Facebook Announces New Policies to Better Protect Public Figures from Harassment

Facebook’s looking to improve its policies which seek to protect public figures from harassment, by expanding the parameters of who qualifies under such guidelines, and broadening its terms of protection for people who may find themselves unwillingly thrust into the spotlight.

First off, Facebook’s looking to provide more protections for individuals from ‘brigading’, more operatively known as pile-ons or ‘cancel culture’. Now, when Facebook detects that such incidents have gone too far, it will look to provide more security for those being targeted.

As per Facebook:

“We will now remove coordinated efforts of mass harassment that target individuals at heightened risk of offline harm, for example victims of violent tragedies or government dissidents – even if the content on its own wouldn’t violate our policies. We will also remove objectionable content that is considered mass harassment towards any individual on personal surfaces, such as direct messages in inbox or comments on personal profiles or posts.”

Web pile-ons have become a more significant problem in recent years, with many people now afraid to wade into certain discussions for fear of misstepping, and becoming the focus of hate for that day or time. Such attacks can have significant reputational impacts, and with social media helping to amplify exposure, that can also lead to major mental health impacts.

The extension of this policy, however, could have impacts on how people discuss trending news stories – which, if such does evolve into harassment, it should. But it will be interesting to see how the process is applied in practice, and what that means for this topical engagement.

In addition to this, Facebook’s also looking to provide more protections from specific types of commentary around public figures.

Facebook already has alternate enforcement guidelines around commentary regarding public figures, in order to better facilitate freedom of expression, and legitimate public discourse. But sometimes, that can also veer into harmful territory, including sexualized attacks, which Facebook is now looking to address.

Public figures shouldn’t be subjected to degrading or sexualized attacks. Based on feedback from a large number of global stakeholders, we will now also remove severe sexualizing content, profiles, Pages, groups or events dedicated to sexualizing a public figure, derogatory, sexualized photoshopped images and drawings, attacks through negative physical descriptions that are tagged to, mention or posted on the public figure’s account, and degrading content depicting individuals in the process of bodily functions.”

That could have significant impacts for female politicians in particular, who regularly find themselves being objectified based on how they look, far more so than their male counterparts.

Finally, Facebook is also looking to better protect those who unintentionally become public figures

We’ll now offer more protections for public figures, like journalists and human rights defenders, who have become famous involuntarily or because of their work. These groups will now have protections from harmful content – for example content that ranks their physical looks, as other involuntary public figures do.”

Various public health officials would fall into this category, as a result of the pandemic, with doctors and scientists thrust into the spotlight as a result of the need for information around the outbreak. Now, Facebook will provide these people with additional considerations and protections, to ensure they’re also shielded from unnecessary, and unwelcome remarks.

Facebook has announced the changes as part of National Bullying Prevention and Awareness Day in the US, and amid growing calls for more regulation as to how Facebook influences public discourse, and amplifies certain narratives and movements.

Within this, it’s important that Facebook does provide protections where possible, and while there will be some variability and nuance in the application of these new policies, they should see more negative, derogatory discussions shut down in the app.

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