Facebook will count activists and journalists as “involuntary” public figures and increase protections against harassment and bullying targeted at these groups, its global safety chief said in an interview this week.
The social media company, which allows more critical commentary of public figures than of private individuals, is changing its approach on the harassment of journalists and “human rights defenders”, who it says are in the public eye due to their work rather than their public personas.
The move comes as part of a series of changes in policy on the platform this week, with internal documents leaked by a whistleblower forming the basis for a US Senate hearing last week.
Those documents sparked wide-ranging scrutiny from global lawmakers and regulators over its content moderation practices and harms linked to Facebook’s platforms.
In addition to its changes to the public figures rules, Facebook also announced features encouraging young users to take breaks from the app and nudging them away from harmful content.
On Wednesday, it expanded an effort to reduce political content in the newsfeed in more countries around the world, a project it first announced in February. That shift comes as the platform has increasingly been criticized for how it handles divisive content, which some blamed for the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol.
In her testimony, the whistleblower Frances Haugen condemned Facebook’s promotion of inflammatory political content in the newsfeed and implied it may have helped lead to the deadly events of that day.
How Facebook, which has about 2.8 billion monthly active users, treats public figures and content posted by or about those figures has been an area of intense debate. In recent weeks, the company’s “cross check” system, which the Wall Street Journal reported has the effect of exempting some high-profile users from usual Facebook rules, has been in the spotlight.
Facebook also differentiates between public figures and private individuals in the protections it affords online discussion: for instance, users are generally allowed to call for the death of a celebrity in discussions on the platform, as long as they do not tag or directly mention the celebrity. They cannot call for the death of a private individual, or – now – a journalist, under Facebook’s policies.
The company declined to share a list of other involuntary public figures but said they were assessed on a case-by-case basis. Earlier this year, Facebook said it would remove content celebrating, praising or mocking George Floyd’s death, because he was deemed an involuntary public figure.
Facebook’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis, said the company was also expanding the types of attacks that it would not allow on public figures on its sites, as part of an effort to reduce attacks disproportionately faced by women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community.
Facebook will no longer allow severe and unwanted sexualizing content, derogatory sexualized photoshopped images or drawings or direct negative attacks on a person’s appearance, for example, in comments on a public figure’s profile.