An eensy internet furor spiked yesterday when Women, Action & The Media slammed Facebook for censoring certain hate speech while overlooking pretty awful jokes about rape. Facebook replied with a mea culpa and a mention of overhauling its content guidelines. But it hasn't fixed anything yet.
While there is no universally accepted definition of hate speech, as a platform we define the term to mean direct and serious attacks on any protected category of people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease. We work hard to remove hate speech quickly, however there are instances of offensive content, including distasteful humor, that are not hate speech according to our definition. In these cases, we work to apply fair, thoughtful, and scalable policies.
Social network press releases are the opiate of the masses. Sure, there can be a lot of gray area when it comes to horrendous people on the internet. But what are these "policies"? We don't have much of a clue beyond the fact that they're "scalable." Not the most reassuring statement if you're a woman being taunted with rape threats, and certainly not a promise that Facebook is going to start erasing images like these. All the company is providing is an allusion to reforms of some kind, having to do with gender-taunting, at some point in the future. But that's not a "ban" against this kind of stuff.
So what is Facebook actually doing with regards to "gender-based hate"? Talking about talking about action, tentatively:
We need to do better – and we will.
We will complete our review and update the guidelines...We will solicit feedback from legal experts and others, including representatives of the women's coalition
We will establish more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working in this area
We have invited representatives of the women Everyday Sexism to join the less formal communication channels Facebook has previously established with other groups.
Invites, communication, coalitions, experts—but not so much about any banning. Saying you'll "do better" is something you say to your significant other when you can't come up with anything in your defense. This should be enough for people who read a headline stating "Facebook Vows To Crack Down On Rape Joke Pages After Successful Protest, Boycott," and then go take a nap, but not enough to actually resemble anything close to a "crackdown." This is placation, not moderation, and there's nothing happening at Facebook that's actually going to stop guys from joking about raping girls. Facebook should just start drafting a backlash-backlash apology letter now.