Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy explicitly allows for “public figures” to be targeted in ways otherwise banned on the site, including “calls for [their] death”, according to a tranche of internal moderator guidelines leaked to the Guardian.
Public figures are defined by Facebook to include people whose claim to fame may be simply a large social media following or infrequent coverage in local newspapers.
They are considered to be permissible targets for certain types of abuse “because we want to allow discussion, which often includes critical commentary of people who are featured in the news”, Facebook explains to its moderators.
It comes as social networks face renewed criticism over abuse on their platforms, including of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and of professional footballers, in particular black stars such as Marcus Rashford.Facebook, which also owns Instagram, has changed its policies in response to the criticism, introducing new rules to cover abuse sent through direct messages and committing to cooperate with law enforcement over hate speech.
In the detailed guidelines seen by the Guardian, running to more than 300 pages and dating from December 2020, Facebook spells out how it differentiates between protections for private and public individuals.
“For public figures, we remove attacks that are severe as well as certain attacks where the public figure is directly tagged in the post or comment. For private individuals, our protection goes further: we remove content that’s meant to degrade or shame, including, for example, claims about someone’s sexual activity,” it says.
Private individuals cannot be targeted with “calls for death” on Facebook but public figures simply cannot be “purposefully exposed” to such calls: it is legitimate, under Facebook’s harassment policies, to call for the death of a minor local celebrity so long as the user does not tag them in to the post, for example.
Similarly, public figures cannot be “exposed” to content “that praises, celebrates or mocks their death or serious physical injury”.
The company’s definition of public figures is broad. All politicians count, whatever the level of government and whether they have been elected or are standing for office, as does any journalist who is employed “to write/speak publicly”.
Online fame is enough to qualify provided the user has more than 100,000 fans or followers on one of their social media accounts. Being in the news is enough to strip users of protections.
“People who are mentioned in the title, subtitle or preview of 5 or more news articles or media pieces within the last 2 years” are counted as public figures. A broad exception to that rule is that children under the age of 13 never count.
Imran Ahmed, founder of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, described the revelations as “flabbergasting”.
“Despite high-profile attacks in recent years, including the murder of Jo Cox MP and the US Capitol domestic terrorist attacks, promoting violence against public servants is sanctioned by Facebook if they aren’t tagged in the post,” Ahmed said, adding that the safety of other public officials and figures could be put at risk as a result.
“Highly visible abuse of public figures and celebrities acts as a warning – a proverbial head on a pike – to others. It is used by identity-based hate actors who target women and minorities to dissuade participation by the very groups that campaigners for tolerance and inclusion have worked so hard to bring into public life. Just because someone isn’t tagged doesn’t mean that the message isn’t heard loud and clear.”
There is another broad exception for – and protection of – those who are “involuntary” public figures. These are public figures “who are not true celebrities, and who have not engaged with their fame, UNLESS they have been accused of criminal activity”, according to the guidelines.
Facebook holds a secret list of these involuntary public figures, which is not contained in the documents seen by the Guardian. But social media presence is indicated as de facto evidence that a user has “engaged with their fame”.
The attempt to exhaustively define all aspects of harassment means Facebook’s rules also include surprising specifics. Users can bully dead people, for instance, but only if they died before the year 1900, and they are allowed to “bully” fictional characters (moderators are told to take “NO ACTION” against the content “Homer Simpson is a bitch”).
But the decision to let users bully and harass even minor public figures in ways that the company bans for those classed as private individuals is likely to spark concern among prominent users who have complained that Facebook fails to do enough to protect public figures from abuse on its main platform or on Instagram.
Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy does protect public figures from attacks including direct threats of severe physical harm, derogatory sexualised terms or threats to release personal information.
But it is understood the company believes in letting people question or criticise public figures, with insiders highlighting “figurative speech” such as “Boris Johnson should just drop dead or resign already” or “just die already [Jair] Bolsonaro, you are not making it any better for your people”.
The definition of a public figure is set to be updated to “raise the threshold … in increasingly digitally engaged times”, sources say, including providing additional protections for activists and journalists who are already treated as high-risk individuals.
The reason some content is removed only at the point a public figure is tagged is because Facebook believes it becomes more of an “intentional harm” and means they are more likely to see it.
In February, Instagram committed to shutting the accounts of users who sent abusive direct messages to footballers. Previously, the company had not extended its rules to cover DMs, but a new “lower tolerance” for abuse was brought in after a number of prominent black footballers including Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe and Lauren James spoke out about online racial harassment.
A Facebook spokesperson said: “We think it’s important to allow critical discussion of politicians and other people in the public eye. But that doesn’t mean we allow people to abuse or harass them on our apps.
“We remove hate speech and threats of serious harm no matter who the target is, and we’re exploring more ways to protect public figures from harassment.
“We regularly consult with safety experts, human rights defenders, journalists and activists to get feedback on our policies and make sure they’re in the right place.”
Asked why the leaked guidelines are not made public by Facebook, the spokesperson added: “By publishing our community standards, the notes from the regular meetings we have with global teams to discuss and update them, and our quarterly reports on how we’re doing to enforce our policies, we provide more transparency than any technology company. We also intend to make even more of these documents public over time.”
The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.
Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.
Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.
This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.
“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.
“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”
Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.
She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.
“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.
The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®
Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.
Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.
The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.
The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.
The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.
“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.
“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”
Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.
IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.
“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”
Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”