Facebook is changing the rules for attacks against public figures on its platforms

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Facebook will now count activists and journalists as “involuntary” public figures, increasing protection against harassment and bullying targeting these groups, its global security chief said in an interview this week. The social media company, which allows public figures to comment more critically than private individuals, is changing its stance on the harassment of journalists and “human rights defenders” who are in the public eye for their work and not for their public figures.

Facebook is being scrutinized extensively by global lawmakers and regulators for its content moderation practices and damage related to its platforms. Internal documents leaked by a whistleblower form the basis for a hearing in the US Senate last week.

How Facebook, which has around 2.8 billion monthly active users, deals with public figures and content posted by or about them has been the subject of intense discussion. Over the past few weeks, the company’s “cross-check” system, which the Wall Street Journal reported banning some high-profile users from normal Facebook rules, has been in the spotlight.

When it comes to protecting online discussions, Facebook differentiates between public figures and private individuals: For example, users can generally claim the death of a celebrity in discussions on the platform, as long as they do not mark them or directly mention their celebrity. You cannot claim the death of a private individual, or now a journalist, according to Facebook’s guidelines.

The company declined to publish a list of other involuntary public figures, but said they will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it would be removing content that celebrated, praised, or mocked the death of George Floyd as it was classified as an involuntary public figure.

Facebook’s global head of safety Antigone Davis said the company is also expanding the types of attacks on public figures on its websites to reduce attacks that disproportionately affect women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.

Facebook will no longer allow serious and undesirable sexualizing content, derogatory sexualized Photoshop images or drawings, or direct negative attacks on the appearance of a person, for example in comments in the profile of a public figure.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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