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Facebook to take action on hate speech

Written by Rehana Ali on 31 May 2013

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The announcement from Facebook is a response to a significantly large online campaign by several major women’s rights groups that called for the following:

  • FB to recognise speech that trivialises or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech and to make a commitment such comments shall not be tolerated.
  • Train staff adequately on recognising and removing gender based hate speech.
  • Train staff adequately on understanding how online harassment impacts upon individuals, with an emphasis on understanding violence against women.

The women’s rights group also informed online advertisers that their adverts were being displayed alongside pages created by users of FB that shared, boasted and joked about violence to women. This led to a boycott by Nissan, the removal of promotions by the Nationwide building society and a statement from Dove that they were working aggressively with FB to resolve the problems.

The vice president for Facebook’s Global Public Policy has recently stated

  • Changes shall be implemented once it is established that the current systems used by Facebook to remove hate speech are ineffective.
  • Failures lie in some content not being removed or not being removed quickly enough.
  • Facebook shall be in consultation with lawyers and interest groups to update the processes on the removal of hate speech.

 

Hate speech and UK law

In the U.K the Public Order Act 1986 specifically prohibits a broad range of hate speech, offences under the act carry a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment, a fine or both.

  • Section 18 provides “A person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of an offence if he intends to stir up racial hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up.
  • The term ‘racial hatred’, (has been extended to cover hatred against a group of persons by reason of the group's colour, race, nationality, including citizenship or ethnic or national origins).

Part 4A (as amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994), prohibits anyone from causing alarm or distress. Part 4A states:

  • A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he uses threatening, abusive,  insulting words or behavior or 
  • displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing another person harassment, alarm or distress.

Part 3A as amended by the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 states:

  • "A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends to stir up religious hatred."

Part 3A as amended by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 also makes reference to the offence of inciting hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

  • All the offences in Part 3 relate to the use of words or behavior or display of written material, publishing or distributing written material.

Legislators drafting laws against hate speech also have to ensure individuals rights to freedom of expression are not curbed. The above legislation makes express provision to this effect. Therefore unfortunately in some circumstances people may post offensive material on the internet without facing prosecution for their views.

The link below provides some useful information for those affected by the issues raised in this article.

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