Like most, I was saddened by the recent LGBT suicides that made headlines. The suicides have served as a call to action for our community. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), became involved when they were contacted by Facebook users flagging hate speech and discrimination on its pages. Here is what they decided to do about it:
Interview with Allison Palmer, Director of Digital Initiatives at GLAAD
1. For readers who may not know, can you share with us a little about GLAAD's mission and what GLAAD does for the community?
GLAAD works as a storyteller to bring stories of LGBT people and issues to national and local media news and entertainment media outlets, as an advocate to train local and grassroots organizations to communicate their issues effectively, and as a watchdog to combat anti-LGBT words and images in the media.
2. Hate speech and bullying has been on Facebook for a while now. What prompted Facebook to team up with GLAAD to finally address this issue?
We started hearing reports from constituents about a Facebook event page calling for people to wear purple on October 20 for Spirit Day to honor the young people who have recently taken their lives due to anti-LGBT bullying. The event page had a couple hundred thousand RSVPs at that time. It was inundated with violent and hateful comments and images, and the event page creator wasn't removing them. These comments went beyond "I don't like gay people" to calling for violence against LGBT youth. Comments like this put LGBT youth in danger, and they also violate Facebook's terms of service.
I reached out to contacts at Facebook to bring the page to their attention, and we continued to work with them to come up with a solution. Because the event page was serving as a community memorial and the majority of the comments were not hateful, we didn't want Facebook to remove the entire page. We worked out a system that addresses the violent speech more effectively, but allowed the community of support to remain.
3. I heard a brief interview with Andrew Noyes, manager of Public Policy Communications at Facebook, on CNN the other morning. When asked about setting up back-end monitoring, he said that they were working on a solution, then noted that the Facebook community should continue to report hate speech comments and pages to Facebook. I think this is a great interim solution, but I'm confused why this can't be fixed quickly. This is a site that has the technological capabilities to determine what we "Like," that can offer advertising solutions that are targeted to us based on our interests, that allows us to participate in 'geo-location check-in' similar to Foursquare, and can use our SocialGraph to follow us around on the Web. Does GLAAD feel that Facebook's response is sufficient and timely? How does GLAAD feel about Facebook putting the responsibilities of monitoring hate speech into the hands of the community?
The responsibilities for monitoring content that violates Facebook's terms of service--are jointly held by both Facebook and the community of Facebook users. Facebook's response involves both technical solutions and increased moderation by their staff. When we think about Facebook building a technical solution to eliminate all hate speech on the site, we need to imagine what would happen if one user posted "Kill gay people" and another posted "I can't believe that someone thinks we should kill gay people." If Facebook used technology to remove all users who posted the phrase "kill gay people," both of those users would be removed. That's why increased moderation by their staff is a key piece of the solution.
Facebook directed additional staff resources to monitor the Spirit Day event page and voiced a strong commitment to address this issue not only on this event page, but across the site. Last week a "Network of Support" was launched with GLAAD and other LGBT organizations to address anti-LGBT bullying and hate speech. This is a first and will be a process that we hope to recreate with other sites.
4. I've been the victim of hate-speech on the once active "The Bible Is Against Homosexuality (TBIAH)" Facebook Fan Page. I had previously written a post about how Facebook is used by groups that are against my beliefs, using the TBIAH site as an example. A member of TBIAH posted my blog onto the TBIAH Facebook wall, after which I received some very harsh comments on my blog, so much so that I had to turn on the comment moderation tool on my blog. One of the things TBIAH argued was that it was their First Amendment right (freedom of speech) to express themselves in any way that suited them. I'm sure GLAAD has heard the same arguments. How does GLAAD make the distinction between a group or individual exercising their right to freedom of speech and someone who is participating in hate speech?
In the Facebook context, it all comes back to Facebook's terms of service, which prohibit hateful and violent content and bullying. We know "The Bible is Against Homosexuality" and groups like it exist on Facebook, and our community should monitor these groups to make sure that the content they post is not in violation of Facebook's terms of service. The companies and individuals who run websites and blogs make the rules about the content posted on them--Facebook developed their reporting tool just as you implemented content moderation on your blog.
The Facebook reporting tool isn't flawless--we've worked with LGBT community members who have had their pages removed because they were reported repeatedly by anti-LGBT users. We have to be aware of how Facebook's reporting system works from both of these angles as we continue our work.
5. Facebook isn't the only place we see hate speech. There are many other examples, such as the popular 'tween social media site, Formspring.me and blogs like the recent anti-Chris Armstrong blog made by Andrew Shirvell in Michigan. How will GLAAD be working to address these issues on a broader scale and will GLAAD be working with other individual sites to monitor their content and comments?
We plan to work with companies hosting violent or hateful content, just like we are working with Facebook. That said, we know that hateful speech exists in social media spaces, and GLAAD cannot monitor every posted comment. We urge our community and allies to report hateful or violent speech on sites that have reporting tools.
We also hear from constituents whose corporate internet filters have blocked access to LGBT websites (such as GLAAD's), or whose profiles or websites have been wrongly shut down for having LGBT content. We're looking at those issues as well.
6. What avenues of reprisal can GLAAD recommend to someone who is a victim of bullying or hate speech?
If this is happening on Facebook, check out the "Network of Support" page and please report it. If you see anti-LGBT speech in the media, please report it to GLAAD. If you are in school, check out GLSEN's resources for students at www.glsen.org.
For the latest updates on GLAAD's work, please join us at www.twitter.com/glaad and www.facebook.com/glaad.
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