abuse “because we want to allow discussion, which often includes critical comments from people who appear in the news,” Facebook explains to its moderators.
It comes as social media faces fresh criticism for abuse on its platforms, including by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and professional footballers, particularly black stars like Marcus Rashford. Facebook, which also owns Instagram, has changed its policies in response to criticism, introducing new rules to cover abuses sent via direct messages and pledging to cooperate with law enforcement on hate speech.
In the detailed guidelines seen by The Guardian, spanning more than 300 pages and dating back to December 2020, Facebook details how it differentiates between protections for private and public individuals.
“For public figures, we eliminate attacks that are serious, 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 should demean or embarrass, including, for example, claims about someone’s sexual activity, ”he says.
Private individuals cannot be targeted with “calls to the death” on Facebook, but public figures simply cannot be “intentionally exposed” to such calls: it is legitimate, under Facebook’s harassment policies, to call for the death of a celebrity. local minor as long as the user doesn’t tag them in the post, for example. Similarly, public figures cannot be “exposed” to content “that praises, celebrates, or mocks their death or serious physical injury.”
The definition of public figures in the company is broad. All politicians count, regardless of the level of government and whether they have been elected or are running for office, as does any journalist who is employed to “write / speak in public”.
Online fame is enough to qualify as long as the user has more than 100,000 fans or followers on one of their social media accounts. Being in the news is enough to strip users of protections. “People who are mentioned in the title, subtitle or preview of 5 or more news articles or media pieces in the last 2 years” are counted as public figures. A broad exception to that rule is that children under the age of 13 never count.
Imran Ahmed, founder of the Center for Fighting Digital Hate, described the revelations as “staggering.” Despite high-profile attacks in recent years, including the murder of Jo Cox MP and the domestic terrorist attacks on the US Capitol, Facebook sanctions the promotion of violence against public officials if they are not labeled. in the post, “Ahmed said, adding that as a result, the safety of other officials and public figures could be threatened.
“The highly visible abuse of public figures and celebrities acts as a warning – a proverbial head on a pike – to others. It is used by identity-based hate actors who target women and minorities to discourage participation from the very groups that tolerance and inclusion activists have worked so hard to bring into public life. Just because someone isn’t tagged doesn’t mean the message isn’t heard loud and clear. “
There is another broad exception and protection for those who are “unintentional” public figures. These are public figures “who are not true celebrities, and who have not committed to their fame, UNLESS they have been accused of criminal activity,” according to the guidelines.
Facebook has a secret list of these unwitting public figures, which is not contained in the documents seen by The Guardian. But the presence on social media is indicated as de facto evidence that a user has “pledged their fame.”
Attempting to comprehensively define all aspects of bullying means that Facebook’s rules also include surprising details. Users can intimidate dead people, for example, but only if they died before the year 1900, and are allowed to “intimidate” fictional characters (moderators are told “NO ACTION” against content “Homer Simpson is a bitch “).
But the decision to allow users to intimidate and harass even lesser public figures in a way that the company bans individuals classified as individuals is likely to raise concern among prominent users who have complained that Facebook is not doing enough to protect individuals. public figures of abuse on their social networks. main platform or Instagram.
From Facebook bullying and harassment policy protects public figures from attack, including direct threats of severe physical harm, derogatory sexualized terms, or threats to disclose personal information.
But the company is understood to believe in allowing people to question or criticize public figures, and insiders highlight “figurative speech” such as “Boris Johnson should die or resign” or “just die now.” [Jair] Bolsonaro, you are not improving it for your people. “
The definition of public figure will be updated to “raise the threshold … in increasingly digitally engaged times,” the sources say, including additional protections for activists and journalists already treated as high-risk individuals.
In February, Instagram pledged to close the accounts of users who sent abusive direct messages to footballers. Previously, the company had not extended its rules to cover direct messages, but a new “lower tolerance” for abuse was introduced after several prominent black footballers, including Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe and Lauren James, spoke out on the harassment. racial online.
A Facebook spokesperson said: “We believe it is important to allow critical discussion by politicians and others in public view. But that doesn’t mean that we allow people to abuse or harass them in our apps. We eliminate hate speech and threats of serious harm no matter who the target is, and we are exploring more ways to protect public figures from harassment. We regularly consult with security experts, human rights defenders, journalists and activists to get feedback on our policies and to make sure they are in the right place. “
When asked why Facebook is not releasing the leaked guidelines, the spokesperson added: “By posting our community standards, the notes from the regular meetings we have with global teams to discuss and update them, and our quarterly reports on how We’re making it. To enforce our policies, we provide more transparency than any technology company. We also plan to make even more of these documents public over time. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism