Facebook will now count activists and journalists as “unwitting” public figures and thereby increase protections against harassment and intimidation targeting these groups, its global security chief said in an interview this week.
The social media firm, which allows more critical comments on public figures than on individuals, says it is changing its approach on harassment of journalists and “human rights defenders,” who it claims are in the public eye because of their work rather than their public figures.
Facebook is under close scrutiny by global lawmakers and regulators over its content moderation practices and harms related to its platforms, with internal documents leaked by a whistleblower forming the basis for a Senate hearing American last week.
How Facebook, which has approximately 2.8 billion monthly active users, treats public figures and the content posted by or about such figures has been the subject of intense debate. In recent weeks, the company’s “cross-checking” system, which the Wall Street Journal says exempts some high-level users from Facebook’s usual rules, has been in the spotlight.
Facebook also differentiates public figures from individuals in the protections it offers around online chats: for example, users are typically allowed to call for the death of a celebrity in chats on the platform.
The company declined to share a list of other unwitting public figures, but said they were assessed on a case-by-case basis. Earlier this year, Facebook said it would remove content celebrating, praising or mocking the death of George Floyd because he was seen as an unwitting public figure.
Facebook’s global security chief Antigone Davis said the company is also expanding the types of attacks it will not allow against public figures on its sites, as part of an effort to reduce attacks disproportionately faced by women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.
Facebook will no longer allow serious and unwanted sexualizing content, derogatory sexualized photoshopped images or drawings, or direct negative attacks on a person’s appearance, for example, in comments on a public figure’s profile.
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