Facebook increasing protections for activists, journalists against harassment

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Facebook announced on Wednesday that it would enhance protections for journalists and activists, as the platform now deems them “involuntary” public figures. 

The social media platform is more lenient toward critical commentary of public figures compared to that of private people. But journalists and “human rights defenders” will be granted added protections, as Facebook says their public criticism is by virtue of their job and not a larger persona, according to initial reporting from Reuters

The platform’s policies surrounding how public figures are treated include generally allowing users to call for the death of a public figure so long as they are not tagged in the post. Users are not permitted to call for the death of private users, a policy that will now extend to journalists, Reuters reported. 

“It’s important that everyone on our apps feels safe to engage and connect with their communities,” Facebook Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis said in a blog post announcing the change to the platform’s bullying and harassment policies. We do not allow bullying and harassment on our platform, but when it does happen, we act.”

Earlier this year, Facebook deemed George Floyd an involuntary public figure and imposed stricter policies on content about his murder that was allowed on the site.

Facebook Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis also said that the social media giant would change some policies protecting public figures in an effort to lessen online attacks disproportionately targeted at women, people of color and the LGBTQ community, Reuters added. 

Specifically, the platform will move to prohibit derogatory sexualized edited images and direct attacks about someone’s appearance. 

Facebook endured scrutiny for a variety of reasons after whistleblower Frances Haugen, who was a former Facebook product manager, leaked internal documents to The Wall Street Journal. As part of its reporting, the Journal exposed that some of Facebook’s high-profile VIP users were exempt from rules that others on the site are required to obey.

Specifically, the report said that VIP users freely posted “material including harassment and incitement to violence that would typically lead to sanctions” but faced no consequences.

This story was updated at 1:56 p.m.


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