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June 24th, 2013

Facebook and Twitter Crack Down on Hate Speech


After a string of consumer complaints and court cases, social media giants Facebook and Twitter are cracking down on hate speech broadcast through their platforms.

Texting Credit Fort Mill High School

The prevalence of hate speech and cyber-bullying on social media has become a major problem for teens around the country.   Credit: Fort Mill High School

The companies are trying to strike a difficult balance between protecting freedom of expression for users while also creating an open and welcoming community.

With the increasing international use of social media, these companies are also learning how to deal with foreign free-speech laws that are often harsher than America’s.

Facebook accused of allowing anti-women content

Facebook came under fire in May for allowing groups to promote violent and hateful rhetoric against women.

Groups with names like “Violently Raping Your Friends Just For Laughs” posted content that included pictures of women beaten, bruised, tied up, drugged and bleeding, with captions such as… ‘Next time don’t get pregnant.’

In response, concerned users convinced advertisers like Dove to pull their advertisements from the site until the content was removed. Dove, whose advertising campaigns promote female empowerment and self-esteem, released a statement saying, “we are working with Facebook to prevent our ads from appearing on these pages.”

“Women, Action, and The Media,” a women’s rights group that wrote an open letter that started the movement, objected to Facebook policies that blocked images of women after a mastectomy or breast-feeding a baby, but allowed “Violently Raping Your Friends Just For Laughs” to continue.

Facebook’s initial response was that these accounts did not violate the terms of service.

After a large social media push in which users tweeted using the hashtag #FBrape, 15 companies removed their advertising from the site. Facebook responded, saying that they would reevaluate their policies.

“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,” said Marne Levine, Facebook’s Vice-President of Global Public Policy, “we need to do better – and we will.”


Micro-blogging site Twitter has taken user privacy and free speech very seriously, refusing to hand over information on users who tweet offensive things.


Twitter clashes with free speech laws internationally

This month, Twitter lost an appeal in a French High Court that will require them to release of the identities of users who have posted anti-Semitic comments on its site. Twitter has been much more protective of its users’ private information than other social media networks. Twitter refused participate in U.S. government requests for user data.

Twitter originally agreed to block tweets using the hashtag #unbonjuif (which translates to #agoodjew), but refused to hand over identities.

However, the court claimed Twitter had violated French laws against hate speech and Holocaust denial, and ordered the company to turn over the users’ identities and pay $50 million to organizations that fight racism.

Twitter has dealt with this issue before. In Germany, where Nazi propaganda of any kind is outlawed, Twitter cooperated with police to ban tweets from a neo-Nazi group (although the group is still visible to users outside of Germany).

Hate-speech can be a grey zone

These cases reveal a grey zone for free speech in the internet age. Legal and social factors are at play, but also a lot of money. Facebook will have to hire more content managers and train them to identify and remove inappropriate material. In addition, Facebook and Twitter are working with lawyers to draft policies that deal with hate speech and fit within the varying legal frameworks of different countries.

Still, social media companies have been reluctant to change unless compelled by law, lost ad dollars or public awareness campaigns.

— Compiled by James Hercher for NewsHour Extra

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