Facebook’s Updating its Approach to Hate Speech to Combat ‘The Worst of the Worst’ Cases

Facebook is reportedly looking to overhaul its approach to hate speech, in order to better detect and address ‘the worst of the worst’ cases, as opposed to treating all hate speech incidents equally.

According to The Washington Post, Facebook has shared an internal overview of its ‘WoW Project’, which will put increased focus on removing hateful comments directed at Black people, Muslims, people of more than one race, the LGBTQ community and Jews.

Facebook has confirmed that it has made changes to its hate speech approach, but it hasn’t detailed the specifics.

“We know that hate speech targeted towards underrepresented groups can be the most harmful, which is why we have focused our technology on finding the hate speech that users and experts tell us is the most serious. Over the past year, we’ve also updated our policies to catch more implicit hate speech, such as content depicting Blackface, stereotypes about Jewish people controlling the world, and banned holocaust denial.” 

The update comes after Facebook saw major backlash earlier this year over its inaction on perceived hate speech shared by US President Donald Trump. 

Amid the #BlackLivesMatter protests, following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, President Trump posted this comment, which many viewed as incendiary.

That then lead to civil rights activists calling for a boycott of Facebook ads, which saw many big brands pausing their Facebook ad spend in July. Facebook met with various groups at the time, and vowed to make changes to its policies. 

Reportedly, Facebook then began outlining its new ‘worst of the worst’ hate speech approach to staff in October, incorporating key elements of its learnings based on these meetings.

The change in approach could help Facebook better address some key areas of concern, while also working to further align the platform with the incoming US leadership. Facebook has walked a fine line when dealing with President Trump and his comments on the platform, but with Trump set to move on next month, Facebook may need to evolve its policies to better move in-step with President-elect Joe Biden, who will be looking to take a more progressive approach than the Trump administration.

That could see Facebook come under more pressure – in a recent interview with The Atlantic, for example, former US President Barack Obama, to whom Biden served as VP, noted that misinformation shared on social media was ‘the single biggest threat to our democracy’:

Now you have a situation in which large swaths of the country genuinely believe that the Democratic Party is a front for a pedophile ring. This stuff takes root. I was talking to a volunteer who was going door-to-door in Philadelphia in low-income African American communities, and was getting questions about QAnon conspiracy theories. The fact is that there is still a large portion of the country that was taken in by a carnival barker.” 

That could indicate that a Biden-lead White House will look to increase pressure on Facebook – which could be why Facebook’s looking to update its policies now, in order to get ahead of the game. 

Facebook will need to better align itself with the sitting President in order to enact key changes, and advance its own agenda. Indeed, Facebook is already spending big on Washington-based lobbyists as it seeks to maintain ties, and avoid increased scrutiny on various fronts.

Given this, we could see a lot of policy shifts from The Social Network over the next four years. 

Maybe, then, this is just the start of a new approach from the company.

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