Aug 15, 2019

Private hate groups online prove difficult to police

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Recent high-profile hate crimes are forcing technology companies to reassess how hate speech and harmful content manifests in closed groups online.

Why it matters: As communications become more closed off and private, experts worry that private group forums online may be festering hateful activity that could manifest itself in dangerous offline behavior.

Driving the news: Facebook said Wednesday that it would be simplifying its groups policy to make groups on its platform either "public" or "private" so that it's easier for group members to understand who can and cannot see their posts.

  • The setting update essentially makes it easier for group owners to see whether or not their posts are publicly accessible.
  • Last month, ProPublica reported that border patrol agents were joking about migrant deaths and posting sexist memes in a private Facebook group that had nearly 10,000 members. ProPublica was leaked the contents from the group page, which had been active for years.
  • Facebook says it has heard from users that they wanted more control over how their groups can be discovered.

Between the lines: Facebook isn't the only platform to struggle with closed-off groups that spew hateful rhetoric.

  • Redditquarantined” one of its biggest pro-Trump groups in June over violent threats being posted by group members. Quarantining groups means that the groups can remain on the platform, but they can't earn revenue and visitors to the groups have to opt-in to viewing the content after receiving a warning message about it.
  • 8chan, the anonymous message board that often hosts conspiracy theories and hate speech, is under pressure from lawmakers, activists and even its own creator to crack down on forums that serve as a breeding ground for hate speech. On Wednesday, the House Homeland Security Committee issued a bipartisan subpoena to 8chan's owner, Jim Watkins, to understand what's being done to counter extremism on the platform.

Be smart: Facebook, Reddit and other forums are reluctant to ban or take down specific groups because they don't want to infringe on free speech rights. Instead, most take steps to demote groups, making them hard to find, or to remove incentives for posting incendiary content.

The bottom line: Monitoring hate speech, even on mainstream social sites, is proving to be difficult in a world that's growing increasingly privacy-centric.

Go deeper: Privacy concerns push people to private, group-based platforms

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Exclusive: The results from Facebook's conservative bias audit

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook will release the findings of a roughly year-long conservative bias audit Tuesday, along with changes to its advertising policies as a result, executives tell Axios.

What's new: The only new policy that's being announced alongside the audit results will be a small adjustment made to Facebook's "sensational" advertising policy, which will now allow the display of medical tubes connected to the human body.

Go deeperArrowAug 20, 2019

Facebook tightens rules around self-harm images

Shannon Geames from Tennessee, wears suicide prevention wristbands while lobbying Congress. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Coinciding with World Suicide Prevention Day, Facebook is announcing a series of policy changes designed to keep users from encouraging self-harm, while also trying to preserve the ability for people to discuss their struggles without shame.

Why it matters: Globally, someone dies every 40 seconds by suicide and experts say up to 25 times as many will attempt suicide.

Go deeperArrowSep 10, 2019

In gun reform plan, Beto O'Rourke wants to hold social media liable

Beto O’Rourke speaks at a campaign re-launch on August 15 in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke wants to hold social media platforms liable for failing to ban "hateful activities" like harassment, white nationalism or defamation in his newly unveiled gun reform plan.

Be smart: Efforts to limit or amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — which shields platforms like Google and Facebook from legal liability for users' posts — have historically failed because of free speech protections granted by the First Amendment.

Go deeperArrowAug 17, 2019