Facebook may be toxic to female politicians, company documents show
IIn the run-up to Germany’s national elections earlier this year, Facebook worried enough about the harassment women politicians face on its platform in that country to provide them with lessons and other measures to protect themselves when they use Facebook.
Calling the initiative “Strong Women, Strong Politics”, Facebook offered workshops on securing accounts from hackers; time with a psychologist if the digital abuse becomes too serious; and simplified reporting tools for reporting bad content. The project started in November 2020, and as of February, 63 women had completed part of Facebook’s anti-harassment training, while 6 women had attended psychological counseling sessions.
The granting of this support “aims to minimize the risk of bad experiences with our platforms,” read an internal Facebook report from February detailing the Strong Women Project, Strong Politics. “And thus reduce the risk of having to deal with new elected officials who have just had a really negative experience on Facebook,” lawmakers who may then be more inclined to consider stricter regulations regarding what happens on Facebook.
The report on these efforts to tackle harassment in Germany comes from documents provided by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which were also provided to Congress in redacted form by her legal team. The redacted versions received by Congress were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including Forbes, a collection of documents popularly known as Facebook Papers.
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Facebook’s report reinforces what has become a truism about the Internet: Politics brings out the worst in people, and conversations about the topic tend to attract harmful conversations, especially when it comes to women who are in love. stand for election. And as Facebook’s 2020 document shows, it’s a common problem around the world, even in a country ruled by a female leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, for 16 years.
An October 2020 study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a UK think tank that studies digital hate speech, highlights this. He revealed that female politicians suffered 12% more abuse on Facebook than their male counterparts. The Liberals had the worst. Female Democratic politicians have suffered ten times more abuse than men. But GOP women also faced negativity: about twice as much as their male peers. Over a ten-day period in the summer of 2020, think tank researchers scored 146,140 abusive comments directed against House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi. No one was hated more than Pelosi, and she had received three times as many toxic comments as the man who faced the most violent assault: Republican Senator Tim Scott (42,060 comments).
Politicians called on Facebook for letting the abuse continue. In August 2020, Pelosi and 29 other American politicians sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and posted it publicly. “Sadly, women in politics face pervasive sexism, hatred, harassment and threats of violence on your platform, which makes it harder for them to be successful in public life,” the letter reads. . “We implore Facebook to do more to protect the ability of women to engage in democratic discourse and foster a safe and empowering space for women.” Pelosi sent the letter after Facebook refused to remove a video of her tampering with her to appear intoxicated.
Politicians have talked about the problem, and there has been widespread concern about it on the Internet. Facebook didn’t like to acknowledge it publicly, however. (In response to Pelosi’s letter, a company spokesperson said the company would “continue to work with [the female politicians] to emerge new solutions ”for the problems they highlighted.) As with most of the Facebook Papers, the company’s work on the harassment facing German female politicians shows that he understood the problem. magnitude of the problems facing women in office. (Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.)
For example, Facebook already had data showing the need for its “Strong Women, Strong Politics” project in Germany. A month before the project started in November 2020, a study by the company looked at 195 comments made on Facebook pages belonging to German female politicians, according to a second document recently published among the Facebook Papers. Is this study more of a discreet conclusion? “The results were not spectacular. In other words, female politicians had indeed attracted a lot of hatred: In those 195 comments, Facebook researchers concluded that nearly 30% of them were abusive or harmful. Many toxic commentators had flocked to far-right Bundestag member Alice Wiedel using her Facebook account as a nesting ground, where they exchanged ideas and views, while the main attack targeted Sevim Dagdelen, a liberal member of Kurdish origin. .
“We all want our platforms to be a safe space where freedom of expression and civic discourse coexist,” the report reads. “However, all too often, public figures, especially female public figures, often face unwanted harassment leading to uncivil fights.”