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Female lawmakers pressure Facebook to crack down on disinformation targeting women leaders

Female lawmakers pressure Facebook to crack down on disinformation targeting women leaders
© Bonnie Cash

A group of more than 30 female Democratic members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate House extends proxy voting to July On The Money: IRS to start monthly payments of child tax credit July 15 | One-fourth of Americans took financial hits in 2020: Fed MORE (D-Calif.), called on Facebook Thursday to "start doing more" to crack down on misogynistic attacks and disinformation posted on its platform that targets women leaders.

"Unfortunately, women in politics face pervasive sexism, hate, harassment, and threats of violence on your platform that make it more difficult for them to succeed in public life," they wrote in a letter spearheaded by the Democratic Women's Caucus. "We are imploring Facebook to do more to protect the ability of women to engage in democratic discourse and to foster a safe and empowering space for women."

The letter comes days after Facebook declined to remove a video manipulated to appear as if Pelosi was intoxicated, although the social media platform's fact-checkers did add a "partly false" label. Facebook acted similarly in response to another false video of Pelosi that went viral in 2019. But the latest video was first shared on TikTok, and the company has since taken it down.

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In the letter, the lawmakers called on Facebook to remove posts that threaten candidates with violence or glorify violence against women; disable accounts that repeatedly violate terms of service by threatening or harassing female leaders and candidates; and take down manipulated videos of female public figures.

"These are steps Facebook can take right now, and they could not be more urgent," the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergUS billionaire wealth skyrocketed 55 percent during pandemic, accelerating inequality Bipartisan attorneys general urge Facebook to scrap planned Instagram for kids Hillicon Valley: Broadband companies funded fake net neutrality comments, investigation finds | Twitter rolls out tip feature | Google to adopt 'hybrid work week' MORE and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

The lawmakers said that the attacks "play on common sexist tropes, portraying women as unlikable, emotional, unqualified, and dumb."

"Make no mistake, these tactics, which are used on your platform for malicious intent, are meant to silence women, and ultimately undermine our democracies. It is no wonder women frequently cite the threat of rapid, widespread, public attacks on personal dignity as a factor deterring them from entering politics," they wrote.

In addition to the members of Congress, the letter was also signed by more than 60 female lawmakers from other legislatures around the world, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Austria, Pakistan, Ghana, South Africa, Croatia and Montenegro.

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Facebook's head of women's safety, Cindy Southworth, said that the platform "appreciate[s]" the lawmakers, including Democratic Women's Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierHouse lawmakers unveil bill to end ban on Postal Service shipments of alcohol Push to combat sexual assault in military reaches turning point Overnight Defense: Capitol security bill includes 1M to reimburse National Guard | Turner to lead House push against military sexual assault | Pentagon drops mask mandate MORE (D-Calif.), who have shared their personal experiences and "will continue working with them to surface new solutions."

"Abuse of women on the internet is a serious problem, one we tackle in a variety of ways - through technology that identifies and removes potentially abusive content before it happens, by enforcing strict policies, and by talking with experts to ensure we stay ahead of new tactics," Southworth said in a statement.

Facebook has taken some steps in recent years in response to concerns about women's safety, including giving people control over who can download or share their profile pictures and a program to help people prevent intimate photos from potentially being shared without their consent.

Thursday's letter marks the latest example of the growing pressure on Facebook and other social media companies to crack down on the spread of disinformation.

Earlier Thursday, Facebook confirmed that it is banning ads from a super PAC supportive of President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP-led Maricopa County board decries election recount a 'sham' Analysis: Arpaio immigration patrol lawsuit to cost Arizona county at least 2 million Conservatives launch 'anti-cancel culture' advocacy organization MORE because of "repeated sharing of content determined by third-party fact-checkers to be false."

And on Wednesday, 20 state attorneys general called on Facebook to be more proactive in combating disinformation, hate speech and harassment.