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Facebook expands harassment policy to protect public figures

Facebook will expand its harassment policies to remove the most harmful content, the company said on Wednesday in its latest change following testimony in Congress from a whistleblower who criticized the social media giant for not doing enough to stop harmful content.

As part of the new, more detailed harassment policy, Facebook will ban content that degrades or sexualizes public figures, including celebrities, elected officials and others in the public eye. Existing policies already prohibit similar content relating to individuals.

Another change will add more protections against harassment for government dissidents, journalists and human rights activists around the world. In many countries, social media harassment has been used to silence journalists and activists.

Finally, the Menlo Park, Calif., Based company announced that it will ban all coordinated harassment, in which a group of individuals work together to intimidate another user. This change will apply to all users.

“We don’t allow bullying and harassment on our platform, but when it does, we take action,” Antigone Davis, Facebook’s chief security officer, wrote in a blog post.

Critical

The changes come amid growing criticism of the company’s handling of hate speech, disinformation and negative content. Concerns about harassment range from bullying teenagers on Instagram to the coordinated abuse of journalists and dissidents by groups linked to authoritarian governments.

Former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen told Congress last week that the company had done too little to take responsibility for disseminating harmful content and that it too often preferred profit over the best interests of its users.

Days later, the company announced that it would introduce new features designed to protect children, including one encouraging them to take a break from the platform.

Celebrities, even those who profit generously from Facebook and Instagram, have not shied away from criticizing the company.

In an interview earlier this year with The Associated Press, singer and actress Selena Gomez said she started pressuring tech companies like Facebook to clean up their sites in 2017 after a 12-year-old commented on one of Gomez’s Instagram posts: “Go kill yourself. “It was my tipping point,” she said. “I couldn’t handle what I was seeing.”

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