Facebook Says It Will Start Removing ‘Sexualized Attacks’ on Celebrities as Part of Anti-Harassment Policy Update

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Facebook said it will remove “severe sexualizing content” targeting public figures — including celebrities, politicians, creators and people who have “involuntarily” become famous — that is posted on Facebook or Instagram, as part of an update to its bullying and harassment policies.

The social media giant said it already removes attacks on public figures that encompass a range of harms. It now also specifically will remove: severe sexualizing content; Profiles, Pages, groups or events dedicated to sexualizing a public figure; derogatory, sexualized photoshopped images and drawings; and attacks through “negative physical descriptions” that are tagged to, mention or posted on a public figure’s account.

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In addition, Facebook said, it will remove unwanted sexualized commentary and repeated content that is sexually harassing.

“We made these changes because attacks like these can weaponize a public figure’s appearance, which is unnecessary and often not related to the work these public figures represent,” Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

In addition, Facebook said it will provide more protections to people who have become public figures “involuntarily,” like journalists and human-rights advocates. Becoming a public figure “isn’t always a choice, and that this fame can increase the risk of bullying and harassment — particularly if the person comes from an underrepresented community, including women, people of color or the LGBTQ community,” Davis wrote.

Facebook’s announcement of the expanded anti-harassment policy comes after years of critics charging that the company doesn’t do enough to curb harmful behavior and misinformation. The tech giant’s practices have drawn an even bigger spotlight after recent accusations by an ex-employee whistleblower that the company prioritized profits over safety (allegations that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has denied). The company also was the subject of a damaging investigative series last month by the Wall Street Journal, which found Facebook execs routinely have been made aware of multiple problems created by its products and have not taken action to fix them.

Facebook posted the full list of new protections for public figures, including involuntary public figures, in an updated section of its Community Standards site.

More broadly, as part of the anti-harassment policy update, Facebook will now remove coordinated efforts of mass harassment that target individuals at “heightened risk of offline harm,” like victims of violent tragedies or government dissidents (even if the content on its own wouldn’t violate Facebook policies). The company said it also will remove objectionable content that is considered mass harassment toward any individual, such as direct messages in inbox or comments on personal profiles or posts.

And Facebook said it will remove “state-linked and adversarial networks of accounts” that work in a coordinated way to harass or silence people (for example, a state-sponsored organization using closed private groups to coordinate mass posting on political dissidents’ profiles).

“It’s important that everyone on our apps feels safe to engage and connect with their communities,” Davis wrote. “We do not allow bullying and harassment on our platform, but when it does happen, we act.”

Facebook announced the policy update on Oct. 13, which is National Bullying Prevention and Awareness Day in the U.S.

In updating its policies, Facebook said it consulted with free speech advocates, human rights experts, women’s safety groups and advisers, as well as cartoonists and satirists, female politicians and journalists, representatives of the LGBTIQ+ community, content creators and other public figures.

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