Saturday, October 23, 2021

Facebook gets in shape to tackle violence

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Image copyright Facebook Image caption A new social media initiative, led by Oxford University, wants to tackle domestic abuse

Facebook says it wants to change how it handles abuse – and has launched a UK-wide initiative to encourage people to pledge to take action.

The online social network has put out a notice asking people to sign a pledge against violent words, actions and content online.

It will then compare that information with a national standard for how Facebook should handle abuse, to identify patterns.

If those problems are identified, Facebook can then set out “action plans” to deal with them.

‘Loss of confidence’

Ben Thompson, a Oxford University researcher, co-ordinated a similar campaign in the US in 2016 after Trump voters there complained the election results had been hacked by the Russians.

Dr Thompson, who teaches in Oxford’s faculty of media and communications, told the BBC at the time that the challenge facing Facebook was to “refocus” on social responsibility by creating what he described as “a new set of relationships”.

Image copyright Oxford University Image caption Oxford University’s professor Ben Thompson has been focusing on how Facebook can tackle abuse

This included the idea of having a range of other social media networks use Facebook’s platform to “de-normalise” violence, like the way Twitter and Facebook use their hate speech reporting tools to take down hate speech.

The bulk of Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook data, which was exploited by the data analytics firm to micro-target voters ahead of the 2016 US presidential election, was obtained by Kogan without Facebook’s knowledge.

Facebook said the campaign was not a campaign to highlight potential election meddling, saying it was not clear whether the Russian group behind it was involved in the Cambridge Analytica incident.

“Our approach is based on seeing both the ways that abuse can be abused as well as the ways in which we can help stop abuse in its tracks,” said Julian Blaydon, head of policy for Europe at Facebook.

Image copyright Oxford University Image caption A spokesperson said the fact that Facebook users “may see campaigns like this as different from Facebook’s core mission” was “fair”.

“We’ve seen this first hand. We saw it during our very successful ‘Take Back the Internet’ campaign over the weekend.”

A spokesperson added that Facebook takes a strong stand against violence and abuse, and has already introduced two large-scale projects – Virtual Worlds Connections and Beyond Silicon Valley, and they said the issues underlying them “are the same across the world”.

“Our news feed is an active marketplace where billions of people come together, exchange ideas and discuss stories that challenge our perceptions of the world around us,” the spokesperson said.

“We build this by taking the opinions and words of people across the world and delivering that to people who come to Facebook.

“This includes posts and other content that have been removed for hate speech, offensive content, nudity or other reasons, such as what may be considered encouraging revenge porn.

“These posts are made by people who often use the platform to say things they wouldn’t in a real life setting, but all posts on Facebook are made by people,” the spokesperson added.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Facebook has become a ubiquitous part of people’s lives

Dr Blaydon said “the idea that you are unique in knowing the difference between incitement and normal discussion is a fallacy”, adding that Facebook users had previously used a trust in the social network to power them to express opposition to social issues, such as abortion or for LGBT rights.

“But I think, because of the power that Facebook has to spread the ideas of any person in any country, that it has lost a lot of this capacity.

“So a lot of them have lost confidence in the power of Facebook to change the world around them.”

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